Senate contests expected to be tossups
Now that the general election is over, the fight for the Senate takes center stage.
Much of the battle next year for control of the Senate will be in open races — West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota are states where Republicans could make gains.
Experts, however, say Democratic and Republican incumbents will be a large part of the story line.
“Six is the magic number, and the majority will be won or lost based on a handful of incumbents,” said Nathan Gonzales, an analyst with the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
If Republicans can net six seats, they will gain control of the upper chamber — which they haven't accomplished since 2006. They would have the ability to override any tiebreaking vote by Vice President Joe Biden.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is fighting battles from the right and the left. The five-term senator faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin, who has the backing of the Tea Party. If he overcomes that hurdle, McConnell will face an Election Day challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes; the 34-year-old Democrat won the statewide office in 2011 with 60 percent of the vote.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Kentucky a tossup in the Nov. 4 general election. Analyst Jennifer Duffy said McConnell is sitting in the “Republicans' most endangered seat.”
“There will be a lot of national attention on this race,” she said. “Before McConnell even gets to the general election, he's got a Tea Party primary to deal with.”
Lundergan Grimes, the daughter of Kentucky's former state Democratic Party chairman, has a tough fight ahead of her — Kentucky leans conservative. In 2010, the election of Tea Party firebrand Rand Paul cemented the Tea Party sea change. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the state with 60 percent of the vote.
“(McConnell's) saving grace may be that he gets to run for re-election in Kentucky, a place where President Obama has never been popular,” Gonzales said.
Also facing primary challengers is second-term Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. His seat, however, likely will remain in Republican control.
A number of Democratic incumbents are also vulnerable in 2014. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are top GOP targets. North Carolina's Kay Hagan has a fight ahead of her. All four represent states carried by Romney.
Despite Arkansas' history as a Democratic stalwart, Pryor is the lone Democrat in the state's congressional delegation. He faces a challenge from freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, 36, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.
“This is the one place Republicans actually agree with each other (on a candidate): There is no Establishment-Tea Party fight,” Duffy said.