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The Long Ride

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The shore is in sight, and there is nothing more exhilarating than catching that perfect wave.  The wave you can cruise all the way into shore.  Then, when you’ve almost reached the shore, your progress is suddenly halted or you’re knocked off the board or worse pulled under water and spun all around.

That’s probably the feeling that most Senate Republicans experienced this election cycle.  After the 2010 tidal wave of change in the House of Representatives, Republicans were well-positioned to catch that perfect wave.  They needed only six seats, five if Mitt Romney won the presidency, to take control of the Senate.  Breaking in Republican favor, Democrats had to defend 23 of their seats compared to only 10 Republican ones with several of those races in red states that were expected to vote for Mitt Romney.

Yet, the Republican wave crested early, and Democrats had several factors break for them.  Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) who would have likely won her re-election, decided to retire.  Former Gov. Angus King, an Independent who will caucus with the Democrats, is favored to win.  And, Democrats are likely to flip Sen. Scott Brown’s seat (R-Massachusetts).

In addition, the Democrats recruited their strongest challengers in many of the red state races.  When Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) decided not to seek re-election, Rep. Rick Berg (R-At-Large, North Dakota) was expected to coast to victory.  Instead, he had a bruising battle against liberal Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who has angled for the women’s vote by accusing Berg of waging a “war on woman.”  Berg is expected to win this race, but the Democrats forced Republicans to compete in a state that should have been an easy victory.

Like North Dakota, Montana should have been an easy pick-up for the Republicans but did not end up that way.  In a state that consistently supports Republicans for president, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) has tied himself to Obama and has voted for both ObamaCare and the stimulus spending in addition to voting for Hate Crimes and to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  The candidates have spent about $40 million, and this race is a toss-up.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) are hammering it out in Wisconsin for the seat of retiring Herb Kohl (D).  If Rep. Tammy Baldwin wins this seat, she will be the first openly lesbian senator to serve in the United States.

Indiana and Missouri were both Senate seats that Republicans expected to win.  However, these wins are now in jeopardy because of statements made by the Republican candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana) which were misconstrued in the media. 

Through the campaign, Richard Mourdock was favored early on over Democrat Joe Donnelly but it has been a close race.  This race never opened up the way it was expected even though Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) had a substantial lead in the governor’s race and Mitt Romney led in the presidential race.  Richard Mourdock is a political veteran who is unabashedly pro-life and pro-family. And he tends to freely speak his mind.  Unfortunately, he made an inarticulate comment about the sanctity of life a mere two weeks before the election, and it cost him in the polls.  This race is listed as a toss-up and will be one that could determine which party controls the Senate.

The Republican Party had expected to pick off Sen. Claire McCaskill’s seat (D-Missouri).  Sen. McCaskill had high unfavorable ratings and voted for ObamaCare in a state that opposes it.  In addition, Missouri was the only swing state in 2008 to vote for McCain.  Rep. Todd Akin had led in the polls until August 19 when he made a comment about rape.  Unlike Mourdock, Akin seems to have recovered in the polls somewhat since then.   His recovery is partly because he turned the Republican Establishment opposition into his advantage and has run as a Republican outsider.  The latest polls list this race as a toss-up, and it will be a key to determine who controls the Senate. 

Sen. Jon Kyl’s retirement (R-Arizona) put that state into play.  The seat was expected to remain Republican but Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) has run a strong campaign against Rep. Jeff Flake (R), although Flake is expected to eke this one out.  The Republicans will need to keep this seat if they expect to gain control of the Senate.

Another seat the Republicans will need to keep is in Sen. Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada.  Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) was appointed to the Senate in May 2011 after Sen. John Ensign resigned.  He is facing Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), a Pelosi crony.  While this will be a close race, Heller appears to have an edge.

Republicans can also pick up seats in Ohio (Republican Josh Mandel and Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown) and Virginia (Former Gov. George Allen and Former Gov. Tim Kaine); both raises have tightened considerably and are considered toss-ups.

A bright spot in the sun for the Republicans is in Nebraska.  Here, the Republicans will coast where State Sen. Deb Fischer is leading Former Sen. Bob Kerrey in the polls.