Sabato's Crystal Ball

Tilting the Toss Ups – the Eight Races That Will Decide the Senate

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, U.Va. Center for Politics March 22nd, 2012

Ah, the Senate. The battle for control fascinates us — and all election observers — because there are so many intriguing races and personalities. Yet, as we update our ratings today and move in a new direction on Congress’ upper chamber, it is worth stressing at the outset that no party will truly control the Senate come January 2013. There is no chance at all that Democrats or Republicans will hit the magic 60 seats required to break filibusters and thus run the Senate. Increasingly, it looks likely that the winning party will have a smaller majority than the Democrats do now (53 seats) — if there is a majority at all. The tiny margin for the winning party will enable the new Senate to do what Senates do best: a whole lot of nothing (discounting talk, of course).

As election analysts, we aren’t responsible for anything the Senate does, or fails to do, in governing. We’ll stick to the fun part, coming in November, and we’ll start with Maine.

Ever since the surprising retirement of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), Senate observers have focused intently on the race to replace her. But while the likely three-way race is certain to be filled with twists and turns, ex-Gov. Angus King, an independent who appears likely to caucus with Democrats, is the favorite to win the seat. That means, by our calculus, this race isn’t among the closest in the country, because we rate it as leans Democratic, as opposed to toss up.

Let’s assume that, at the dawn of the 113th Congress in 2013, all 67 sitting senators not up for reelection this year — 30 Democrats, 37 Republicans — return to serve next year (no departures for the Cabinet, the Court or the Great Beyond). Next, let’s also assume that the 16 races we currently favor Democrats to win go to the Blue column, and the nine races where Republicans are favored go to the Red column. (See our full chart below.) Note that we have long flipped Nebraska and North Dakota from Democratic control to Republican control; former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey’s return to Nebraska hasn’t moved us a bit. Note also, as we said above, we are assuming that Maine elects King, who in effect becomes an Independent Democrat akin to Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman or Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Further, our analysis has Democrats holding seats that are actually or potentially competitive, such as Ohio, Michigan and Hawaii. Finally, we presume that Democrats don’t score surprising upsets in places like Arizona and Indiana.

With those assumptions in place, the Senate is tied exactly 46 to 46, with eight toss up races to decide whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) continues to lead the chamber, or whether Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) takes over.

Obviously, if these races split four to four, the vice president will break the tie in a 50-50 Senate so long as our assumptions are correct. Thus, the race for partisan control of the Senate is agonizingly tight.

While we are calling all these races “toss ups” — meaning that, with seven months to go, there is no clear favorite — we can begin to slot them in some rational order of their likelihood to ultimately go Red or Blue.

Chart 1: Tilting the toss ups — ranking toss-up Senate races from most likely to go Republican (top, dark red tint) to most likely to go Democratic (bottom, dark blue tint)



The seat currently rated as a toss up that is likeliest to change hands is Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) looks like a slight underdog against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R). Of the eight toss up Senate races, Montana’s is one of two that will be fought in a state that supported John McCain in 2008.

The toss up seat likeliest to go Democratic is New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment is heavily Democratic territory these days, and this one wouldn’t even be on the radar had Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) not retired. Granted, Republicans will nominate their strongest candidate, former Rep. Heather Wilson, which gives the GOP a fighting chance in a tough state for them.

Pollsters sometimes point out incumbent Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) mediocre approval amongst Democrats. Presumably, Democrats will come home to Nelson next year, which might make him stronger than he appears right now — though the presidential contest will be key in the Sunshine State. Meanwhile, Sen. Scott Brown (R) has had a good couple of months in Massachusetts, and while polls are very mixed, Brown’s blue-collar appeal might be enough against his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Missouri, like Montana, is a Red state with an endangered freshman Democratic senator (Claire McCaskill). Hardly anyone expects Missouri to flip to Obama in 2012, so McCaskill might be out on a limb in Republican territory. The races in Virginia and Nevada might be largely dependent on the presidential race — especially in the Old Dominion — and the key to the Wisconsin race hinges on whether ex-Gov Tommy Thompson (R) can win his party’s nomination. If he makes it to the general election, he would start as the favorite — and given the current state of these toss ups, it’s not a stretch to think that a Thompson victory in Wisconsin could end up giving Republicans their 51st Senate seat.

In most of these places, presidential coattails could be key, and we can’t over-stress the importance of the presidential race on the battle for the Senate. This is a hyper-partisan era, and one effect of party polarization is a reduction in ticket-splitting in years like 2012. A Senate candidate in a competitive race will have difficulty swimming against a strong presidential tide in most of these states. The contests in Hawaii, Nebraska and North Dakota might be more competitive in a midterm year, but Linda Lingle (R-HI), Bob Kerrey (D-NE), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) are trying to survive tidal waves for the other party’s presidential nominee in their states.

Yes, it’s March, and the calculus in many of the races, including ones we don’t see as toss ups now, will change as the primary season ends and the general election gets closer. But we suspect the contest to control the Senate will stay close for the rest of the campaign year.

More on these races, plus updates on the other 25 Senate races going on this year, is below.

Chart 2: Crystal Ball ratings of 2012 U.S. Senate races.

State Incumbent Possible Primary Challengers Major Party Opposition Third party Party Rating
AZ Jon Kyl
(Retiring)
- Rep. Jeff Flake
- Businessman Wil Cardon
-Ex-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona
- Ex-AZ Dem Chairman Don Bivens
Leans R
CA Dianne Feinstein
(Running)
- 2010 CA-11 candidate Elizabeth Emken
- Businessman Dan Hughes
- Businessman Al Ramirez
Safe D
CT Joe Lieberman
(Retiring)
- Rep. Chris Murphy
- Ex-Sec. of State Susan Bysiewicz
- State Rep. William Tong
- 2010 Sen. Nominee Linda McMahon
- Ex-Rep. Chris Shays
- Atty Brian Hill
-Atty Peter Lumaj
Likely D
DE Tom Carper
(Running)
- Businessman Kevin Wade Safe D
FL Bill Nelson
(Running)
- Rep. Connie Mack
- Ex-Sen. George LeMieux
- 2010 Gov. candidate Mike McCalister
- Businessman Ron Rushing
- Catholic blogger Marielena Stuart
Toss up
HI Daniel Akaka
(Retiring)
- Rep. Mazie Hirono
- Ex-Rep. Ed Case
- Ex-Gov. Linda Lingle
- Ex-HI GOP Chairman John Carroll
Leans D
IN Richard Lugar
(Running)
- Treasurer Richard Mourdock - Rep. Joe Donnelly Likely R
MA Scott Brown
(Running)
- Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren
- Immigration Atty Marisa DeFranco
- Atty James King
Toss up
MD Ben Cardin
(Running)
- State Sen. Anthony Muse - Ex-Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino Safe D
ME Olympia Snowe
(Retiring)
- Sec. of State Charlie Summers
- Treasurer Bruce Poliquin
- Attorney General William Schneider
- State Sen. Debra Plowman
- Ex-State Senate President Rick Bennett
- 2006 ME-2 nominee Scott D’Amboise
- Ex-Sec. of State Matt Dunlap
- State Sen. Cynthia Dill
- State Rep. Jon Hinck
- Businessman Ben Pollard
- Ex-Gov. Angus King Leans I/D
MI Debbie Stabenow
(Running)
- Ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra
- Ex-Judge Randy Hekman
- American Family Association MI president Gary Glenn
- Businessman Peter Konetchy
- Cornerstone Schools co-founder Clark Durant
Likely D
MN Amy Klobuchar
(Running)
- Army veteran Pete Hegseth
- State Rep. Kurt Bills
- Ex-State Rep. Dan Severson
- St. Bonifacius city Councilman Joe Arwood
Safe D
MO Claire McCaskill
(Running)
- Businessman John Brunner
- Ex-Treasurer Sarah Steelman
- Rep. Todd Akin
Toss up
MS Roger Wicker
(Running)
- Veteran and former minister Albert N. Gore Safe R
MT Jon Tester
(Running)
- Rep. Denny Rehberg
- Farmer Dennis Teske
Toss up
ND Kent Conrad
(Retiring)
- Ex-AG Heidi Heitkamp - Rep. Rick Berg
- Ex-Naval officer Duane Sand
Leans R
NE Ben Nelson
(Retiring)
- Ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey - AG Jon Bruning
- Treasurer Don Stenberg
- 2008 Sen. Candidate Pat Flynn
- State Sen. Deb Fischer
- Air Force vet Spencer Zimmerman
Likely R
NJ Bob Menendez
(Running)
- State Sen. Joe Kyrillos Likely D
NM Jeff Bingaman
(Retiring)
- Rep. Martin Heinrich
- Aud. Hector Balderas
- Ex-Rep. Heather Wilson
- 2008 NM-02 Candidate Greg Sowards
Toss up
NV Dean Heller
(Running)
- Rep. Shelley Berkley
- Businessman Barry Ellsworth
Toss up
NY Kirsten Gillibrand
(Running)
- Rep. Bob Turner
- Nassau Co. Comp. George Maragos
- GOP legal scholar Wendy Long
Safe D
OH Sherrod Brown
(Running)
- Treasurer Josh Mandel Leans D
PA Bob Casey
(Running)
- Businessman Steve Welch
- Ex-state Rep. Sam Rohrer
- Former coal company owner Tom Smith
- Manufacturing executive David Christian
- Ex-Santorum aide Marc Scaringi
Likely D
RI Sheldon Whitehouse
(Running)
- Businessman Barry Hinckley Safe D
TN Bob Corker
(Running)
- Army vet Zach Poskevich - Businessman Larry Crim Safe R
TX Kay Bailey Hutchison
(Retiring)
- LG David Dewhurst
- Ex-TX Solicitor General Ted Cruz
- Ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert
- Ex-ESPN analyst Craig James
- Ex-state Rep. Paul Sadler
- Political activist Sean Hubbard
Safe R
UT Orrin Hatch
(Running)
- Ex-State Sen. Dan Liljenquist
- State Rep. Chris Herrod
-Ex-State Sen. Minority Leader Scott Howell
- Businessman Pete Ashdown
Safe R
VA Jim Webb
(Retiring)
- Ex-Gov. Tim Kaine
- Marine veteran Courtney Lynch
- Veterans advocate Julien Modica
- Ex-Sen. George Allen
- Del. Bob Marshall
- Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke
- Atty David McCormick
- Bishop E.W. Jackson
Toss up
VT Bernie Sanders
(Running)
- Ex-MA State Rep. John MacGovern Safe D/I
WA Maria Cantwell
(Running)
- State Sen. Michael Baumgartner
- Physician Art Coday
Safe D
WI Herb Kohl
(Retiring)
- Rep. Tammy Baldwin - Ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson
- Ex-Rep. Mark Neumann
- State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald
- Businessman Eric Hovde
Toss up
WV Joe Manchin
(Running)
- 2010 nominee John Raese Likely D
WY John Barrasso
(Running)
Ex-Army paratrooper Thomas Bleming Safe R

Arizona — Democrats claimed a coup when they recruited former George W. Bush-era Surgeon General Richard Carmona as their preferred candidate in this race to replace Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. But not only has support from national Democrats failed to clear the field for Carmona — ex-state Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens remains in the race — but Carmona also trails the likely Republican nominee, Rep. Jeff Flake, by double digits in polling. This race could tighten, but Republicans have the clear advantage to retain the seat. LEANS REPUBLICAN

California — The California GOP recently endorsed Elizabeth Emken, last seen finishing fourth in a 2010 Republican House primary, as its preferred challenger against longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D). Keep moving, people, nothing to see here. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Connecticut — With Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D) retiring, the Nutmeg State’s seat is open for business. On the Democratic side, Rep. Chris Murphy appears to be the frontrunner in what will be a competitive primary. His main challenger is former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, but with the most recent primary polling dating from September, it’s difficult to know where the race stands. In the GOP nomination battle, 2010 Senate nominee Linda McMahon may very well get another shot; her one major challenger is ex-Rep. Chris Shays, who hopes to buck the conventional wisdom on this race. Of course, McMahon lost in 2010 despite the GOP wave, which does not bode well for whoever claims the Republican banner. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Delaware Incumbent Sen. Tom Carper (D) has drawn no significant Republican challenger, meaning that this seat remains SAFE DEMOCRATIC.

Florida When Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) entered this race in October 2011, we knew this race could be a real Fall Classic. Polling averages over the last three months indicate that Mack and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) are neck and neck, with a large number of undecideds. Mack, the great-grandson of baseball legend Connie Mack and son of former Sen. Connie Mack III, still has to navigate the GOP primary in August. But he joined the race in part because of the weak Republican field, and he’s the favorite. Although Mack’s entry has made this contest competitive, he is further proof that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate. One of his primary opponents, former Sen. George LeMieux (R), has attacked Mack for his past intemperate behavior, focusing on a number of physical altercations. In keeping with Mack’s baseball heritage, perhaps the most notable incident was a bar fight with then-Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ron Gant in the early 1990s. However, it remains to be seen if this line of attack will threaten Mack’s GOP nomination hopes. A Nelson-Mack battle in the general election would likely be a true nine-inning affair. Given Florida’s controversial electoral past, though, we hope it doesn’t go to extra innings. TOSS UP

Hawaii — After the retirement of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), ex-Aloha State Gov. Linda Lingle (R) made the case that, if elected, she would follow in the moderate Republican’s footsteps. That’s the best argument the former two-term governor has, but we think it might not be enough — remember, while Maine is a Democratic state (57.7% for Obama in 2008), Hawaii is a super-Democratic state (71.9% for Obama). Presuming native son Obama does about as well, is Lingle really going to run 20 points ahead of the Republican presidential nominee? Hawaii Democrats are closing ranks around Rep. Mazie Hirono, who appears to be in good position to get by ex-Rep. Ed Case in the primary. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Indiana — The heated primary between Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and his primary challenger, Treasurer Richard Mourdock, appears to be tightening, and Lugar is in real danger of losing the May 8 primary. Lugar’s residency — by all accounts, he hasn’t really “lived” in Indiana for decades — has given Mourdock plenty of ammo. An Evansville Courier and Press story this week featured the following lead: “Over the 36 years he’s been in the U.S. Senate, how much time has Richard Lugar actually spent in Indiana? Nearly five years — a total of 1,805 days — according to his campaign.” This doesn’t exactly help Lugar’s argument that he’s a devoted Hoosier. Polling shows Mourdock within single digits of Lugar, and a Mourdock victory might give Rep. Joe Donnelly, the probable Democratic nominee, an outside chance to steal a Republican-held seat. This is one to watch, but it remains LIKELY REPUBLICAN, becoming darker red if Lugar wins but lighter red if he doesn’t.

Maine — Democrats in Maine deserve a lot of credit for playing realpolitik in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) shocking retirement. After Democratic heavyweights Rep. Chellie Pingree and ex-Gov. John Baldacci initially flirted with a run, independent ex-Gov. Angus King jumped in the race. That created the potential for a repeat of 2010’s gubernatorial race, when an independent and a Democrat split the vote, allowing Tea Party Republican Paul LePage to win the governorship. This time, sadder-but-wiser top Democrats all passed on the run, effectively making King the de facto Democratic candidate. Because we believe King will ultimately caucus with Democrats, and because we favor him over whoever emerges from the relatively lackluster Democratic or Republican fields, we are calling this race LEANS INDEPENDENT/DEMOCRATIC.

Maryland One of the bluest states in the country, the main action in Maryland’s race has been on the Democratic side. Incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin (D) is feeling at least somewhat threatened by state Sen. Anthony Muse (D), having launched a new television ad last week while battling hard to gain the endorsement of a number of African-American pastors, an important part of winning in places such as Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Nevertheless, Cardin holds a large fundraising edge, and it would be shocking if he lost the nomination on April 3. With little action on the GOP side and the state’s almost certain support for President Obama, this may be all the drama Maryland has this election season. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Massachusetts — Sen. Scott Brown (R) has been making all the right moves lately. After negotiating a deal with likely opponent and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren (D) to keep third-party ads out of the race — an agreement that national observers now believe benefits Brown because of his cash-on-hand advantage over Warren — a political action committee ran an ad on Brown’s behalf, allowing him to cheerfully make a $1,000 donation to a charity. In other words, Brown got great media for fulfilling his pledge, and all it cost him was a tiny (by campaign finance standards) check. Brown also cut an ad recently that had no political content: a thank you to recently retired Boston Red Sox stars Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield for their successful careers. Politics isn’t all about the issues, and to the extent Brown can make this race more about Bay State blue-collar culture, and less about specific issue stances, the better his chances become. TOSS UP

Michigan In our last Senate update in December, we noted that polling indicated that former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) was probably the strongest challenger against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Although that may still be true, Hoekstra’s controversial February television ad, viewed by many as racially insensitive, has hurt his general election numbers while aiding Stabenow’s fundraising efforts. In the immediate aftermath of the ad, Stabenow’s polling lead head-to-head with Hoekstra jumped from single digits to as much as 21 points. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Minnesota There is little indication that incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) will have much trouble winning reelection in 2012. While some Republicans are high on Army veteran Pete Hegseth’s (R) bid, it remains to be seen if he can make the race competitive against the popular incumbent. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Mississippi Can Al Gore really win in Mississippi? Well, no. Neither the well known former vice president and famous 2000 presidential election loser nor the unrelated Albert N. Gore, Jr., the Democratic nominee in this race, would have a chance in the Magnolia State. Incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker (R) has little to fear here. SAFE REPUBLICAN.

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is among the most vulnerable incumbents this cycle. In fact, a recent Rasmussen survey showed McCaskill trailing all of her potential GOP challengers, though other polls have shown the race closer. Yet it is still unclear who McCaskill’s Republican opponent will be: Rep. Todd Akin, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and businessman John Brunner are all in the running, but Auditor Tom Schweich decided against a run. With the primary scheduled for Aug. 7, it will be awhile before we know which Republican will get his or her shot at the vulnerable incumbent. TOSS UP

Montana — While Sen. Jon Tester (D) and likely challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) have been battling head to head for months, the basic trajectory of the race, as noted above, remains unchanged — Rehberg has a tiny lead in this Red State. TOSS UP

Nebraska — With Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) retirement, Republicans looked to be on the way to an easy win until ex-Sen. Bob “Hamlet” Kerrey (D), after months of indecision, reversed course and jumped in. Kerrey may be a better candidate on paper than he is in reality; his last victory was 18 years ago (1994) and he spent much of his post-Senate career (he retired in 2000; Nelson replaced him) as president of the New School in New York City. We still think this is the most likely Senate seat in the nation to switch parties — more likely even than North Dakota. Still, one factor in Kerrey’s favor is that he has a free path to the nomination; there’s a big fight on the Republican side, led by establishment pick Attorney General Jon Bruning and Tea Party-backed/Club for Growth-endorsed Treasurer Don Stenberg (who lost the Senate seat to Ben Nelson in 2000). Kerrey would prefer to face Stenberg, a three-time Senate loser. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Nevada — Nevada political guru Jon Ralston unloaded recently on Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), who is running to unseat appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R), for proposing a Massachusetts Brown/Warren-style compromise to keep SuperPACs out of the Nevada Senate race. Ralston hypothesizes that once Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign is over, conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may find a new candidate to support — Heller — with his bottomless coffers. The threat of Adelson’s money bankrolling a pro-Heller SuperPAC is probably the driving force behind Berkley’s pleas for a SuperPAC truce. In any event, the size of the Hispanic vote in Nevada come November may be more of a deciding factor in this contest than any SuperPAC. TOSS UP

New Jersey — A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll showed Sen. Robert Menendez losing to “someone else,” 37% to 30%, but leading the top “someone else” in the Republican field, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, 43% to 33%. Popular Republican Gov. Chris Christie is going to help his ally Kyrillos — a fundraiser featuring the governor recently raised $600,000 for Kyrillos — but we don’t expect this race to ultimately be that competitive, unless Christie ends up on the GOP ticket. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

New Mexico – The Land of Enchantment’s GOP faithful are apparently not all that enchanted by former congressional candidate Greg Sowards’ Senate bid. His primary opponent and the favorite for the nomination, ex-Rep. Heather Wilson, won 83% of the delegate vote at the party’s pre-primary convention on March 17. Having fallen short of 20%, Sowards must now collect signatures to qualify for the June primary rather than simply qualifying through the convention process. Wilson, who lost a Senate primary to Rep. Steve Pearce in 2008, looks well on her way to the nomination. On the Democratic side, Rep. Martin Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas have their own competitive primary. While polling shows Heinrich is favored, Balderas is a Hispanic candidate in a plurality Hispanic state, and therefore cannot be discounted. Given that New Mexico went sharply for President Obama in 2008 and may very well back him again, Democrats are hopeful that they can hold this open seat in the fall, but Wilson could foil those plans. TOSS UP

New York There is a new entry into the Empire State race: Rep. Bob Turner (R). Essentially left without a district in the state’s congressional redistricting process, Turner has decided to challenge incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). No matter who gets the Republican nomination, however, Gillibrand is a heavy favorite to win her first full term, having won 63% of the vote in the 2010 special election to replace now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

North Dakota — Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R) continues to be criticized for his generous use of franking (free mailing) to communicate with constituents as he gears up to run for Senate, but more worrisome to his chances are the whispers we hear that Berg just isn’t a particularly good candidate, and that Republicans are legitimately worried that he might boot away what should be a relatively easy pickup opportunity in the wake of Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) pending retirement. Berg’s apparent weakness, plus the candidacy of ex-Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D), has prompted a rating change here — we’re now calling this race LEANS REPUBLICAN, down from likely Republican. Berg remains favored because the GOP will win the presidential race by a mile, making it difficult for Berg to throw the race away.

Ohio — State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) has taken a lot of hits from Democrats over the past several months for seemingly devoting more of his time to raising money for his Senate challenge against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown than working at his day job as treasurer. That included negative press last week about Mandel’s trip to the Bahamas, where he raised money from payday lenders, and Mandel’s failure to attend meetings of an obscure board that helps determine where to deposit state money (he showed up at the board meeting on Monday, a wise move given the spate of bad newspaper headlines). Some Ohio Republicans are privately groaning about Mandel’s performance as a Senate candidate so far. That said, Mandel is raising a ton of money — $5.8 million so far, according to the most recent reporting from last month — which will give him the resources to potentially make this race more of a referendum on Brown than on him. This has the potential to be a very close contest in the end. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Pennsylvania Having received the backing of the Republican establishment, particularly Gov. Tom Corbett (R), businessman Steve Welch (R) may very well be the favorite in the state’s GOP primary. Still, a recent Public Policy Polling poll found that Welch trails all four of his Republican opponents, albeit with 48% undecided. If Welch does carry the GOP banner in November, that PPP survey showed incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) well ahead of Welch, 49-29. Although that lead is partly due to Welch’s lack of name recognition, there is little question that Casey is a fairly strong incumbent in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Rhode Island – Incumbent Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) has only drawn a single challenger, businessman Barry Hinckley (R). Rhode Island is a very Blue state, so freshman Whitehouse can feel good about his chances for a second term. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Tennessee It seems that there are hardly any Democrats willing to volunteer to run against incumbent Sen. Bob Corker (R) in the Volunteer State. Considering that a recent poll showed Corker winning 46-30 over a generic Democrat, perhaps it’s not surprising that only little-known businessman Larry Crim (D) has decided to challenge the incumbent. Although Corker has primary opponents, his massive war chest and solid approval rating means he should have clear sailing to a second term. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Texas — The Texas primary is finally set (we think) for May 29. Assuredly, Republican front-runner Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst would have preferred the primary to be over with by now, because the longer the race drags on, the longer his top opponents — ex-state Solicitor General Ted Cruz and ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert — have to chip away at Dewhurst’s lead. Their goal is to keep Dewhurst under 50% and to finish second in order to force him into a run-off showdown. Democrats have no one of consequence to prevent the eventual Republican nominee — who we still believe will be Dewhurst — from keeping the retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in GOP hands. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Utah — Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), in his toughest fight for renomination ever, won an apparent victory last week when his forces appeared to dominate a caucus that selected delegates to the April 21 Republican convention. At the very least, Hatch should avoid the fate of his former colleague, ex-Sen. Robert Bennett (R), who finished in third at the 2010 convention, failing to even secure a place on the primary ballot. If Hatch can win 60% at the convention, he would automatically become the nominee, and a cinch for a seventh term in this deeply Republican state. Interestingly, Hatch pledged not to seek an eighth term in 2018, when he’ll be 84; this was a significant concession to the pro-term limits Tea Party folks in the Beehive State. SAFE REPUBLICAN

Vermont Former Massachusetts state Rep. John MacGovern (R) has finally given incumbent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) a challenger this election cycle. However, it’s uncertain how compelling a candidate MacGovern is: He was last on the national political radar screen in 1990, when he lost in a Massachusetts congressional race. Moreover, the Green Mountain State gave President Obama 67% of its vote in 2008, third behind only Hawaii and Washington, D.C. It’s hard to imagine Sanders losing at this point. SAFE INDEPENDENT/DEMOCRATIC

Virginia It looks like ex-Sen. George Allen (R) is truly a good sport: the former University of Virginia quarterback decided to participate in three GOP debates this spring despite the fact that he is far and away the Republican frontrunner. While some of his opponents, mainly state Del. Bob Marshall and Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke, have some fervent backers, Allen will be a shoo-in to face former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in the fall in what many view as the most competitive Senate race in the country. Some of the most recent polls in Virginia have been outliers favoring one side or the other. First, a February Roanoke College poll found Allen ahead by 8%. Then an NBC News/Marist poll showed Kaine ahead by 9%. The truth is likely right smack in the middle; based on its polling average, RealClearPolitics has the two candidates exactly tied. We continue to believe that the outcome of this race will largely be determined by which party claims Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in November. TOSS UP

Washington — Despite losing her campaign manager to a Washington U.S. House campaign, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) has a relatively easy path to a third term. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

West Virginia — Businessman John Raese (R), who ran against Sen. Joe Manchin (D) in 2010, is challenging Manchin again. If Raese is Manchin’s opponent, we suspect the Mountain State’s political titan, Manchin, will be quite pleased. Despite some hiccups in his 2010 race, Manchin ended up dispatching Raese by about 10 percentage points. Even taking into account West Virginia’s GOP lean at the presidential level, Manchin will be awfully hard to beat. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Wisconsin — The dynamic in the Badger State has remained static for months. If ex-Gov Tommy Thompson is the Republican nominee, he probably starts off favored against Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) in the general election. If not, Baldwin could move ahead. The Republican field, already featuring Thompson, ex-Rep. Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, recently grew when businessman Eric Hovde jumped into the race. He’ll try to recreate the success of Sen. Ron Johnson (R), a one-time political novice who defeated ex-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010. Even though the Badger State’s presidential primary is coming up on April 3, the Senate primary won’t be until Aug. 14. TOSS UP

Wyoming Incumbent Sen. John Barrasso (R) is seeking his first full term in 2012, having been appointed and then elected to fill out deceased Sen. Craig Thomas’ term in 2007. Given Wyoming’s dark Red Republican hue, it’s not surprising that there is no declared Democratic candidate. Barrasso’s only competition at the moment is of the intraparty kind: retired Army paratrooper Thomas Bleming (R) opposes the incumbent. However, Barrasso is well entrenched and has quickly moved up the GOP ladder in Washington, becoming part of the Republican leadership and a vocal critic of the current administration’s policies. SAFE REPUBLICAN