Control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs in this year's mid-term general election and insiders say it could come down to races in as few as seven states. Senate races in four more states, including Oregon, also could play a role.
The political wildcard in the election deck is what happens in Republican primaries, including in Kentucky where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a Tea Party challenger. In 2012, GOP voters nominated very conservative and controversial candidates that cost them victory in November in at least two states.
Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley won't have a walk-over in his first re-election bid, as credible Republicans, including Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, have jumped into the race. Expect some big money to come to Oregon to bludgeon Merkley. If that works or Merkley slips, Oregon could wind up on the short map of key races to decide control of the Senate.
For now, Washington Post political analysts point to Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina as the battlegrounds to watch with Democratic incumbents trying to stave off GOP challengers. Republicans are given the edge to win seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where Democratic incumbents are retiring or, in the case of Montana Senator Max Baucus, heading off to the China as the new U.S. ambassador.
Republicans thought they had a lock in 2012 on seats in Montana and North Dakota where President Obama is unpopular, but their own candidates proved just as unpopular.
The talking points this time around will apparently continue to be the evil known as Obamacare for Republicans and the plight of the working poor by Democrats. Within those large ideological constructs will be many local or regional issues. If the GOP captures southern Senate seats, there will be a stark contrast between the red-state South and blue-state North.
Then there is the civil war inside the Republican Party. GOP primaries in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Kentucky could nominate candidates that seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Arizona GOP Senator John McCain, who overcame an intra-party challenge in 2012 and was recently censured by his own state's Republican Party for not being conservative enough, says he guardedly optimistic Republican voters will "nominate candidates that can win."
Democrats have been galvanized into action by the prospect of $30 million in attack ads, funded by the Koch brothers, against Democrats who are perceived as or may become vulnerable, including Merkley. Strategists think they can make those attack ads boomerang by pointing out what they say is the Koch anti-progressive agenda.
With Senator Ron Wyden newly installed as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Oregonians will have more to think about when they vote for Merkley or his GOP opponent. If Democrats lose control of the Senate, Wyden will lose the gavel of the powerful committee that oversees taxation, international trade and Medicare.