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Top 5 US Senate Races to Watch in 2014

Races That Decide if 2014 is a 2010 Repeat

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In 2014, Republicans will need to have a net gain 6 seats to take control of the chamber. Assuming Republicans maintain control of the US House of Representatives, the GOP will have control of both chambers and thus more bargaining power as they challenge President Obama in his final two years.

The Setup

The Republicans will have 14 seats up in 2014, but almost all of those are "safe" to remain in Republican hands. A handful have the opportunity to be competitive - and we list one here - but if the GOP loses any of their current seats, it is unlikely the winds of change will be in their favor anyway. The Democrats are in a much tougher position with 21 seats to defend with many incumbents either retiring or trying to defend red or purple states. Below are the 5 most compelling races in 2014 and if the GOP wins all five they are almost guaranteed to take control of the Senate.

Arkansas

Republicans were looking for a top-tier candidate to challenge Mark Pryor in Arkansas and they got one when US Congressman Tom Cotton entered the race. Arkansas could potentially wind up on the least interesting list. Pryor's strength as a candidate is relatively unknown. He won a close race in 2002 before being given the gift of no challenger in 2008. But one vote for Obamacare and several years later and it is a new ball game. Former US Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) was trounced by more than 20 points in 2010 despite having won her three previous elections by double-digits. West Virginia and South Dakota are already slated to be "should wins" for the GOP. Will Arkansas be competitive or quickly fall into no contest territory?

North Carolina

In 2008 North Carolina handed Democrats surprise victories in the Presidential, Senatorial, and Gubernatorial races. Was a once solidly-Republican state was now a swing state? Republicans rebounded slightly in 2010 as they picked up one house seat and held onto the second US Senate seat. In 2012 the Democratic Governor was so unpopular she didn't run again, and the Republican won easily, but Mitt Romney only defeated President Obama by 2 points. After a rough start, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan rebounded as she attempted to portray herself as a moderate, despite her strong support for abortion and her votes for Obamacare. Polls have been more favorable to her since 2011, suggesting North Carolina truly is becoming a swing state. Can the GOP find a top-tier challenger?

Montana

Montana is interesting because it is turning into the Senate seat nobody wants to run for. Incumbent Democrat Max Baucus is bailing and former Governor Brian Schweitzer has also declined to carry the banner for the party. Despite a 4-point win by Democrat Jon Tester in the other US Senate seat in 2012, Democrats are having trouble fielding a candidate. Republicans are also keeping it quiet. Two names - Congressman Steve Daines and former Governor Marc Racicot - would all but put the race in the R candidate. But will either enter the race?

Kentucky

Democrats seem obsessed with making Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's seat competitive. Ashley Judd was floated by liberal activists for awhile but the party seems to have settled on Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. A poll in late July of 2013 had McConnell 10 points ahead of Grimes. With a hefty war-chest and favorable demographics, it seems a bit of a reach for the Democrats to so aggressively target the Kentucky seat especially with so many tough seats of their own to defend. Are Democrats hoping for some big misstatement from McConnell that sunk GOP chances in Missouri and North Dakota in 2012?

Louisiana

The Senate seat in Louisiana could end up being the most exciting race of all. Unlike most states, Louisiana does not have a primary system where candidates from each party are chosen and then meet in a general election. Instead, one single multiparty primary is held on election day with all candidates on one ballot. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be held in December. So, if the GOP nets 5 seats on election day with Louisiana undecided for another month, it could turn into one hectic election. As for the candidates, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu has never been able to crack 52% in her three election. With the myth of her conservatism put to rest by Obamacare, she can be in a lot of trouble. Her best hope is that voters have short memories. Not having President Obama on the ballot could hurt her even more, as many voters who would have shown up for Obama might not come out to vote just for her.

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