From the National Journal’s Hotline with tip o’ the cap to john combest:
What goes around comes around. After losing virtually every toss-up Senate race in 2006, Republicans find themselves in prime position to pick up the four seats they need to control the Senate. And Democrats’ success five years ago means Republicans have plenty of targets from which to choose.
In this, the first installment of Hotline’s monthly Senate race rankings, we examine the seats most likely to change partisan control in next year’s elections. That is, we see Sen. Kent Conrad’s seat in North Dakota as more likely to wind up in Republican hands than Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat in Nebraska, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts more likely to lose to a Democrat than Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.
Our complex methodology includes a delicate balance of poll numbers, both public and private; fundraising performance; message resonance; buzz on the trail; and, the key ingredient, our gut feelings. From those five factors, we answer a fundamental question: Which candidate would we rather be? In North Dakota, we’d rather be in Rep. Rick Berg’s position than in former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp’s place, for example.
The ultimate conclusions are subjective, of course, and we promise they endear us to neither side (Our phones will ring off the hooks with loud complaints from both Democrats and Republicans the moment these rankings are published). But they represent months of close scrutiny of each race, and our best conclusions as to where the Senate is headed in the 113th Congress.
The bottom line: It’s a target-rich environment for the GOP, but unlike in 2010, Democrats have opportunities to make life very uncomfortable for at least a few Republicans.
MISSOURI (D, Sen. Claire McCaskill)
If Republicans had been able to find a top-tier challenger, McCaskill would be in more trouble. She faces a lackluster GOP field, but she’s in for the fight of her political life anyway. McCaskill got in trouble earlier this year for reimbursing a company her husband owns for plane flights, a serious flub that could undermine her image as a good-government reformer. But Democrats say the issue hasn’t registered with voters, and they’re confident they have a candidate who can appeal to crossover voters when matched up with an eventual Republican nominee they will paint as a partisan hack.