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News brightens for Democrats in nation’s Senate races

The news has continued to get a little better for Democrats in Senate races around the country since the last time I wrote an overview of the Senate contests.

One of the big developments is in Minnesota, where recent polls have for the first time suggested that Democrat Al Franken is slightly ahead of incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. (Franken has led according to a few previous polls, but those were always offset by other polls soon after showing Coleman ahead. At the moment, Franken has led in the last three public polls on the race.

The other big surprise is that in Georgia, the re-election campaign of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, which had not been on the list of close races, is now there, with Pollster.com rating the race as a toss-up.

Real Clear Politics and Pollster.com have different methods for combining a bunch of recent polls in a particular race to determine the “RCP average,” as Real Clear Politics calls it, or the “trend,” as Pollster does. But the two sites agree in every single case about who is ahead (although not exactly by how much) in every close Senate race in the country.

The bottom line is that if the Democrats won every Senate race in which they are currently leading, they would make a net gain of eight Senate seats and go into the next Congress with an overwhelming (but not quite filibuster-proof) 59-41 majority.

Of course, some of the leads are so sturdy they are almost certain to last through Election Day (check out former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s lead in the race in that state over another former guv, Jim Gilmore). These are listed as battleground races only because they involve an open seat, or because they were once thought to be competitive.

Other leads are so small as to be statistically insignificant, puny, and pitiful bordering on laughable (that would include the Pollster.com trend favoring Franken and the RCP average for Democrat Jeff Merkley in his campaign to unseat incumbent Oregon Republican Gordon Smith.

Speaking of Smith, while three of these races are for open seats where the incumbent is retiring, and the two contests below in which Republicans are ahead feature incumbent senators (Chambliss and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell), the list also shows five incumbent Republican senators (including Minnesota’s Norm Coleman) who are trailing. If those races turn out that way, that would be a historically large percentage of incumbents to lose.  

Here’s the list of the 10 states that have competitive Senate races, who RCP and Pollster believe is ahead, and by how much. Bear in mind, every one of these seats is currently held by a Republican. No seat currently held by a Democrat is deemed likely to change party hands this year:

State

Who’s ahead

Who’s behind

By how much on RCP

On Pollster

Alaska

Dem. Mark Begich

Sen. Ted Stevens

3.2 % pts.

1.5

Colorado

Dem. Rep. Mark Udall

Ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer

6.0

6.6

Georgia

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R)

Ex-state Rep. Jim Martin

2.4

1.8

Kentucky

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Dem. Bruce Lunsford

6.5

5.6

Minnesota

Dem. Al Franken

Sen. Norm Coleman

2.2

0.8

New Hamp.

Dem. Jeanne Shaheen

Sen. John Sununu

5.9

6.2

New Mexico

Rep. Tom Udall (D)

Rep. Steve Pearce

16.0

14.8

N.Carolina

Dem. Kay Hagan

Sen. Elizabeth Dole

3.4

4.3

Oregon

Dem. Jeff Merkley

Sen. Gordon Smith

0.8

1.7

Virginia

Dem. Mark Warner

Repub Jim Gilmore

28.2

26.9

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