The Four States That Will Make or Break Democrats’ Senate Hopes

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For Democrats to win back a Senate majority, the math is simple but the task is not: Win back five of the seven GOP-held seats in competitive states—and hold the two seats of their own that Republicans are contesting. Absent a wave election, they need to come close to running the table in the key races, and that means finding a slate of good candidates who run in a mistake-free fashion.

To be sure, Democrats have landed their strongest candidates in several crucial contests. In Ohio, they convinced former Gov. Ted Strickland to challenge Sen. Rob Portman—a contest that polls show is already competitive. They persuaded Rep. Tammy Duckworth to challenge Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois. They convinced former Sen. Russ Feingold to go for a rematch bid against embattled Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. And to defend Harry Reid’s must-win seat in Nevada, they landed a top-tier Hispanic recruit, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

For a while, they appeared on track, but in the last month, the storm clouds have gathered. Former Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina opted not to run again for the Senate, leaving Democrats empty-handed as they seek a challenger against Sen. Richard Burr in the swing state. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who looked likely to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte, now appears to be hedging her bets in the midst of a tough budget battle with Republicans. Scandal-plagued Rep. Alan Grayson is taking on party favorite Rep. Patrick Murphy in Florida, and he’s poised to spend millions damaging Murphy’s image in the primary. Meanwhile, party concerns over former Rep. Joe Sestak continue unabated in Pennsylvania—with few alternative candidates looking to run. Even Strickland, despite leading in several polls, disappointed party officials with his underwhelming first two quarters of fundraising.

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