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Senate races 101: Is the Democratic majority in jeopardy?

Republicans are almost sure to pick up seats after the 2010 Senate races are over. But they also have an outside shot at retaking the majority in the upper chamber.

By Tarini PartiContributor / August 26, 2010

Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado celebrates with his wife and children after winning the Democratic primary.

Ed Andrieski/AP



A Republican takeover of the Senate would be a slap down for Democrats, and most political handicappers consider that scenario unlikely. But Republicans are expected to add to the 41 seats they have now, eating into the Democrats' almost-filibuster-proof margin and, perhaps, forcing them to approach lawmaking in a more bipartisan way than has recently been the case. (Of course, there's also the possibility of gridlock.)

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Remember, too, that party control of the Senate has shifted in recent years more often than in the House. Since the 1980 election, the Senate has changed hands six times (and the House only twice). Democrats have held the Senate majority since 2007.

As for which side has the fundraising edge, it so far looks to be a draw. Republican Senate candidates have raised more money, but they've also spent more during the primary season. That leaves the average GOP Senate candidate with a bit of a disadvantage heading into the fall: about $800,000 cash on hand compared with the average Democratic candidate's $1.15 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Here's a primer on the 2010 Senate races.

How many Senate seats are up this year?

Thirty-seven of the Senate's 100 seats are up for vote on Nov. 2. Nineteen of those are currently held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans.

How many seats do Republicans need to win to take control of the Senate, and what are their odds of doing so?

The Republicans need to net 10 seats to take control of the Senate. The odds of doing so are slim, says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Political Report, but the GOP is likely to gain five to seven seats.

One question is whether Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who currently caucuses with Democrats, will switch allegiances if Republicans come close to winning the majority. Another is whether Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, who often is out of step with Democratic priorities, would change parties.

Even if Democrats keep control, they probably won't have anywhere close to the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster and move legislation to the floor. The job of leading the Senate will get harder, no matter what the outcome in November.

How many seats are open?

Fourteen seats are open, meaning no incumbent is running. Three of those are unlikely to change party hands. One – North Dakota – is sure to switch from Democratic to Republican. Of the remaining 10, Democrats now hold five: Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Delaware. Those states represent excellent pickup opportunities for Republicans. Republicans hold the other five – Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio – and they are fighting hard to hold onto those as well.