1. Nebraska (Open)
With the retirement of Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in a solid red state, Nebraska is ripe for a Republican pick-up. The GOP nominated a relatively fresh face in Deb Fischer, a rancher and state senator since 2004, while Democrats reached back to the far past and are recycling former Nebraska governor and senator Bob Kerrey. A Rasmussen poll has Fischer up by 18 points over Kerrey, whose previous service to the state is mostly remembered for his romance with actress Debra Winger in the 1980s.
2. Wisconsin (Open)
Wisconsin broke hard for the Republicans in 2010, with the defeat of incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold by Ron Johnson and Scott Walker winning the governorship. Now with the drama of the Walker recall effort over, Republicans seemed poised to capitalize on a better political climate for conservatives in what was once a fairly reliable state for Democrats. Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson should have no trouble dispatching Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in November.
3. Missouri (McCaskill)
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill says she won’t be attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte—and with good cause, as she is in the fight of her political life. Republicans won’t pick her opponent until an August primary but currently three of the candidates running to take on McCaskill are leading her in the latest Rasmussen poll, by margins ranging from 8 to 12 percentage points. Look for State Treasurer Sarah Steelman to win the primary and defeat McCaskill in November.
4. Montana (Tester)
Since defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in 2006, Rep. Jon Tester has consistently sided with President Obama. He voted for ObamaCare and the stimulus, is pro-choice, and favors global warming legislation—all in a state, which McCain won by 2.2 percentage points. Tester was never that popular in the first place with margin of victory over Burns only 3,562 votes, or 50.4 percent of the total, and now his opponent, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, has opened up a modest lead in early polling.
5. North Dakota (Open)
Early polls show a close race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the former state attorney general, and Republican Rep. Rick Berg, to replace retiring five-term Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. But the state is as red as any, giving John McCain a six-point victory in 2008 over Barack Obama and, in 2010, when North Dakota voted to replace a another long-time retiring Democrat (four-termer Sen. Byron Dorgan), Republican John Hoeven cruised to a 54-point blowout victory.
6. Virginia (Open)
With Democrat Jim Webb stepping down after one term, Republicans have high hopes to retake the Virginia seat and both sides chose political heavyweights to compete. Former governor and former senator Republican George Allen, whose loss to Webb in 2006 was largely due to the Washington Post making a mountain out of macaca, will be facing former governor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tim Kaine.
7. Florida (Nelson)
Likely Republican nominee Rep. Connie Mack IV is taking on two-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and has narrowed Nelson’s early polling lead to a virtual dead heat. Nelson’s support for ObamaCare was highly unpopular among the large senior population, with two-thirds of voters over 65 opposing the measure. It also won’t help Nelson’s support among Jewish voters that a Muslim Brotherhood activist hosted a fundraiser for the senator last year.
8. Connecticut (Open)
The race for the Connecticut Senate seat of retiring Joseph Lieberman will likely shape up to be between Republican Linda McMahon and Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy. McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has a fortune to help finance her campaign, spending over $50 million of her own money on a losing 2010 Senate bid. McMahon has momentum at the moment in the latest polling.
9. New Mexico (Open)
Competing for Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s seat will be former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson and Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich. Heinrich has a modest lead at the moment but all bets are off following the Supreme Court’s decision on neighboring Arizona’s immigration law, making the issue front and center in this border state.
10. Michigan (Stabenow)
Normally Sen. Debbie Stabenow would be a hard incumbent to defeat, she is up by some 12 points in various poll currently. But these are unusual times as Michigan is suddenly a battleground state in the presidential race. After trailing by double-digits earlier in the campaign, Mitt Romney has essentially pulled even with Obama. It will be an uphill a battle, but Romney coattails could bring former Rep. Peter Hoekstra into the Senate.