Open seat -- Sen. Kent Conrad (D) is retiring
Former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp gives Democrats their best opportunity to keep the seat of retiring five-term Sen. Kent Conrad. Republicans hope first-term Rep. Rick Berg will repeat the party's success of 2010, when they took over retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan's seat.
The state has a history of split-ticket voting, giving Heitkamp an opportunity to show her independence from national Democrats. She's publicly disagreed with Barack Obama on issues like energy, which she points to as evidence she won't be a rubber stamp. She enjoys high favorables and solid support from Republican ticket-splitters and has hammered Berg for his connection to a controversial real estate company.
With the lowest unemployment rate in the country, North Dakotans have their choice between two candidates with strong statewide appeal. This race will remain close until Election Day.
Virgina: Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) vs. former Gov./Sen. George Allen (R)
Open seat -- Sen. Jim Webb (D) is retiring
Republican George Allen is fighting hard to win back the seat he lost six years ago to now-retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb. A strong Democratic wave, along with a gaffe caught on tape that became infamous on YouTube, stripped Allen of what was expected to be his second term (and perhaps a launching pad to the 2008 GOP presidential nomination). He now faces Democratic nominee Tim Kaine, another former governor, in one of the marquee Senate races of 2012.
Polls remain close. Barack Obama's win in Virginia in 2008 and the strong play he's making for the state in 2012 have given Kaine organizational support. Allen has run ads linking Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee at the start of the Obama administration, to the president and to looming budget cuts. Kaine, in turn, has run ads tying Allen to George W. Bush's economic policies and that he's wrong on women's issues.
Both candidates have seen their leads grow and shrink with the presidential candidates. It's very likely the winner of the Senate seat will be a member of the same party of the presidential candidate who wins Virginia's 13 electoral votes.
Wisconsin: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) vs. former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R)
Open seat -- Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson won a tough Republican primary to take on seven-term Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin for retiring incumbent Herb Kohl's Senate seat. Thompson's attacks on Baldwin as being too liberal haven't had the impact he was hoping. The polls are very close, but Baldwin has pulled slightly ahead recently, though not outside the margin of error.
Unless vice presidential candidate and native son Paul Ryan brings out strong turnout for the party, the state's historic Democratic tilt in presidential elections could help Baldwin succeed to becoming the first openly gay senator.
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