GOP’s Senate prospects on the rise

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The long-shot bid by Republicans to retake control of the Senate is suddenly in play, as the prospect of high-profile Republican candidates entering the fray has pushed the GOP even or ahead in polling for 10 races.

The potential candidacies of former Republican Govs. George E. Pataki in New York and Tommy G. Thompson in Wisconsin are improving the polling fortunes of the party as it pursues seats long in the hands of Democrats, while the anti-government “tea party” movement has provided momentum to Republican challengers in states such as Florida, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

“If the election were held today, the Republicans could come close to winning back the Senate, if not actually win it,” said pollster John Zogby.

Republicans are solidly ahead to take at least five seats now held by Democrats — in North Dakota, Delaware, Nevada, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. Five more are now considered winnable — Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and even liberal New York. Two other races, in California and Washington, are tightening daily.

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In Wisconsin, three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold suddenly faces a real contest from Mr. Thompson — who has not even decided whether to enter the race. The most recent poll from Rasmussen Reports found Mr. Thompson leading Mr. Feingold by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin. Independent voters favored Mr. Thompson 53 percent to 36 percent, the survey found.

Independents are credited with putting Republican Scott Brown over the finish line last month to win a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts occupied for 47 years by liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy.

In New York, freshman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, trails Mr. Pataki by 2.7 percentage points, according to an average of all polls compiled by the Web site Real Clear Politics. The latest survey by Marist put the ex-governor up by six percentage points, a change from a January poll by the organization, which found a three-percentage-point edge for Mrs. Gillibrand.

The formidable New York Republican also has not decided to throw his hat into the ring, a fact some analysts say could well hamper Republican hopes to retake the Senate.

“Now? No. Absolutely not,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. Republicans “would need top-tier candidates in places like Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington and New York, and after that, they would need everything to fall in place.”

“Right now, they don’t have serious opportunities in 10 states with Democratic-held Senate seats up this cycle,” he said.

Mr. Zogby, like many election analysts and pollsters, pointed out that the election is months away, and noted that Republicans would have to hold each of their 18 seats on the ballot this fall and pick up 10 of 16 contested Democratic seats.

“If the Senate elections were held right now, Republicans would have a chance — a small chance — of capturing a Senate majority,” said Michael Barone, a political analyst and co-author of “The Almanac of American Politics.”

“Just about every close race would have to go their way. It would be the equivalent of drawing an inside straight, or even more unlikely.”

Complicating the equation even more, six Republican senators have announced that they are not running for re-election, and Democrats have a reasonable chance of picking up seats in New Hampshire, Florida, Kentucky and Missouri.

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