Having beaten back all of the tea party challengers so far this year, Senate Republicans have assembled a field of candidates well-poised to hold their own seats and make a run at the at least six Democrat-held seats needed to flip control of the chamber and start calling the shots in the upper chamber.
With the midterm elections four months away, Republicans are beginning to make a case for what the chamber would look like, with approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and repeal of a tax on medical devices — a widely despised component of Obamacare — at the top of the list.
Also on the list are a slew of bills to cut regulations and roll back some of President Obama’s executive actions, all of which have passed the Republican-controlled House but are languishing in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has them bottled up.
“There are lots of bipartisan jobs bills being held up after passing the House,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who likely would ascend to majority leader if he wins re-election in November and if Republicans take control. “And there are lots of good ideas on Obamacare.”
That Republicans are even envisioning control shows just how bad the environment is for Democrats this year.
Most prognosticators say the top eight or nine Senate seats in play this year are all held by Democrats, which means the majority party is playing heavy defense everywhere, from Alaska to North Carolina. Even Virginia, Michigan and New Hampshire could come into play.
Republicans have managed to avoid the self-inflicted wounds that cost them in 2010 and 2012, when they nominated candidates that squandered winnable races, including in Indiana, Missouri, Delaware and Nevada — a race that could have toppled Mr. Reid in 2010.
Instead, Mr. McConnell survived a tea party primary challenge in Kentucky, two mainstream candidates emerged in the Republican primary runoff in Georgia and Sen. Thad Cochran survived a tea party challenge in Mississippi last week, though that race fostered bad blood when Mr. Cochran relied on Democrats to win.
Prognosticators who crunch the numbers on various scenarios give Republicans a good chance at succeeding.
The New York Times gives Republicans a 56 percent chance of winning control. Nate Silver, a former number-cruncher at The New York Times who now runs FiveThirtyEight.com, says Republicans have a probability of winning 5.7 seats or, when rounded, the six seats needed to gain a majority.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato predicts a gain of four to eight seats for Republicans.
If Republicans win five seats, the chamber would be split 50-50, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden giving Democrats control through his tie-breaking vote, but even that would seriously hamper Mr. Reid’s control.
Mr. McConnell signaled this year that if he takes the gavel from Mr. Reid, he would encourage a more robust committee process and open up the debate and amendment processes.
“Voting on amendments is good for the Senate, and it’s good for the country,” he said. “Our constituents should have greater voice in the process. They should also know where we stand on the issues of the day, regardless of whether the majority party thinks those issues are worth debating or voting on. And if Republicans are fortunate enough to be in the majority next year, they would.”
Republicans say Mr. Reid has become too powerful in controlling the chamber, unilaterally deciding which issues get floor time. One Republican aide said Mr. Reid single-handedly foiled a bipartisan patent reform bill by leaving it to die in committee after he said in May he wouldn’t bring it to the floor.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and Republican Policy Committee chairman, said that if Republicans win the majority, energy bills will be a major focus, and priorities will be the Keystone pipeline and legislation to boost natural gas exports.
“We realize that we’ll need 60 votes to get anything to the president’s desk,” he said. “Republicans would ensure that the Senate actually works, holds votes and focuses on issues that have a level of bipartisan support.
“Right now, nothing is getting done in the Senate because Harry Reid and President Obama won’t allow Republicans and Democrats to vote on consequential issues,” Mr. Barrasso said. “If Republicans were in charge, the Senate would actually listen to the American people and work to solve important problems.”