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USA Today: Charlie Crist Brightens GOP’s Senate Outlook

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From Susan Davis, USA Today: Charlie Crist’s entry in the Florida Senate race for 2010 gives Republicans a strong player on a field that again will be tilted in favor of the Democrats.

After picking up six seats in 2006 and nine last year, Democrats have no coming retirements and hold only two seats in 2010 races that election analysts currently consider competitive. Republicans hold four seats in races that figure to be close. Counting the two independents who tend to vote with the party, Democrats hold a 59-40 majority and would pick up their 60th vote if Al Franken, as expected, is certified the winner over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

“Democrats will probably pad their majority for the third cycle in a row,” said Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Having said that, things don’t look quite as ugly for Republicans.”

There are 36 seats up for election next year — 19 held by Republicans and 17 by Democrats. Mr. Crist’s entry in Florida tilts that race slightly toward the GOP, Ms. Duffy said, although it wouldn’t represent a pickup, as the seat is now held by the retiring Republican Mel Martinez.

Republicans are playing defense in Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

In Kentucky, GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, with low popularity ratings and week fund raising, could be the most vulnerable incumbent of the cycle, although party officials believe their prospects would improve if Mr. Bunning opts to retire. In New Hampshire, the retirement of Sen. Judd Gregg also puts that seat up for grabs in a state that, like the rest of New England, has been trending Democratic.

In Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt could face a primary battle from former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman for the open seat to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Kit Bond. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is the likely Democratic candidate.

At least three Democrats have announced bids for the open Ohio Senate seat, while former Bush administration official and Republican Rep. Rob Portman is the early favorite for his party’s nomination. Republican Sen. George Voinovich is retiring.

Democrats, meanwhile, will be playing defense in Connecticut and Illinois. In the former, ex-Rep. Rob Simmons is seeking the GOP’s nomination to challenge Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, a Democrat whose ties to the industries he regulates have made him vulnerable.

In Illinois, moderate Rep. Mark Kirk is considering a bid for the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama and now by Sen. Roland Burris. The scandal involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has tainted Mr. Burris, who hasn’t announced his re-election plans.

Republicans also are trying to play offense in some solidly Democratic states by wooing popular moderate candidates. One is Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, a former governor. Susquehanna Polling and Research this month showed Mr. Castle leading Democratic Attorney General Beau Biden by 21 points in a hypothetical matchup. Mr. Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, is widely expected to run but hasn’t announced his plans.

Sen. Ted Kaufman, who was appointed to the vice president’s Senate seat, doesn’t intend to run next year.

In New York, recently appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand shows signs of vulnerability in both a Democratic primary and a general election. A top-tier candidate would be former GOP Gov. George Pataki, who hasn’t announced his intentions but who had a 46%-38% advantage over Ms. Gillibrand in a Marist poll released last week.

In California, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina is considering a long-shot GOP bid against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Other seats that may prove competitive include Colorado, where appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, a political newcomer, is seeking re-election. And in Louisiana, Republican Sen. David Vitter could be vulnerable because of a July 2007 prostitution scandal in which Mr. Vitter was identified as a client. But the Democratic Party has yet to find a candidate to run against him.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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