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Morning Line’s Top 10 Senate races for May

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Rachel Wellford  May 30, 2014 at 9:12 AM EDT
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Our updated Senate rankings
  • Top 9 all states won by Romney in 2012
  • Michigan makes the list
  • More Democrats call on Shinseki to step down

Battle for control of the Senate: May has been a good month for establishment Republicans, who got their preferred candidates in North Carolina and Georgia and saw Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily dispatch of his primary challenger. But it also saw Democrats in Arkansas and Alaska do well and maintain leads. How has all that shaken things up? Below is our updated list of Top 10 Senate races, with No. 1 being the most likely to flip. Not much changed in our order. In fact, our top seven all remain the same. But Georgia moved up a couple of spots, Alaska moved down and Michigan steps a toe into the top 10. As a reminder, Republicans need to net six seats to win a Senate majority. We base our analysis on conversations with campaigns, committees, public and private polling, as well as voter and state trends. These are not intended to be projections, but a look at where things stand right now. We will update our rankings the last Friday of each month from here until Election Day and possibly more frequently closer to November.

  1. South Dakota (Open-Democratic controlled): Former Gov. Mike Rounds remains the heavy favorite here against Rick Weiland, a former aide to Sen. Tom Daschle. (Previous ranking: 1)
  2. West Virginia (Open-D): It’s official — it’s Rep. Shelley Moore Capito versus state Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Capito continues to hold wide leads in the polls in another state where President Barack Obama is wildly unpopular. Tennant gets positive marks from Democrats for the campaign she’s run so far, but the climate for national Democrats and her cash-on-hand disadvantage are problems for her. (Previous: 2)
  3. Montana (Walsh-D): Republican Steve Daines is up double digits over appointed Sen. John Walsh, but both sides expect the race to tighten somewhat in this populist-leaning state closer to Election Day. Walsh’s perch in Washington hasn’t helped his fundraising. Daines has a $1.9 million to $315,000 cash-on-hand advantage. (Previous: 3)
  4. Louisiana (Landrieu-D): Get ready for the Louisiana Limbo… It’s POSSIBLE we could be waiting on Senate control until Dec. 6, when a runoff would take place if no one clears 50 percent on Election Day. In fact, neither side at this point thinks Republican challenger Bill Cassidy will get to 50 percent on Election Day. And Landrieu isn’t polling at 50 percent, either. (Previous: 4)
  5. North Carolina (Hagan-D): Republicans breathed a sigh of relief when their preferred candidate in state House speaker Thom Tillis emerged from a competitive primary and didn’t get dragged into a runoff. Hagan has faced an onslaught from outside groups and yet is still polling tied or even slightly up on Tillis. But Hagan remains VERY vulnerable. Tillis is barely known statewide and Hagan’s approval rating at 35 percent in a recent Elon Poll was below President Obama’s at 41 percent. (Previous: 5)
  6. Kentucky (McConnell-R): McConnell defeated tea party challenger Matt Bevin handily in the May 20 primary. His 25-point victory helped allay some concerns about whether conservatives would come home this fall. Still, recent polls show McConnell tied with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in what is expected to be one of the most expensive and contentious races this year. McConnell is unpopular, but he has demographics — and political ruthlessness — on his side. Both Grimes and McConnell are raising serious sums of money. Grimes has $5 million in the bank, and McConnell has double that at $10 million. (Previous: 6)
  7. Arkansas (Pryor-D): Sen. Mark Pryor continues to look strong against GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, with some reputable polls even showing him up double digits. It’s tough to see that margin holding on Election Day given the Natural State’s reddish hue, but Pryor’s long personal ties to the state — and family legacy — are acting as a buffer so far from a potential Obama drag. Cotton has work to do, particularly in softening his image. In his latest television ad, he touts his “deep roots” in the state while carrying flowers and walking hand-in-hand with his wife. (Previous: 7)
  8. Georgia (Open-R): Establishment Republicans got their favored outcome when businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston advanced to a July 22 runoff over Karen Handel and Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. Republicans feel good about this race, but right now it’s essentially a tie between Democrat Michelle Nunn and either Perdue or Kingston. And that likely won’t change until at least the runoff is settled. There’s an argument that Georgia could move ahead of Arkansas because of the polling, but let’s see some more over the next month. (Previous: 10)
  9. Alaska (Begich-D): Republicans and Democrats alike continue to marvel at the campaign run so far by Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, most notably the finely produced television ads. Begich also has the advantage of a late GOP primary, which doesn’t come until Aug. 19. Washington Republicans see Dan Sullivan, a former Alaska Natural Resources commissioner, as the strongest candidate. Based on his latest ad, Begich thinks so, too. (Previous: 8)
  10. Colorado (Udall-D) and Michigan (Open-D): So this one’s not quite a tie in the polling. Colorado is a bit closer than Michigan, frankly. But Republicans believe Democrats will pour resources in to Colorado to save Sen. Mark Udall from a challenge by GOP Rep. Cory Gardner. The chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Michael Bennet, is the other senator from Colorado. In Michigan, Republican Terri Lynn Land could benefit from Gov. Rick Snyder’s coattails this fall in a potential matchup with Democratic Rep. Gary Peters. (Previous: 9/Not ranked)

Honorable mentions: Republicans are still waiting to pick a nominee in Iowa, where Joni Ernst appears to be the front-runner. If she can’t get 35 percent on June 3, though, the nominee will be selected at a state convention, where all bets are off. … New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia also remain long shots for Republicans. … Mississippi would turn into a target for Democrats if tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel manages to pull off the upset against veteran Sen. Thad Cochran on Tuesday.

Pressure continues to build on Shinseki: The number of Senate Democrats calling for Eric Shinseki to resign rose to 11 on Thursday, with Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Warner (Va.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) joining five others who said Wednesday the embattled Veterans Affairs secretary should step down. The top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Maine Rep. Michael Michaud, also called Thursday for Shinseki’s dismissal. The mounting pressure comes on the heels of the release Wednesday of a preliminary inspector general’s report that confirmed allegations of improper scheduling practices at a VA facility in Phoenix. With support for Shinseki eroding on Capitol Hill, White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to say Thursday whether President Obama still had confidence in the secretary’s ability to lead the department. The president told ABC News in an interview to be aired Friday that he planned to have a “serious conversation” with Shinseki about whether he “has the capacity to take on the job of fixing” the problems at the agency. The president is expected to receive the initial findings of an internal audit ordered by Shinseki later Friday. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Ed O’Keefe report Shinseki worked Thursday to convince Democratic lawmakers and veterans groups that he should be given more time to implement repairs. The effort included an hour-long meeting with veterans groups during which Shinseki “outlined plans to hold accountable VA employees who falsified waiting-list records and said VA will ensure that 1,700 veterans in Phoenix, who had been put on unofficial waiting lists, receive immediate care.” On Friday Shinseki delivered remarks to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans annual conference, where he updated the agency’s push to combat veterans homelessness. Shinseki acknowledged the problems with scheduling practices at VA facilities were “systemic” and called the behavior “indefensible.” Still, he said he took “responsibility for it” and told the group that he had initiated the removal of senior leaders at the Phoenix hospital, and voiced support for a measure in Congress to make it easier to fire employees who’ve committed wrongdoing.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington, DC. What state was Lincoln originally from?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Rachael ‏(@CreativeArtistB) for guessing Thursday’s trivia: Where was John F. Kennedy born? The answer was: Brookline, Mass.

LINE ITEMS

  • Secretary of State John Kerry sat down Thursday with Gwen Ifill for an extended interview on current foreign policy challenges and why he thinks President Obama doesn’t get sufficient credit for successes. Kerry weighed in on the U.S. response to the crisis in Ukraine, a terror resurgence in North Africa, the war in Syria and a Mideast peace process that ground to a halt just a few weeks ago.
  • Politico’s Maggie Haberman acquired a portion of Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices”, in which Clinton details her account of the September 2012 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
  • The Des Moines Register recaps Thursday’s Iowa GOP Senate debate, which had “no knockout blows.” Jennifer Jacobs reports front-runner Joni Ernst drew criticism for referring to last week’s mass shooting in California as an “unfortunate accident,” after describing it earlier as a “tragedy.” Ernst will campaign with 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday, with events planned in Cedar Rapids and Davenport.
  • The Washington Post’s Dan Balz profiles Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and his campaign to spurn one of the strongest tea party challenges this cycle.
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $43.5 million in airtime for 36 district races.
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been selected as the keynote speaker for the 2014 Iowa Democratic State Convention on June 21.
  • The office of one of the only openly gay Republican candidates in this midterm election cycle was vandalized this week. Carl DeMaio is running for California’s 52nd Congressional District.
  • In response to the NBC News interview with Edward Snowden, in which the NSA contractor labeled himself a patriot, Speaker John Boehner said, “Edward Snowden is a traitor to our country. He’s damaged our ability to keep Americans safe here and abroad. There is no other word to describe other than traitor.”
  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., are working on a proposal to pass a majority of, if not all, spending bills for fiscal year 2015 by this coming September.
  • The House Appropriations Committee passed a bill Thursday that would allow schools to opt out of the federal nutritional guidelines program.
  • In a hearing Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the House Judiciary Committee he feels the controversial immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities should stay.
  • Instead of flat-out denying the existence of climate change, some Republicans’ new tactic is to say they are not qualified to debate the issue.
  • The California state Senate passed a measure that will raise the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $13 an hour by 2017. The bill now goes on to the general assembly.
  • Residents of Del Norte and Tehama counties in California will vote next Tuesday on whether to secede from the Golden State to create their own state. If the measure is voted on, California’s legislature and Congress will still have to approve the change.
  • Governors in Oklahoma and South Carolina are contemplating repealing Common Core, a set of standards for K-12 students in English and math.
  • Donald Trump, Mike Lee, Haley Barbour and Newt Gingrich are among the headliners on day two of the National Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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