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AP/Photos by (McMahon) Charles Krupa, (O'Donnell) Rob Carr

Balance of power

Campaign 2010 | Democrats expect to keep control of the Senate, but GOP challengers could make things interesting

WASHINGTON-Imagine you have endured your own personal Rip Van Winkle sleep over the last few months. You have just awakened today to read that a major contest is occurring that includes a former professional wrestling magnate and someone who has dabbled in witchcraft. You'd be forgiven if you thought that the Dancing with the Stars finale was set to air tonight. But you would, of course, be wrong.

Today Americans do get to vote-but it is about who they think will make the best lawmakers not (necessarily) the best dancers. Even though President Obama did appear on the radio show of American Idol host Ryan Seacrest on Monday, the stakes today are much higher than who can sing pop songs.

Election Day marks the end (well almost-more on that later) of 2010's long midterm campaign season. While many people believe a Republican takeover of the House is a given, it is in the Senate where things could get interesting.

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Yes, the nationwide race for control of the Senate does include the following: a former professional wrestling executive (Linda McMahon in Connecticut, where some of her supporters plan on wearing pro wrestling T-shirts when they vote) and someone who claims to have experimented with witchcraft (Christine O'Donnell running in Delaware, where her supporters are NOT planning on carrying broomsticks into polling places).

But these two GOP candidates are considered underdogs. That is not the case for many other Republicans across the nation. In the Senate, 37 of the 100 seats are up for grabs, and the GOP needs to pick up 10 seats to gain control of the Senate.

Incumbent Democrats in Wisconsin, California, Washington, and Arkansas face strong challenges. That is unusual for a midterm but this election season has been anything but usual: At a total cost of more than $3.5 billion, it will be the most expensive non-presidential Election Day ever.

The Cook Political Report recently lowered its Senate predictions for Republican gains, expecting the GOP to pick up six to eight Senate seats as opposed to 7 to 9. That would give Republicans 47 to 49 total Senate seats, with Democrats holding on to 51 to 53 seats.

If those predictions hold and the Republicans regain the House as expected, then this election will be the first time since 1930 that the House changed hands without the Senate following suit.

Regardless of the final outcome (which may not be determined for several days, or even weeks, due to super-tight races), the Senate in the next Congress will consist of much tighter margins.

Legislative logjams will likely be the norm in a chamber that is already filled with frustrated senators from both parties.

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently told the National Journal.

And Democrats may have to deal with its shrunken majority without its top dog: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in the fight of his life for reelection in Nevada. Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle is not letting Reid pull away in a race that carries symbolic significance, as Republicans would love to put Reid's seat in their trophy case.

But that is not the only Senate race with deep undercurrents: In Illinois, Republicans are eying President Obama's old seat. Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias are also running neck-and-neck-even after a Chicago visit from Obama this past weekend.

While many races are not expected to be decided until late, some states with early poll closing times may provide barometers on the night's trends.

In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul leads over Democrat Jack Conway. A Paul win would put a Tea Party candidate inside the Senate for the first time. Tea Party darling Marco Rubio from Florida could soon join Paul after polls close in the Sunshine State.

In West Virginia, polls close at 7:30 p.m. EDT in the race to fill the seat held for decades by the late Democrat Robert Byrd. If Democrat and current Gov. Joe Manchin can't hold off Republican John Raese, it would be a bad omen for the Democrat's effort to salvage part of Tuesday by keeping control of the Senate.

But the acrimonious Senate race in Colorado, pitting incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet against Republican challenger Ken Buck, could be the night's tightest. More than $30 million has been poured into this race alone.
To keep up with the results of these and other Senate races, go to WORLD's home page and click on the Senate tab above the interactive national map.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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