Tight Races Mean Senate Control Anyone's Guess

Patty Murray, Rand Paul, Harry Reid and Mark Kirk

With Election Day less than two weeks away, polls suggest Senate races around the country are getting increasingly tight. Democrats currently control 59 seats, which means that Republicans must net ten to take over the chamber. The GOP appears likely to win Democratic seats in North Dakota, Arkansas and Indiana.

After that it gets interesting.

In Colorado, a new Reuters-Ipsos poll has Democrat Michael Bennet within three points of Tea Party backed-Republican Ken Buck. Buck recently made headlines for suggesting that homosexuality was a choice - though "birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism." (He also reportedly called global warming a "hoax.") Other recent polls showed Bennet trailing by a wider, though single-digit, margin.

In Wisconsin, incumbent Russ Feingold faces an uphill battle against another Tea Party-backed Republican, Ron Johnson. But a new poll from Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College has Feingold within two points in what Democrats are hailing as evidence that Feingold is surging. (Other recent polls have shown Johnson up by around seven.)

In Pennsylvania, new Quinnipiac and Muhlenberg polls suggest the race between Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak has become a dead heat, thanks in part to heavy Democratic spending. And in Kentucky, one of the few Democratic pickup opportunities, Democrat Jack Conway, aided by an ad in which he questions his opponent's faith, appears to be making a run at Republican Rand Paul.

Those four races reflect the good news if you're a Democrat. But there has been tightening going the other way as well: In Washington, a new Marist/McClatchy poll suggests that a race in which Democrat Patty Murray was thought to be comfortably ahead of Republican Dino Rossi is actually quite close. (President Obama is hosting a rally in Washington with Murray today.) In California, new polls from Reuters/Ipsos and others show Democrat Barbara Boxer, who has been leading by high-single digits, in a very tight race against Republican Carly Fiorina.

And then there are the longer-term tossups: Polls suggest the nasty race between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada continues to be exceedingly close, as do the battles in Illinois between Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoilias and West Virginia between Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican John Raese.

So where does that leave things, assuming the expected happens in placed like Connecticut (where Linda McMahon appears to be fading), Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri, states in which polls show the races not quite so close?

If things go amazingly well for Democrats - they win all the tight races above, and even manage to take Kentucky - they'll emerge from the midterms with 57 seats, just two less than they had going in.

And if things go amazingly well for Republicans, with the GOP taking all those tight races, the GOP will emerge with 52 seats - enough for the majority.

The most likely outcome, when the dust settles, is something in between, which would leave Democrats with a slim majority. But with this many seats so clearly in play - and an enthusiasm gap that could portend a Republican wave - anything could happen.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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