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Some interesting Senate races to watch

Although Democrats have a chance to take the House of Representatives in November, they face an uphill battle in keeping all of their seats in the Senate, much less gaining the majority. With a razor-thin margin of 49 Democrats to 51 Republicans, a handful of critical races could decide which party controls the Senate. 

In August, CBS News took a look at the Senate races to watch in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. One month later, those races remain tight, with developments in polling, endorsements and voter sentiment. In the final weeks of the campaign, Ohio and Montana also have Senate races that bear watching.

Arizona (Open)

Republican candidate: Martha McSally
Democratic candidate: Kyrsten Sinema
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

Arizona is the deep-red home state of Barry Goldwater and John McCain, but Democrats are hoping that urbanization and demographic changes will turn its open Senate seat blue this November.

Rep. Martha McSally is the Republican nominee for departing Sen. Jeff Flake's seat, after handily defeating right-wingers Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio. She is facing Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat who has voted in line with President Trump's policies around 60 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. She is also a member of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House, and the New Democrat caucus, which describes itself as "committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies."

National Democrats had hoped that Sinema would face one of the more controversial candidates in November, allowing her to attract some moderate Republicans as she hews towards the center. Nonetheless, Sinema appears to be holding her own against Ward. Earlier this month, a Fox News poll found Sinema three points ahead of McSally, and a CNN poll released in mid-September showed her to be seven points ahead of McSally. A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll published Oct. 7 showed Sinema with 47 percent support among likely voters and McSally with 44 percent support.

However, Sinema has come under fire for her conflicting statements on her childhood. She has described a hardscrabble upbringing, where her family at one point lived in an abandoned gas station. Sinema has claimed that she lived without electricity or running water, but The New York Times found records of electric, phone and gas bills being paid during the time that her family lived in that building.

Regardless of who wins in November, Arizona will be sending a woman to the Senate for the first time in state history.

Florida

Republican candidate: Rick Scott
Democratic candidate: Bill Nelson (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott has the funds, the social media presence and broad support across Florida. Scott raised $22 million in the second quarter, while Nelson received $4.4 million in donations. Scott is also a multi-millionaire who could potentially spend a tremendous amount of his own money in the state's expensive media markets. 

Scott has also been making appeals to demographic groups traditionally presumed to lean Democratic, especially Hispanic voters. Cuban-American voters in the state have historically leaned Republican, but Democrats are hoping that an influx of Puerto Rican voters will move the state more into the Democratic column.

However, the race has been in some sense dominated by the encroaching toxic algae bloom on the state's southeastern coastline. Nelson and Scott blame each other for the problem, and have released attack ads on the issue. Democrats have also hit Scott on his forced ousting from his position as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, an insurance company in 1997, amid a federal fraud investigation. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the health care conglomerate paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 25 showed Nelson with a seven-point lead over Scott, with 53 percent of support among likely voters compared to Scott's 46 percent. Nelson leads Scott with independent voters, women, black and Hispanic voters.

Indiana

Republican candidate: Mike Braun
Democratic candidate: Joe Donnelly (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

Donnelly is one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats in the country, and being directly targeted by Mr. Trump isn't helping his cause. The president has visited Indiana twice to stump for Republican Mike Braun, most recently in late August, referring to Donnelly as "Sleepy Joe" and a "swamp person." Mr. Trump won Indiana by 20 points in 2016.

Braun is a business executive who injected millions into his campaign during the primary race. However, Donnelly has outspent him in television and radio ads, according to the Associated Press. 

Indiana is solidly Republican, but like many other Democrats running for re-election in states which Mr. Trump won, Donnelly is hoping to attract voters who typically support Republicans in presidential years. In order to do that, he's been trying to emphasize his ties to the president. In July, Donnelly released an ad that quotes Mr. Trump's praise of the senator at a bill signing in May. He also released an ad in September titled "Working," where he highlighted his "joining with President Trump to build a wall and protect our borders."

An NBC News/Marist College poll from September showed Donnelly with a slight edge in the race, with support from 49 percent of likely voters, compared to 43 percent for Braun.

Missouri

Republican candidate: Josh Hawley
Democratic candidate: Claire McCaskill (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

McCaskill famously ran ads during the 2012 Republican senate primary to boost what her team saw as her weakest prospective opponent, then-Rep. Todd Akin. Sure enough, Akin won the primary and quickly imploded after making comments about "legitimate rape" that caused the national GOP to all but leave him for dead. 

This year, however, Republicans learned their lesson, quickly coalescing around state Attorney General Josh Hawley. Although the state Republican Party endured a major scandal when GOP Gov. Eric Greitens resigned after being accused of blackmailing and assaulting a woman with whom he had had an affair, that scandal may not affect Hawley.

While McCaskill is running on her record of coming to bipartisan agreements, Hawley is tacking to the right. He has embraced Mr. Trump, and called McCaskill a "Washington liberal" multiple times in their first debate. A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll found the two candidates tied, each with 45 percent support among likely voters. And having under 50 percent support in a tough re-election year is not ideal for the incumbent.

Health care is a huge issue in the campaign. As attorney general, Hawley has brought forward a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, a fact McCaskill has tried to use to her advantage. But Hawley says that he does not support taking away coverage for people with preexisting conditions, and that this coverage could be provided through the state.

Hawley is betting that Missourians will vote to elect a senator who represents what it actually is: a solidly Republican state. But McCaskill is hoping that her track record and knowledge of Missouri will be enough to carry her through another difficult election.

Montana

Republican candidate: Matt Rosendale
Democratic candidate: Jon Tester (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Edge Democrat

Tester, like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, is a moderate Democrat who has managed to stay afloat -- and relatively popular -- in a state which Mr. Trump won by 20 points in 2016. That same year, Bullock won his re-election by four points, far outperforming Hillary Clinton. Montana has a recent history of split-ticket voting, which could keep Tester in the Senate despite Montana's Republican lean. 

Tester, a skilled campaigner who is seeking his third term in the Senate, has carved a niche for himself as a moderate Democrat. He is a gun owner who has voted against background checks and has been given an A- grade from the National Rifle Association. 

However, he has invoked the ire of Mr. Trump, having voted against the president's Supreme Court nominees. He also led the charge against Dr. Ronny Jackson's nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this year. As the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Tester raised concerns about allegations of professional misbehavior by Jackson, who denied the accusations. Jackson eventually withdrew his nomination.

Mr. Trump campaigned in Montana for Tester's Republican opponent, Matt Rosendale, in September. He raised Tester's opposition to Jackson as a mark against the senator. "Jon Tester will never drain the swamp because he happens to live in the swamp and he loves the swamp," Mr. Trump said at the rally.

Despite the president's disapproval, Tester seems to be staying afloat. A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll found him two points ahead of Rosendale, with 47 percent support from likely voters, compared to Rosendale's 45 percent support.

Nevada

Republican candidate: Dean Heller (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Jacky Rosen
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

Heller is the only vulnerable Republican senator on this list. Clinton won Nevada by two points, and Heller's opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen, is a high-profile Democratic recruit who won her district in 2016 even though it went for Mr. Trump. Heller can't even hope to ride on the coattails of popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, as Sandoval is term-limited and has shown his distaste for the Republican candidate attempting to replace him in the toss-up gubernatorial race.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Heller famously said that he was 99 percent against Mr. Trump. But times have changed, and would-be primary challenger Danny Tarkanian dropped out of the race after Mr. Trump endorsed Heller. 

After equivocating on whether he would vote for the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Heller became a co-sponsor of the Graham-Cassidy bill, which would have dramatically restructured Medicaid. Sandoval expanded Medicaid in Nevada under the ACA. Rosen has hit Heller for his support of this bill in a recent ad.

Mr. Trump recently traveled to Las Vegas to rally on behalf of Republican candidates in the state, including Heller. And although Heller represents Democrats' best hope for beating a Republican incumbent senator this cycle, Heller is a proven survivor, winning his seat in 2012 even as President Obama carried the state. 

North Dakota

Republican candidate: Kevin Cramer
Democratic opponent: Heidi Heitkamp (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Toss up

Heitkamp has said she has a relatively close relationship with Mr. Trump for a Democrat. She was briefly considered for a cabinet position, and has sat next to the president at bill-signings and ridden on Air Force One. Mr. Trump once called her a "good woman," and Heitkamp told the Washington Post in August that the president asked her to change parties. Heitkamp released an ad touting her bipartisanship, noting that she voted over half the time in line with Mr. Trump's policies.

Mr. Trump's chumminess with Heitkamp evoked the annoyance of the outspoken Cramer, who this summer suggested that Mr. Trump was not targeting Heitkamp forcefully because of her gender, according to The Washington Post. However, Mr. Trump has since gone after Heitkamp in rallies in June and September, saying that she was liberal who voted in line with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. 

On the same day that Mr. Trump visited North Dakota in September, Heitkamp released an ad demonstrating her support among union workers. She is also a vocal opponent of the president's tariff policies. But Heitkamp voted against newly-appointed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, despite being down 12 points in a recent Fox News poll. Republicans are hoping that the vote against Kavanaugh will weigh down Heitkamp even further.  

Mr. Trump won North Dakota by 36 points. Like many red-state Democrats, Heitkamp's strategy had been to hew to the center and emphasize her independence, her vote against Kavanaugh notwithstanding. However, the Trump brand may be too strong for Heitkamp to overcome in such a Republican state, particularly given her liberal views on social issues like abortion. 

Ohio

Republican candidate: Jim Renacci
Democratic candidate: Sherrod Brown (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Lean Democrat

Although it is a swing state in presidential elections, Ohio's state government has become increasingly Republican, as have its federal representatives. However, Sherrod Brown -- an unabashedly populist Democrat who supports Mr. Trump's protectionist trade policies -- seems to be the exception that proves the rule. 

Brown was a potential vice presidential candidate for Clinton in 2016, and is sometimes named as a possible presidential contender in 2020. Nonetheless, Brown is relatively safe, especially compared to other Democrats up for re-election in states which Mr. Trump won.

Brown is facing Renacci, a Republican congressman who was endorsed by Mr. Trump via Tweet in April. A Politico/AARP poll from September showed Brown with 47 percent support among registered voters to 31 percent support for Renacci. Twenty-two percent of voters were undecided.

Although Brown is in the lead, he should not get too comfortable, as he is still a Democrat fighting for re-election in a red state in a state Mr. Trump won comfortably. 

Tennessee (Open)

Republican candidate: Marsha Blackburn
Democratic candidate: Phil Bredesen
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Lean Republican

Bredesen, a popular moderate Democrat and former governor, is providing Blackburn with a serious challenge in this Republican-leaning state. A September CNN poll found Bredesen with 50 percent support among likely voters, compared to 45 percent support for Blackburn.

Blackburn is focusing her campaign on her support for Mr. Trump, who endorsed her in May. At a rally in Nashville in May, Mr. Trump portrayed Bredesen as a tool of "Chuck and Nancy." Blackburn has promised to wholeheartedly support Mr. Trump's agenda if elected, and used clips from that rally in a recent campaign ad touting Trump's endorsement.

Despite Blackburn's Trumpworld cred, the race remains competitive. Bredesen's campaign recently released an ad highlighting praise that he received from Republicans when he was governor, and another that emphasizes his commitment to gun rights and high marks from the NRA when he was governor. He also said he would have voted to confirm Kavanaugh, and recently received the endorsement of musician Taylor Swift, who has in the past avoided airing her political views. 

The latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll showed Bredesen trailing Blackburn among likely voters, with 42 percent support to her 50 percent support.

Texas

Republican candidate: Ted Cruz (incumbent)
Democratic candidate: Beto O'Rourke
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Lean Republican

Despite much adulation from liberals and magazine writers, O'Rourke, the telegenic Democratic congressman from El Paso, faces serious hurdles in his struggle to defeat Cruz. However, despite Mr. Trump's nearly 10-point margin of victory in 2016 and Cruz's 16-point win in 2012, the buzz around O'Rourke is loud enough to suggest that the conservative incumbent may be in trouble. 

O'Rourke's tour of the state has garnered large crowds nearly everywhere he goes. He has also raised $10 million in the second quarter, compared to Cruz's $4 million. Mr. Trump has announced that he will be rallying for Cruz, his erstwhile 2016 foe, in October.

Nonetheless, O'Rourke is a long shot. No Democrat has been elected statewide in Texas in 20 years, and Cruz will likely benefit from the fact that the state's popular Republican governor, Greg Abbott, is also up for reelection. 

O'Rourke has also been behind Cruz in most recent polls. Although an NBC News/Marist College poll found him four points down earlier this month, a Quinnipiac Poll saw O'Rourke trailing with 45 percent support among likely voters to Cruz's 54 percent support. A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll was closer, with 44 percent support for O'Rourke and 50 percent for Cruz among likely voters.

As in Arizona, O'Rourke's candidacy is a test of how much demographic changes have shifted a solid Republican state to the left, and whether it's enough to elect a Democrat. 

West Virginia

Republican candidate: Patrick Morrisey
Democratic candidate: Joe Manchin (incumbent)
CBS News Battleground Tracker rating: Edge Democrat

Manchin is an endangered species: the last statewide Democrat standing in West Virginia, which voted for Mr. Trump by over 40 percentage points. If anywhere can truly be defined as "Trump country," it is West Virginia, where formerly Democratic Gov. Jim Justice switched to the Republican Party in 2017 at a rally Mr. Trump.

Manchin has made his reputation as a conservative Democrat, voting to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in 2017 and Gina Haspel as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2018. Just last week, he became the only Democrat to break ranks and vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Manchin also hasn't ruled out voting for Mr. Trump in 2020.

His willingness to embrace Mr. Trump may be enough to save Manchin, who is facing Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the general election. Mr. Trump rallied on behalf of Morrisey in August, where he said that "a vote for Patrick Morrisey is truly a vote to Make America Great Again."

Health care is also an issue in this race. Morrisey joined with Missouri's Hawley in the case against the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Manchin's daughter, a health care CEO, was roundly criticized for raising the price of EpiPens in 2016 -- a fact Republicans have tried to use to their advantage. 

  • Grace Segers

    Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.