In The Lead: GOP Feeling Confident About Senate Chances

April 30, 2010 7:34 a.m.

Republicans like their chances this fall when it comes to scooping up prime Senate seats across the country. They are playing offense on a wide map, leading in eight seats held by Democrats and successfully defending all the GOP seats on their own turf.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is feeling good about the races in Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas, North Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Delaware, where their polling shows the GOP leading Democratic candidates and incumbents.

Check out all the latest TPM poll averages for these races here. Bottom line – the Democrats are trailing but in many cases their Republican opponent hasn’t yet been chosen. In some of the races — Colorado, Arkansas, Indiana in particular — the Republicans are engaged in bitter intraparty fights that could ultimately help the Democrats once the field is settled.“This has been a huge change since January 2009. We had wind in our face, a strong headwind, and now I feel we have the wind on our back,” NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday.

The Democrats hold 57 seats and have two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a 59-seat majority in the Senate. Most oddsmakers think it’s a longshot for the Republicans to win back the chamber in the fall, but based on the polling six months out, they do seem poised to knock off some Democrats or win seats like retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan’s in North Dakota.

Cornyn admitted that if the Republicans do win back the Senate, “once we get back in a position of power we have to regain the public’s confidence”

As far as those primary battles, like the one next week in Indiana, Cornyn dismissed GOP concerns without backing a specific candidate among the field of contenders. He said he “feels very good about us picking up that seat” left vacant by Sen. Evan Bayh’s surprise retirement.

He said even though the 8-way Republican primary in Arkansas may not be settled on May 18 and could go to a runoff election, he thinks the GOP will unseat Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D).

It’s “easily one of the most winnable races,” Cornyn said.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (CA), Patty Murray (WA) and Russ Feingold (WI) hold leads. The NRSC would like to keep it competitive in Washington, where they are in full recruitment mode to get Dino Rossi to jump in the race because he’s performing well in polls. They also are aiming to target Feingold, but suffered a setback when Tommy Thompson said he wouldn’t run. NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told me the GOP thinks they are in “striking distance” of Boxer.

In New York, both seats are on the fall ballot. But both Democrats — Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to replace Hillary Clinton — don’t have anything to worry about. (Cornyn said the GOP is still trying for a good candidate to challenge Gillibrand.)

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