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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Five Senate Races to Watch

If you have followed the battle for the Senate for even a few minutes this election cycle, you probably know that Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott P. Brown are locked in a tight race in Massachusetts, that comparing Senator Claire McCaskill to a dog appeared not to be additive to Representative Todd Akin's bid to unseat her in Missouri and perhaps have pondered with the rest of the United States Senate which party, if elected, Angus King of Maine would choose to caucus with.

But below we have highlighted five races that may not have been given as much attention but that deserve a little look-see as we cruise toward the end of this campaign.

Republicans assumed, with good reason, that the retirement of Senator Jon Kyl would mean a loss of a senior lawmaker for Arizona, but not of a seat for their party in the Senate. But a tough Republican primary left their nominee Representative Jeff Flake, a well-known and well-established Republican, broke, b ruised and in need of more help than his party expected to give. Democrats in the meantime got the best candidate they could have hoped for in Richard H. Carmona, a former surgeon general in the Bush administration, a Vietnam war hero and Hispanic well known around the state. Mr. Carmona has occasionally closed in on Mr. Flake, though Republicans still count this in their column. A victory by Mr. Carmona seems unlikely, but both sides say, not impossible. This race also offered perhaps the most comic ad war, when Mr. Carmona released a television ad that featured glowing remarks from Mr. Kyl and Senator John McCain, delivered during Mr. Carmona's 2002 confirmation hearing. Neither Mr. Kyl, nor Mr. McCain, who have endorsed Mr. Flake, were amused.

Oh Indiana, what a story you have provided this year. First the state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, picked off the longtime and respected Senator Richard G. Lugar in a Republican pri mary, and seemed poised to coast to victory in this usually reliably Republican state. Democrats maintained hope that Mr. Mourdock's Tea Party imprimatur and fondness for saying that compromise means Democrats doing what Republicans want, might end up hurting him. Instead, he was dinged during a recent debate when he said that “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Representative Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, who has run this campaign as a moderate and does not support abortion rights, saw a door opening after that debate, and his party helped him push on it. The contest is now a tossup.

Republicans were convinced they could pick up a seat here when Senator Ben Nelson, the two-term Democratic incumbent, decided not to run again, and for months, that is exactly how it looked. Democrats recruited Bob Kerrey, the state's former governor and two-term senator who returned to his native Nebras ka after a decade in New York City. Mr. Kerrey, however, did not get the opponent he wanted in State Senator Deb Fischer, who became the Republican nominee after winning a three-way primary. Nebraska has gotten a lot more conservative since Mr. Kerrey last served, and his double-digit deficit in the polls all fall seemed to presage defeat. However in the last few weeks, Mr. Kerrey has seemed to be gaining ground and he could get a boost from the endorsement Thursday by a former senator, Chuck Hagel, a Republican and fellow wounded Vietnam War veteran, who overlapped with Mr. Kerrey in the Senate. Mr. Kerrey's surge may be too little too late, but he is within the margin of error in some polls, which could make Republicans pay closer attention to this race in the closing days.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a first-term Democrat, is known as a scrappy and energetic campaigner who generally polls ahead of President Obama in this all-important swing state. For months, Democrats have assumed he would easily swat away his Republican challenger, Josh Mandel, the youthful looking state treasurer and a former Marine. But with the enormous hand of outside groups, which have pummeled the state with advertisements, Mr. Mandel has managed to inch closer to Mr. Brown in the polls and forced Democrats look more closely at a race they assumed was safe. Mr. Brown is expected to prevail, but as for Democrats in Arizona, Republicans choose to keep hope alive in this state.

The retirement of Senator Herb Kohl, a four-term Democrat, excited Republicans and Democrats equally, because each side knew a strong candidate in a presidential year would have a shot at a seat. Republicans were particularly emboldened by the failed effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, which they believed was a vote of confidence for their party. What's more, they got the candidate they wanted in Tommy Thompson, the state's former four-term governor . But Mr. Thompson has struggled against Representative Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic candidate, who would be the first openly gay senator should she be elected. Mr. Thompson has been dogged by his lobbyist past, and Ms. Baldwin appears to be benefiting from Democrats coalescing. This tossup race has been leaning in her favor.

- All New York Times House Race Ratings