Next year’s Senate landscape has long been regarded as treacherous terrain for Democrats.  In 2008, Barack Obama’s blue wave swept many Democrats into office, including more than a few from red and purple states.  That year’s Senate class will soon be up for re-election in a non-presidential year — which means a smaller, more informed, more Republican electorate, and no help at the top of the ticket.  As Dan reported over the weekend, Democrats’ top recruit to run for Max Baucus’ soon-to-be-vacant seat (former Gov. Brian Schweitzer) has begged off.  Instead, the party will likely nominate either a failed 2010 Congressional candidate, or the president of an organization devoted to abortion.  This development has many political handicappers sliding the Montana race into the “leans GOP” column, alongside two other contests for open seats in red states.  Republicans are favored to win in West Virginia, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring, as well as South Dakota, where Tim Johnson is stepping down.

If they carry the day in those three races, Republicans would be halfway home to securing a Senate majority.  The GOP’s most direct path to netting the requisite six seats to supplant Harry Reid as majority leader involves knocking off some endangered Southern Democratic incumbents.  At the top of the list are Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan.  One tier down sit Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Alaska’s Mark Begich.  Beyond that, Republicans have more distant shots at picking off incumbents in places like Colorado and New Hampshire, or winning open seats in Iowa or Michigan.  Meanwhile, almost every single Republican-held seat is considered fairly safe in 2014.  Democrats believe their most promising chances to spring upsets lie in Georgia and Kentucky, but events haven’t been kind to the DSCC thus far.  Their prized recruit in Georgia chose not to run, and Mitch McConnell’s opponent — whom national Democrats wooed heavily — suffered an inauspicious campaign roll-out, then basically fell off the grid.  Guess where she finally turned up?

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