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The early line on the 2010 midterm elections continues to brighten for Republicans.

The latest race-by-race assessment of Senate contests by independent analyst Stu Rothenberg predicts a net Republican gain of five to seven seats, with eight Senate seats a possibility. Ten seats--the number Republicans would need to regain control of the chamber from the Democrats--seems out of reach, at least for now.

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"The possibility of a GOP blockbuster year has increased noticeably," concludes Rothenberg.

Among the Democratic seats that appear likely to go to Republican are Vice President Joe Biden's former slot in Delaware, currently held by appointee Ted Kaufman, who isn't running, and the seat of retiring North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan.

Democratic incumbents picked to lose: Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and the most powerful of all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Other Democratic incumbents on the endangered list include Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Michael Bennet of Colorado. Four seats held by retiring Republicans, in Ohio, New Hampshire, Missouri and Kentucky, are rated as tossups, along with Illinois and Indiana, which are being vacated by Democratic incumbents.

And what about the Senate race in Maryland, pitting Democratic veteran Barbara A. Mikulski against an opponent to be named later (in September's Republican primary)?

"Not even on the GOP's radar," reports Rothenberg.

Mikulski is rated one of eight "currently safe" Democratic senators.

A total of 36 Senate seats are being contested this year. With Republican gains all but assured, "Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate," concludes Rothenberg, "but at a dramatically reduced level."

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