3 Republican wins and a lot of question marks

It’s springtime in a midterm election year. With primary season well underway, the race for control of the U.S. Senate is coming into sharp focus.

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The map above depicts a rough snapshot of the 36 seats up for grabs this November (Oklahoma and South Carolina appear twice because of special elections to be held concurrently with regular elections).

You’ll notice the three stars indicating seats poised to change parties are all on red states. Republicans have solid leads in the open seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota as well as in Montana, where the incumbent was appointed in February when his predecessor resigned from the Senate to become ambassador to China.

There are no stars on any blue or light blue states. This may change, but at the moment it’s hard to spot a single seat on the verge of flipping from R to D.

Add those three to the 15 other likely- or leaning-Republican races and, with 30 GOP senators not up for re-election this cycle, the GOP caucus looks poised to grow from 45 to 48, easily. And with Democratic incumbents defending all of those yellow toss-up states, a Republican majority is within reach — but hardly assured.

Several states held Senate primary elections yesterday, so it’s a good time to take a closer look at a few of them:

In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton coasted unopposed to their respective party nominations. Polling in this race has been peculiar lately, with some polls showing a dead heat, but others showing a large lead for Pryor. A little more data could push this race into leans-Democrat territory, but for now, given that this is a state Mitt Romney won by 23 points, it remains a toss-up.

Monica Wehby won the Republican primary in Oregon, and she’s led incumbent Jeff Merkley in one poll, potentially putting this race in play. But the fundamentals for Democrats here are fairly strong — President Obama won the state by 12 points in 2012 — and details that recently emerged about Wehby’s divorce are turning into fodder for an ugly effort to paint her as a crazy stalker. The attacks may be overblown, but that doesn’t mean the mud won’t stick.

Mitch McConnell’s commanding win in Kentucky begat a party unity lovefest last night, with McConnell sounding a magnanimous note in his victory speech and supporters of GOP primary challenger Matt Bevin lining up to endorse McConnell. Polls show McConnell in a tight race with Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, but McConnell’s support is likely to rise as primary season resentments quickly fade.

There might be a similar dynamic in Georgia, except that yesterday’s election didn’t entirely resolve the primary race: Because no candidate cleared 50% of the vote, per Georgia law there will be a runoff July 22. Democrats have a relatively strong candidate in Michelle Nunn (daughter of former Senator Sam), and the GOP runoff between David Perdue (cousin of former governor Sonny) and Rep. Jack Kingston is shaping up to be a long and bruising affair.

Kentucky and Georgia are the only pink states on the map at the moment (most of the solid red states are very safe, though there are scenarios where a few could come into play), and they’re less likely to turn into yellow toss-ups than several of the light-blue states.

The election map shows a target-rich environment for Republicans. The trick now is to hit the targets.

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