October 19, 2010 / 4:31 PM / 9 years ago

FACTBOX-Twelve U.S. Senate races to watch

Oct 19 (Reuters) - Republicans are headed for big U.S. Senate gains in the Nov. 2 election, but still face an uphill struggle to pick up the 10 Democratic seats they need for a majority.

They would need to sweep nearly all of this year’s competitive races to gain control of the 100-member Senate, where Democrats now have a 59-41 edge. Thirty-seven Senate seats are up for election this year.

Republicans appear likely to hold all of their own seats, and have commanding poll leads in three Democratic-held states — Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota.

To pull off the majority, Republicans will need to string together wins in seven of eight tight races in California, Washington, Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and West Virginia.

Here is a look at 12 of the top Senate races:

NEVADA - Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, the biggest Republican target in the country, is in a neck-and-neck re-election struggle with Republican Tea Party-favorite Sharron Angle in a state where the economy has nosedived. Polls show Reid, the ultimate insider in an anti-Washington year, is viewed unfavorably by most voters — but so is Angle.

KENTUCKY - Republican Rand Paul, the son of Republican libertarian U.S. Representative Ron Paul and a darling of the Tea Party, raced to a big lead over Democratic rival Jack Conway, but the contest to replace retiring Republican Jim Bunning has tightened. Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand after a testy debate that featured an exchange about Conway’s ad on a secret society he said Paul belonged to while a student at Baylor University.

CALIFORNIA - Vulnerable three-term Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has solidified a small lead in polls over former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina. President Barack Obama will campaign on Boxer’s behalf late this week in a state that is normally reliable for Democrats.

WISCONSIN - Republican Ron Johnson has taken a solid lead in polls by painting three-term Democratic Senator Russ Feingold as a big-spending Washington liberal. Feingold has launched a counter-attack accusing Johnson of backing free-trade deals that cost the state jobs and of supporting the repeal of a healthcare overhaul that protects the sick.

ILLINOIS - Obama’s former Senate seat, left vacant by the departure of appointee Roland Burris, is the focus of a tight and expensive battle between Republican Representative Mark Kirk and Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias in a Democratic-leaning state. Republicans have painted Giannoulias as corrupt and Democrats jumped on Kirk’s inaccurate claims about his military record.

WEST VIRGINIA - Popular Democratic Governor Joe Manchin was an early favorite to sweep into the vacated Senate seat of the late Democrat Robert Byrd, but Republican businessman John Raese has made it a tight race in a state where Obama is unpopular. The two participated in a contentious debate on Monday night, with Manchin telling Raese that Obama would not be on the ballot.

COLORADO - Democrat Michael Bennet was the Denver public school superintendent when he was appointed in January 2009 to the Senate to succeed Ken Salazar, who became Interior secretary. Bennet is in a tight race with Tea Party favorite Ken Buck, who beat the Republican establishment candidate in a bitter primary and has not slowed down since.

CONNECTICUT - A predicted cakewalk for popular Democratic state attorney general Richard Blumenthal after the retirement of incumbent Democrat Chris Dodd did not pan out, but Blumenthal has solidified his lead over former World Wresting Entertainment chief executive Linda McMahon. She promises to spend $50 million out of her own pocket on advertising, while Democrats have highlighted her role in the sometimes sordid world of professional wrestling.

MISSOURI - Democratic hopes of capturing the Missouri seat of retiring Republican Christopher Bond are slipping as Republican Roy Blunt maintains a solid lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan. Blunt, a seven-term congressman, has hammered Obama’s agenda. Carnahan, whose family has a long history in state politics, has had a hard time winning over rural and small-town voters.

OHIO - Republican Rob Portman, a former congressman and Cabinet official under President George W. Bush, is another insider who has managed to avoid the wave of anti-Washington voter anger this year. He appears to be pulling away from underfunded Democrat Lee Fisher in a state where the stumbling economy and loss of jobs have been the dominant issue.

PENNSYLVANIA - Republican Pat Toomey has a relatively comfortable lead over Democrat Joe Sestak in most public polls in the battle for the seat of incumbent Arlen Specter, who was knocked out by Sestak in the Democratic primary. Toomey, former head of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, has tried to tie Sestak to Obama’s legislative agenda. Democrats say the race is tightening, and a Democratic poll on Tuesday gave Sestak a 1-point lead.

WASHINGTON - Three-term Democratic Senator Patty Murray had widened her lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi with a heavy onslaught of television advertising, but the race has tightened again as Rossi fires back with his own ads in a state that usually leans Democratic due to the size of liberal Seattle and its suburbs.

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