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Expanding the 2014 Senate playing field

Republicans need to gain six seats in this year’s election to take the majority in the Senate. In seven states, the Democrats are defending seats that have long looked vulnerable: West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

But many of these seats look like 50-50 propositions, more or less. Thus, even with 2014 shaping up as a good year for Republicans, the odds of winning six of these seven races are not all that inviting. Moreover, the Republicans must defend at least two seats that seem somewhat vulnerable — Georgia and Kentucky.

Thus, it behooves Republicans to expand the playing field.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post believes that the GOP is having some success in this regard. He cites the entry of Ed Gillespie into the Virginia Senate race, a development we have been anticipating. Cillizza rates Gillespie’s chances of beating incumbent Mark Warner at 30 percent or less, which sounds about right.

But a few races in which the Republican has that kind of shot would provide a margin for error in the seven races where the GOP’s odds are better. They would also provide the prospect for a huge Senate swing if this turns out to be a wave year for Republicans.

Virginia isn’t the only state where the Republicans have found an attractive candidate with shot at victory. In New Hampshire, Scott Brown is a credible challenger to Jeanne Shaheen.

Republicans also hope to expand the playing field by bringing Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota into serious play. But Cillizza sees the Republican field in these states as either “unproven” or proven wanting (in the case of Colorado, where challenger Ken Buck lost a very winnable race in 2010).

There’s still time, though, for new entrants, and time for current entrants to prove themselves. If Republicans can expand the number of truly competitive Senate challenges to 10, the Democrat heads won’t just ache, they will throb.

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