Brian Darling

Most Americans will focus on election results in Ohio and Florida to see who rides those states’ Electoral College votes into the White House. But the winner of the presidential race will not automatically control the 2013 legislative agenda. Congress still matters. The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is vitally important and just as hard-fought as the top-of-the-ticket contest.

Currently, a caucus of 51 Democrats and two liberal Independents rule the upper chamber. Since the Vice President can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, Republicans would have to pick up three seats to gain a working majority in a Romney-Ryan Administration and four seats to gain control of the gavel under a second term for President Obama.

A few months ago, Republicans looked to have a great chance to retake the Senate. Thirty-three seats are up for election, and 23 of them are occupied by members who caucus with the Democrats. But as campaign season winds down, the number of seats still “in play” has shrunk dramatically.

A dozen seats are considered “safe” for the incumbent party. Seven of these--California, Maryland, New York,Vermont, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island—are safe for Democrats. Five—Mississippi, Wyoming,Tennessee, Utah and Texas—are safe for the GOP.

Democrats have significant leads in six other races—in Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, and West Virginia—and are likely to hold those seats. And Florida and Pennsylvania are leaning Democratic (with Bill Nelson and Bob Casey, respectively) as well.

Meanwhile, both sides are expected to lose a seat. Independent Angus King looks to replace retiring Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and caucus with the Democrats. Republican Deb Fischer holds a narrowing lead over former Democratic Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey in her bid to supplant retiring Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.

That leaves 11 seats–four occupied by Republicans and seven by Democrats—which Real Clear Politics classifies as toss-up races.

Here’s the situation in the battle for Republican-held seats:

· In Arizona, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) faces off against Richard Carmona, the former Surgeon General of the U.S. Flake has a polling lead, according to Rasmussen.


Brian Darling

Brian Darling is a Senior Fellow in Government Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling