A Republican takeover of the Senate in November was about as close to a sure thing as it gets in today's politics. But now the contest could become a bit more difficult after some unsavory back-room deals cut by two Democratic leaders.
Republicans needed only four seats to win a majority in the Senate, and there are many seats that are ripe for the GOP's pickings. But the GOP can't afford to lose any seats of its own.
Republicans still have a strong chance of taking control of the Senate in the fall elections. But two things have happened that have thrown a wrench into their 2012 prospects.
First, an open Democratic Senate seat in Nebraska, a deeply conservative state that's a major GOP target, has turned into a potentially competitive race since former senator Bob Kerrey announced he will run for the seat he once held.
Second, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who was a sure slam-dunk to capture another term, is retiring, giving Democrats a strong chance to take her seat.
But something else is going on behind the scenes. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, fearing his days as majority leader may be numbered, has aggressively made Bob Kerrey an offer he could not refuse: full seniority if he returns to the Senate and maybe some plum committee assignments to boot.
Reid's accomplice, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, has been working closely with Reid on his no-holds-barred candidate lobbying mission. Last week, it was announced that they had also persuaded former Maine Gov. Angus King -- an Independent who endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000 -- to run for the seat.
Forget about party loyalty here or even the sovereignty of each state to select its own candidates. At least three Democrats were in the running for Snowe's seat before these two powerful Senate leaders hand-picked King, who will run as an Independent.
The only pivotal political question that mattered to Reid and Schumer was this: If King wins the open seat as an Independent, how would he vote?
King made it clear that he will caucus with the Democrats and the deal was closed.
But Reid and Schumer may have overplayed their hand, and their nefarious, secretive role behind these races will no doubt become a damaging issue in both contests.