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Election Day: 8 Senate races to keep an eye on

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Posted at 7:58 AM, Nov 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-04 12:02:41-05

In the Senate, 36 seats are up for grabs, and Republicans hoping for a majority may soon get their wish, if recent polls are an accurate measure.

Democrats currently hold a 55-seat majority in the Senate, including two independents. Republicans need to pick up six seats to gain control. Republicans are favored to gain 8 seats, if not more.

According to a HuffPost Pollster forecast this past weekend, Republicans have a 75 percent chance of taking control of the Senate, and Democrats have a 25 percent chance of retaining control. FiveThirtyEight’s model was predicting a 73 percent chance of a Republican takeover on Sunday, and The New York Times  predicted a 68 percent chance.

Of the 36 seats up for reelection this year, Democrats are defending 21 of them, and an unusual number of those seats are in red states.

The number of close races means that recounts are possible, and it may not be known Wednesday morning who controls the Senate.

With four Democrats retiring and just one Republican retiring, there are seven genuine toss-up races for seats now held by Democrats, according to political blog DecodeDC: Iowa, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

One tempting target for Democrats is Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky, which Democrat Alison Lundergran Grimes is gunning for. The last Bluegrass Poll before the election predicted a 5-percentage point lead over Grimes, 48 percent to Grimes’ 43 percent.

Here’s a breakdown of eight races with big potential impact:

Kentucky: Democrat Alison Lundergran Grimes vs. Republican Mitch McConnell
In the final days before Election Day, Alison Lundergran Grimes and incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell remain locked in a tight race. The latest Bluegrass poll shows McConnell with a 5-percentage point lead over Grimes.

Hillary Clinton has shown support for Grimes, stepping up at a campaign stop in Northern Kentucky Saturday to rally support for the Democrat as she works to unseat Senate minority leader and 5-term senator McConnell, calling her a “fresh start” and “fresh voice” for Kentucky.

Iowa: Republican Joni Ernst vs. Democrat Bruce Braley
Joni Ernst, a Republican senator and military leader, faces Bruce Braley, a congressman and trial lawyer.

Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, is retiring, leaving the position vacant.

According to the latest Des Moines Register poll, the final poll before Tuesday’s election, Ernst is pulling a 7-point lead, with 51 percent of the vote, compared to Braley’s 44 percent. These recent statistics bolster hope for a GOP win in Iowa.

Alaska: Democrat Mark Begich vs. Republican Dan Sullivan
Dan Sullivan, a Republican former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, is up against Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Begich.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in Alaska by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, though the number of voters that doesn’t identify with either party is greater.

With more than $50 million spent to sway voters in either direction, the most in Alaska’s history, the outcome is eagerly anticipated by both parties.

Arkansas: Republican Tom Cotton vs. Democrat Mark Pryor
Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is facing Republican Tom Cotton, who has employed the tactic of linking Pryor to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, two currently unpopular topics in Arkansas.

If Cotton is elected, Arkansas will be the last Southern holdout state to become red. 

Former President Bill Clinton has campaigned heavily for Pryor.

The University of Arkansas’ Arkansas Poll, released last week, favored Cotton, with a 49 percent lead compared to Pryor’s 36 percent.

Colorado: Democrat Mark Udall vs. Republican Cory Gardner
Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is trailing Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in most polls. 

According to the Associated Press, early ballots are pointing to a GOP victory in the state.  41 percent of 1.1 million early ballots received were from Republicans, with roughly a third coming from Democrats and a quarter from independent voters. Colorado’s voters are basically evenly split among the three groups.

A loss by Udall would make it difficult for Democrats to retain control of the Senate.

Louisiana: Republican Bill Cassidy vs. Democrat Mary Landrieu vs. Republican Rob Maness
Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her seat against not one, but two Republicans: Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who is gunning for the tea party vote.

The three-way competition is almost certain to face a runoff. The latest NBC/Marist polls show Landrieu with 44 percent of the vote,  Cassidy with 36 percent and Maness with 15 percent for the tea party.

Under Louisiana’s election system, one of the three candidates must have more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner. 

Cassidy and Landrieu are expected to reel in the most votes, and if they face a runoff, it would take place December 6. 

New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen vs. Republican Scott Brown
According to a recent poll, Republican Scott Brown has gained quickly on Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

The University of New Hampshire published its most recent Granite State Poll on October 30, and it showed Shaheen leading Brown with 46 percent of the vote compared to Brown’s 44 percent. A month ago, the UNH poll showed Brown down by 12 percent.

That marks a swift leap in a hotly contested race.

FiveThirtyEight is predicting a 90 percent chance of a win by Shaheen. 

North Carolina: Republican Thom Tillis vs. Democrat Kay Hagan
Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is leading her opponent, Republican Thom Tillis, by two points, but the race is among the closest in the nation and considered a dead heat. 

The most recent CNN/ ORC poll for North Carolina shows Hagan with a lead of 48 percent of expected votes, compared to Tillis’ 46 percent, which is within the margin of error.

Information from The Associated Press, WCPO  and DecodeDC was used in this report.