(WASHINGTON POST) — The fight for the Senate majority is increasingly focused on five races: four controlled by Democrats and one held by Republicans. These contests -- Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Kansas -- are acknowledged by both sides to be very competitive, and because of that are likely to see the heaviest spending by both the party committees and the outside groups over the last five-plus weeks of the midterm election.
Of the quartet of Democratic seats, North Carolina -- somewhat amazingly -- looks to be the toughest pickup for Republicans. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), thanks at least in part to a spending edge on television over the last month or so, has managed to build a steady four-ish-point edge that state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) has been unable to narrow. Republicans feel increasingly positive about Alaska -- where the Chamber of Commerce released a poll this week showing Dan Sullivan (R), whom the group has endorsed, ahead of Sen. Mark Begich (D) by six points -- and Colorado, where three straight polls show Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) ahead. Iowa is, today, the purest toss up race in the country.
But for Republicans, Kansas has become a major headache. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), having survived a contested primary in August, seemed to think re-election to a fourth term was ensured and stopped doing, well, much of anything. Meanwhile, independent businessman Greg Orman was spending seven figures on an August media buy that boosted him significantly. Democrat Chad Taylor's decision to drop out of the race -- and the subsequent legal ruling that his name could be removed from the ballot -- further endangers Roberts by coalescing the anti-Roberts vote. Roberts's allies insist the senator now finally understands the peril he is in and has been aggressively raising money since Labor Day. They also believe tying Orman to Democrats (he ran for the same seat as a Democrat in 2008) and unearthing his various business ties will make the last five weeks much harder for him than the previous five weeks.
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The rest of the competitive Senate races seem to be moving in a clear direction.