Some races have receded in the final stretch — New Mexico looks more certain for Democrats, Arizona for Republicans. The GOP establishment abandoned Missouri after Rep. Todd Akin's comments about pregnancy and "legitimate" rape. Polls suggest that once vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill will hold the seat.
At the same time, Republicans are more upbeat about keeping the Maine seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, with both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spending money on ads in the state. The three-way race pits independent Angus King, the former governor who is likely to side with Democrats if elected, against Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill.
The GOP also sees an opening in Democratic-leaning Connecticut where Rep. Chris Murphy, who doesn't have much statewide name recognition, has struggled against Republican Linda McMahon, the professional wrestling executive who has focused on her business background in her second consecutive bid for the Senate.
Other core contests for deciding which party will run the Senate are in Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota and to a lesser extent Florida and Hawaii. Republicans are counting on winning the Nebraska seat despite former Sen. Bob Kerrey's efforts to keep it in the Democratic column. Democrats are energized about improving prospects in Indiana, where Rep. Joe Donnelly is locked in a close race with Richard Mourdock, who isn't getting much help from the man he defeated in the GOP primary — six-term Sen. Richard Lugar.
And then there's Virginia, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and other groups have pummeled Kaine since the early part of the year with some $10 million in negative ads. Crossroads launched three commercials last week that criticize the Democrat, including one that accuses him of "questionable judgment" for backing the same budget deal last August that President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, supported.
Kaine held off on his advertising until Aug. 21, after the Summer Olympics, then unveiled the first round of $4.5 million in commercials, including one in which he casts himself as more of a fiscal conservative than his rival with cuts to his own pay and a balanced state budget.
"We thought Virginia wouldn't want negative and they wouldn't want it too early," Kaine told the Leesburg audience, drawing applause when he points out that the millions of ads against him had little impact on the polls.
The election will determine whether Kaine's strategy of waiting until the final stretch was a smart move or a response that came too late.
Allen, in his ads, focuses on his blueprint for America, highlighting his emphasis on energy, tax reduction, job creation and avoiding more defense cuts.
The Republican is hoping to revive a political career that once had him mentioned in the GOP lineup for 2008 presidential candidates. It all ended in a single moment — the "macaca moment" — when Allen used the term, considered an ethnic slur, to describe a Democratic campaign volunteer of Indian ancestry in 2006. Weeks later, he lost to Webb.
"We lost very narrowly and it's a humbling experience," Allen says. "You do learn sometimes more from losing than you do from winning."
Kaine points out that he's seven-for-seven in elections but has never gotten more than 53 percent of the vote. "I'm like the Maalox candidate," he tells the seniors in Leesburg.
Obama's rise or fall in Virginia will go a long way to determining Kaine's fate. The Democrat says he doesn't always agree with the president. Kaine would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those making $500,000 or more compared with the president's $250,000 threshold. Kaine disagrees with Obama clean-energy initiatives, and in one ad takes a helicopter ride over a Virginia hybrid energy coal plant in Wise County.