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(J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP)
Conventional wisdom suggests that Republicans will gain seats in the upcoming November elections. And the GOP has history on its side, as the president's party typically loses ground in the midterms. They also have near-term momentum as reflected by Obama's soft poll numbers and less enthusiasm among the Democrats' base voters. The Republicans could even gain the 40 seats they need to recapture the House of Representatives. Winning the 10 seats necessary to retake the Senate is unlikely but not impossible.
November is approaching, but plenty can happen to upend the current political landscape. The GOP is targeting legislators at the center of the healthcare debate, but Democrats hope that voters will warm to the measures designed to make the most immediate impact, including allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.
But a number of sensitive issues remain on the Democrats' agenda, including controversial environmental cap-and-trade legislation and immigration reform. Tea Party activists are giving Republicans an energy boost even as they cause some party headaches with divisive primaries against establishment candidates. They represent a growing wave of concern over government spending—and ever-lower approval rates for Congress. This in turn could portend a "throw the bums out" frenzy that would spell trouble for incumbents, regardless of party.
What follows is a rundown of 11 Senate and House races whose outcomes will signal the election's partisan tenor. The percentage of the vote that Barack Obama and GOP nominee John McCain won in the state or district in 2008 is also noted.
Next: California Senate