Presidential ground zeros. You can't look at the down-ballot races absent the influence of the top of the ticket. As many as a half-dozen top Senate races will take place in potential battleground presidential states, with Nevada, Virginia, and Ohio at the top of the list. In fact, six of the eight hottest TV advertising markets are in Ohio and Virginia, according to NBC's Chuck Todd. Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown remains a slight favorite to hold his seat, thanks at least in part to the fact that Republican candidate Josh Mandel, who served two tours as a Marine in Iraq, "could pass for 16 years old," as Stuart Rothenberg wrote in May. But it's Virginia, where former Sen. George Allen (he of "macaca" fame) is squaring off against former Gov. Tim Kaine, that could ultimately decide not only who occupies the White House next year but who controls the Senate. And with so many presidential resources being poured into the state, whoever wins at the top of the ticket could drag the Senate candidate across the finish line.
The Maine event. That is, unless Senate control goes into overtime. The favorite to take Snowe's seat is former Gov. Angus King, an independent. While it is widely assumed that King, who favors abortion rights and gay rights, for example, would caucus with Democrats, anything could happen if he holds the key to power when the new Senate convenes. "I'm not rushing to a judgment of what Angus King is going to do," veteran political handicapper Charlie Cook said last week. "This is a guy that desperately wants to stay independent."