Harry Reid

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid pictured here. | AP Photo


By Burgess Everett and Kevin Robillard
11/08/15 – 01:36 PM EST

  • The party is angling to expand the electoral map by fielding strong recruits in red states like Missouri and Arkansas.

For months, Missouri barely registered in the 2016 battle for Senate control: It’s a conservative state with a solid Republican incumbent in Sen. Roy Blunt. But an unexpectedly strong Democratic recruit, Jason Kander, has put the state in play — prompting a Karl Rove-backed group to spend $800,000 to keep the seat in GOP hands.

Across the border in Kentucky, things haven’t gone as well for Democrats. The party’s best hope of unseating Republican Sen. Rand Paul evaporated last week when the Democratic state auditor lost his reelection campaign.

One year out from Election Day, neither party claims a clear upper hand in the showdown for the Senate. Democrats have an early edge in Illinois and Wisconsin, while some Republican incumbents who expected serious primary or general election challenges are still breathing easy. The biggest battlegrounds remain the same as at the outset of the election cycle: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada and New Hampshire.

The real drama now is in the search for quality candidates.

Democrats notched early recruitment successes across the board, even as they’ve come up painfully empty in other places where they should be competitive. Efforts in the coming weeks to land top-flight candidates — in states like North Carolina for Democrats, and Colorado for Republicans — are critical.

Democrats need to pick up five seats (or four if they win the White House) and are working aggressively to expand the map and capitalize on what they hope will be a Hillary Clinton wave. Republicans acknowledge the landscape tilts heavily against them but believe most of their incumbents are well positioned.

“I’m feeling very, very good. But we’re a year out,” said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who leads the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “A year is an eternity in politics.”

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