Republicans fight to reclaim the Senate majority: 2012 races to watch

• Maine: Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe's decision to retire unexpectedly turned this Senate seat into one of the year's races to watch, handing Democrats another pickup opportunity. The party is cheering the entry of former Gov. Angus King, an independent, who hasn't yet confirmed with whom he will caucus, although it's presumed he will side with Democrats. In a telling sign, the NRSC has already attacked him as beholden to Washington Democrats and questioned his "independent" label. On the Republican side, the primary is a crowded and chaotic affair with at least six contenders having expressed interest in the race, including former state Sen. Rick Bennett; former town selectman Scott D'Amboise, a tea party favorite and former unsuccessful congressional candidate; state Sen. Debra Plowman as well as other state officeholders. King also faces Democratic competition.

• Massachusetts: Democrats scored a major victory when they convinced consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to challenge Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who defied the odds in 2010 by winning a special election to succeed Ted Kennedy. Brown remains highly popular in the state and is promoting his bipartisanship ahead of November. Warren brings star power to the ticket as President Barack Obama's first pick to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Despite some campaign hiccups, including an ongoing controversy over her Cherokee heritage, polls continue to show the neck-and-neck race within the margin of error.

• Missouri: One major bright spot for Republicans is Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's vulnerable re-election bid. Unfortunately for Republicans, their nominee must first weather a competitive primary race which includes Rep. Todd Akin, businessman John Brunner, former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and others. Democrats point out that former Reps. Sam Graves and Jo Ann Emerson, top Republican recruits, both passed on the race, although the GOP says publicly it's pleased with the field. Working in the Republicans' favor is the continued controversy dogging McCaskill. In 2011, it was discovered that she was billing taxpayers to cover the cost of a private plane. Even though she returned the money, Republicans say the damage has been lasting.

• Montana: First-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester faces a tough re-election battle this fall by virtue of his conservative-leaning state and the fact that it's a presidential election year. Tester has carefully carved out a moderate voting record, but is regarded--even by supporters--as highly endangered. "In Washington, Tester's way is Obama's way," the narrator states in a Crossroads GPS ad attacking the Senator. The national parties have already invested millions in the race, which is shaping up to be a contest between Tester and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg--the state's lone statewide House member.

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