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Majority duels: Key Senate races to watch

With the clock counting down to Election Day, Democrats have a good shot at holding onto their majority in the Senate, but only by a razor-thin margin.

With the clock counting down to Election Day, Democrats have a good shot at holding onto their majority in the Senate, but only by a razor-thin margin.

According to Huffington Post’s election dashboard, the Dems are looking at keeping at least 50 of their currently held 53 seats, while Republicans only have 43 seats in the bag. And of the six remaining toss-ups, latest polling averages give Democrats slight leads in four.

The non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report also notes that even a 3-seat GOP gain - one shy of the number needed to take control in the Senate - now “looks like a long shot.”

With such tight races, however, anything can happen come Election Day.

Politico’s David Catanese joined Hardball Friday to discuss four of the hot Senate races to watch on Nov. 6.

1.  Massachusetts

Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren has strong momentum heading into Tuesday’s race against Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown, whose healthy lead has been fading since last Spring.

Warren has led in nearly every poll since September, and the Real Clear Politics average now puts her up by 4.8 points.

Catanese attributes this polling shift to women voters who were still in Brown’s camp, “sort of flirting with him this summer in polls,” moving toward Warren. “Brown still beats her among Independents overall,” notes Catanese. “But he’s losing female voters.”

Warren, who the FEC reports raised $38.5 million in donations as of mid-October, has reaped the political benefits of the media swirl surrounding Brown’s record, which includes having voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, and having voted for the Blunt Amendment, allowing employers to deny contraceptive coverage to female employees.

Now in their final push to sway voters, the Mass. Senate hopefuls are making their closing arguments via political ads, having been robbed of the chance to do so directly in their final debate, which was cancelled last Tuesday due to Superstorm Sandy.

Warren’s ad, entitled “For All Our Families,” addresses students, seniors, women, and working class families still struggling.  “Know this,” avows Warren.  “My fight is for you.”

Brown’s ad, “People Over Party,” goes after Independents by stressing his spirit of bipartisanship. The ad ends with Brown’s words, “I am nobody’s Senator except yours,” and even features a quick shot of the Senator with President Obama.

2.  Connecticut

Despite having reportedly spent $42.6 million of her own fortune, Republican candidate Linda McMahon is dangerously close to demonstrating that money indeed can’t buy you love.

Real Clear Politics has Democratic hopeful Chris Murphy with a 5-point lead over McMahon in the reliably blue Constitution State.

Given all her wealth and anti-establishment status, McMahon could prove to be a big disappointment for the Republicans if she loses.

“Linda McMahon lost in the best Republican year ever in Connecticut,” said Catanese. Despite all her money and resources, he added, “it just seems like Connecticut is not being sold.”

McMahon has pummeled Murphy with television ads this campaign cycle, but the Democrat cut one his own featuring a very influential supporter: Barack Obama.

In the ad called, “Partner,” President Obama champions Murphy’s jobs plan and women’s rights record before closing with the appeal, “I need Chris Murphy as a partner in the United States Senate.”

3.  Virginia

In one of the closest Senate races, Virginia is looking at a virtual tie heading into the election as Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen fight to win the currently Democratic seat.

Kaine has less than a 1-point lead, according to Real Clear Politics, and at this time, the race could go either way.

Catanese’s expertise was pointing toward Kaine as of Friday’s Hardball, but a lot of that prediction hinges on turnout, especially in the northern, more diverse part of the state.

Kaine and his wife are long-time members of a predominantly black church in Richmond, Va., where he served as mayor and as a civil rights attorney. Democrats are hoping that black voter turnout will match the record-high level seen in 2008, although it is unclear whether that will happen.

Allen seems to be squirming under the pressure to overcome his narrow lag behind Kaine. Just this week, the Republican reportedly loaned himself half a million dollars to see himself through the final sprint of his campaign. And when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to town on Thursday, Allen came off as extra clingy.

Hardball host Chris Matthews commented on Romney and Allen’s joint appearance, describing it as a “non-mating game.”

“Did you see how close Allen was trying to grab himself close to Romney?  It was practically like he was trying to mate with him,” said Matthews.  “Whereas it wasn’t clear that Romney wanted to be all close to him.”

Allen likely saw the event as a last chance to woo Romney supporters planning to split their ballots and vote for Kaine, and in a race as close as Virginia’s, every vote will count.

4.  Ohio

For weeks, the Buckeye State has been at the epicenter of a media storm, as both presidential and vice presidential candidates have done their level best to shake the hand of every, single Ohioan.

But don’t forget, there is also a close Senate race in Ohio between Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger, state Treasurer Josh Mandel.

Real Clear gives Brown a 5.2 edge over his opponent, but to many, including Chris Matthews, that lead is a lot narrower than it ought to be, given some of Mandel’s political blunders.

During a contentious October debate, Mandel drew boos from the audience when he told the senator to “calm down.”  And earlier in the night, Mandel came off as petulant and combative when he called Brown “a liar,” and accused him of telling the “lie of the year.”

“Josh Mandel has had his missteps,“ said Catanese. “There’s some perception that he’s a little too young, not really ready for prime time.”

What Mandel does pack in addition to chutzpa, however, is money, and it is the abundance of the latter that has kept him so close to Brown in the polls.

Ohio has become one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, and much of the $27 million of outside money surging into the state has come from conservative and business interest groups seeking to unseat Sen. Brown.

“They’ve spent more money against me than any Senate race in the country by far,” said Sen. Brown earlier on Hardball. “It’s not disclosed money; it’s directed by Karl Rove... It’s 45,000 ads so far.”

Given the fact that presidential election ads have aired 181,449 times in Ohio between April 10 and Oct. 22, another 45,000 is probably the last thing this state needs.