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Who will take control of the U.S. Senate?

We have about 10 days to go until the 2010 mid-term elections. Based on the high probability of the Republicans winning the House, most eyes on election night will be focused on the Senate.

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Sean Theriault, associate professor of government in the university’s College of Liberal Arts, studies American political institutions, primarily U.S. Congress and party polarization. He is researching the rise of the so-called “Gingrich Senators” and their influence on the U.S. Senate.

With about 10 days to go until the 2010 mid-term elections, here’s where things stand. Unless the script changes, the Republicans will win a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. Based on current polling, the probability of the Democrats maintaining control is about as likely as the Republicans having as big of a majority as the Democrats do today.

Based on the high probability of the Republicans winning the House, most eyes on election night will be focused on the Senate. Because only a third of all Senate seats are up in 2010, the Senate meeting in January will have at least 40 Democrats and 23 Republicans, which simply indicates how well Democratic Senate candidates did in 2006 and 2008.

The Democrats need 10 more seats (with Joe Biden’s tie-breaking vote) to organize the Senate in the 112th Congress. Of the 37 races this fall, 23 are essentially over because one candidate has at least a 10-point lead in the most current polls. Of these 23 presumed winners, seven are Democrats and 16 are Republicans, making 47 seats the low-water mark for Democrats and 39 the low-water mark for Republicans.

Two additional Republican candidates enjoy a lead of more than 10 points over their Democratic competitor, but not their former Republican primary foes. Both Charlie Crist, who dropped out of the Republican primary in Florida to run as an Independent, and Lisa Murkowski, an incumbent senator who was upset in the Alaska Republican primary and is running as a write-in, have an outside shot of winning the races.

Let’s suppose that even if they win — a bigger stretch for Crist than Murkowksi — they would caucus with the Republicans, giving the Republicans an additional two seats. That means 12 seats are still in play.

Three of those 12 seats have the Republican candidate up by more than five percentage points: Ayotte in New Hampshire, Blunt in Missouri and Johnson in Wisconsin. Only one Democratic candidate, Blumenthal, is up by a similar percentage. That means that but for the super-competitive races, the Republicans are likely to have 44 seats and the Democrats 48.

Here is the standing of the remaining eight competitive races: Paul (R) is ahead by 4.3 points in Kentucky; Toomey (R) is up by 2.8 points in Pennsylvania; Kirk (R) is ahead by 1.8 points in Illinois; Buck (R) is ahead by one point in Colorado, Angle (R) is ahead by 0.4 points in Nevada; Manchin (D) is ahead by 1.5 in West Virginia; Boxer (D) is ahead by 1.8 in California; and Murray (D) is ahead by 2.2 in Washington.

If the election were held tomorrow and the polls were accurate, the Democrats would control the Senate with 51 seats. In order for the Republicans to win, they would have to win all five super-competitive seats where they have an advantage in the polls and two of the three races where the Democrats have a less-than-2.5 percentage-point lead.

It didn’t have to be this hard for the Republicans. Had the Republican establishment candidates defeated the Tea Party-Palin-DeMint-backed candidates in the eight states where they disagreed, the Republicans would have been assured of one additional seat (Delaware) and three other seats would not be in play (Colorado, Kentucky and Nevada). Additionally, Connecticut would be in the toss-up category instead of the Democratic column.

While the Tea Party has infused the Republican Party with enthusiasm, energy and cash, it has not come without a price. And for that, the Democrats might breathe a huge sign of relief on the morning of Nov. 3.

More election posts from Sean Theriault:

Visit the mid-term elections blog series home page for a complete lineup of faculty experts’ analyses.