The battle for control of the Senate, which had favored Republicans for much of this election year, has abruptly shifted, with Democrats sharply improving their odds of keeping the majority.
Along with recent missteps by presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the erosion of Republican prospects in the Senate has contributed to a grim feeling among party activists that an election year that once held out the possibility of regaining full control of the government could be souring on them.
Republicans entered the election season with fewer incumbents to defend and many opportunities to pick up seats from Democrats at a time when President Obama's approval rating had dipped to a low point.
They need to gain a net of four seats to wrest away the majority that Democrats have held since 2006 — or three seats if Romney takes the White House, giving his vice president the tie-breaking vote. With nearly two dozen seats held by Democrats up for grabs this November, the routes to a GOP majority were many.
But in races from Virginia to Wisconsin, recent polls have shown a shift in Senate contests in favor of the Democrats, and the weakness of some GOP candidates has limited the party's prospects.In the same paper, Doyle McManus speculates that the Crossroads groups may shift their resources into Senate races if Romney becomes a lost cause:
At this point, Crossroads GPS and its affiliate, American Crossroads, still plan to continue spending on the presidential race, a spokesman told me. Last month, Rove told an audience of donors that his budget was $200 million for the White House race, $70 million for the Senate and $32 million for the House.
But those were only "rough projections," Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said in an email.
In public, Rove says he still thinks Romney can win. But other GOP strategists have noted that the number of undecided voters has been dwindling rapidly; by the last presidential debate, on Oct. 22, there may be few people left to persuade.
At that point, if not before, Rove and his colleagues could decide to shift their remaining money from the top of the ticket into races where it will count most, including those tight Senate contests in North Dakota, Montana and Nevada.