Fourteen months to election day and I'm already handicapping the Senate races? Yes, I know. I'm a pathetic political junkie.
The first thing to realize is that the Republicans are defending far more seats than the Democrats: 22 to 12. We can organize the possible Democratic pickups in these broad caterogies:
Return of the Prodigal Sons: Mark Warner has announced that he will run for the open VA senate. (The other Virginia Warner, John, is retiring.) Mark is a popular former Governor and a superb candidate -- I'd count that seat as a gimme. Also, Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska Senator, is considering running for the seat of the retiring Chuck Hagel. If he runs he would be expected to win.
What Will I do? I'm Red in a State That's All Blue!: Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, John Sununu, and Gordon Smith are defending their seats in states that have a strong Democratic preference. Susan Collins is the likeliest to squeeze by; John Sununu won't be so lucky. He just beat Ex-Gov Jeanne Shaheen by 51%-47% in 2002, a good year for Republicans. The polling now makes it look like a landslide for Shaheen.
Scandal-bait: Ted Stevens of Alaska seems to be sinking deeper into a bribery scandal every day. He's survived allegations of shadiness before, but this seems to be of a different magnitude. If this becomes an open seat it's possible that Red Alaska will tire of their corrupt local Republicans. Larry Craig is going to quit soon, but unfortunately he's from Idaho. Let's call that safe Republican.
On the bubble: Wayne Allard is retiring in Colorado. It's a purple state, and there is no leading Dem contender yet. Let's call that 50/50. Other candidates mentioned as vulnerable are Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Let's call them leaning Republican.
Safe as Subprime Houses: The other Republicans seem reasonably safe, but so did George Allen around this time in 2005. A perennial like Pete Domenici could easily be surprised.
Are there any seats on the Dem side that are in jeopardy? Mary Landrieu might be vulnerable. Also, Tim Johnson's health might be an issue after his recent stroke. However, if the environment is anything like it was in 2006 or is now, it'll be difficult for the Republicans to flip an incumbent.
The Democrats currently have 51 seats. I would consider it likely that they will gain six seats at this stage, but with perfect storm like there was in 2006, a filibuster proof senate is not out of the question.