POLITICS
10/24/2012 04:09 pm ET

2012 Tossup Senate Races May Come Down To 11th-Hour Blunders

Blunders by candidates in two pivotal Senate races over the past week could end up putting their campaigns in jeopardy, in turn affecting the overall balance of power in the upper chamber.

At a Tuesday night Senate debate in Indiana, Republican Richard Mourdock said that pregnancies that result from rape can be "something that God intended to happen." With only two weeks remaining and most voters decided about the Indiana race, it is unclear whether Mourdock's standing will suffer. For now, however, Mourdock currently leads Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) by 4.9 points in the HuffPost Pollster estimate, which includes all available polls.

Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona committed a more minor unforced error last week at a debate in Arizona. In a failed attempt at humor, he called the male debate moderator "prettier" than CNN's Candy Crowley, the moderator of the second presidential debate. While this might normally be written off as a gaffe, Carmona was already vulnerable on his attitude towards women since Rep. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) campaign recently aired an ad featuring Carmona's former boss claiming that he has issues with anger, ethics and women. Carmona's most recent comment might serve to fuel that narrative. Meanwhile, an internal poll for Carmona's campaign from this past week (conducted mostly prior to "prettygate") found him leading Flake by 4 points, which was just enough to give him a tiny 0.2 lead in the HuffPost Pollster estimate on the race -- Carmona's first lead to date.

However, when all partisan polls are filtered out, Flake leads Carmona by 1.4 points.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's (R) "legitimate rape" comments have already cost his party the lead in a state where Republicans had an upper hand in polling against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) all summer. Akin now trails McCaskill by 6.9 points in the HuffPost Pollster estimate and the race is now rated as "strong Democratic."

Including those races, the HuffPost Pollster Senate Outlook page shows that incumbent senators and candidates who currently lead the 2012 contests would combine to give the Democrats 50 Senate seats and the Republicans 43 seats, with 51 needed for an outright majority. Democrats reach that 51-seat threshold if independent former Gov. Angus King of Maine, who leads in recent polls, caucuses with them as expected -- even if Republicans win all six races currently rated as "tossups."

If the Republicans win all six "tossup" races, their best path to a majority lies in winning Massachusetts and either Wisconsin, Connecticut or Ohio.

Here are the major developments in other key Senate races from the past week.

Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) received encouraging results from two independent polls released in the last week in North Dakota. A new automated Rasmussen poll found Berg leading Heidi Heitkamp (D) by 5 points and an Essman/Research poll found him 10 points ahead. Heitkamp's campaign responded by releasing an internal poll showing her running slightly ahead of Berg and, unsurprisingly, called the Essman poll an outlier, citing the low number of Democrats in its sample. While this race is still rated as a "tossup," Berg has now moved into a 2.7 point lead in the HuffPost Pollster estimate.

In Massachusetts, the only pollster that showed Sen. Scott Brown (R) leading Elizabeth Warren (D) in the last month, MassINC, released a new poll Wednesday showing Warren ahead 50 to 44 percent. While Brown has been trying to appeal to split-ticket voters in this deeply Democratic state, President Obama officially endorsed Warren last week and polls show that she has made headway in consolidating Democrats. Warren now leads Brown by 3.5 points in the HuffPost Pollster estimate, and this race remains "leaning Democratic."

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has now led Linda McMahon (R) in the last nine polls of the Connecticut Senate race, though never by more than a six-point margin. Murphy's advantage in the HuffPost Pollster estimate is now up to 4.7 points, and this race is still rated as "leaning Democratic." Acknowledging the Democratic lean of the state, McMahon started airing a new ad this week featuring voters that plan on splitting their tickets between her and President Obama, designed to appeal to independents and moderate Democrats that may still be undecided.

In Wisconsin, former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) is up with a hard-hitting new ad against Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), citing her opposition to a resolution honoring the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Baldwin currently has a 4.0 point advantage in the HuffPost Pollster estimate, and this race is still rated as "leaning Democratic."

While most public polls still show Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) leading Ohio by wider margins than President Obama is leading Romney in the state, a new SurveyUSA poll found Brown faring worse than the president, running just one point ahead of his challenger Josh Mandel (R). Over the past week, Brown's lead in the HuffPost Pollster estimate fell from 5.8 points to 4.6, just about tying the Connecticut and Wisconsin Senate races in terms of competitiveness, but still "leaning Democratic."

HuffPost Pollster rates a race as a "tossup" if the polling margin separating two candidates is less than 3 percentage points in the Pollster estimate and there have been at least five polls in that state in the last three weeks. A race is designated as "leaning" toward one party if a candidate is leading by 3 to 6 percentage points in that estimate. If a candidate is leading by more than 6 percentage points, it is rated as "solid" Democrat or Republican.

If there have been fewer than five polls in the last three weeks in any given race, composite ratings are used from three respected election handicappers: the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

For more details and polls of all 33 Senate races, visit the HuffPost Pollster's Senate Outlook page.

2012 Senate Race Polls

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