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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Senate clashes guaranteed, Dems' majority not

Democratic US Senator Kristen Gillibrand at her office

Democratic US Senator Kristen Gillibrand at her office in Washington DC. (Feb. 15, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Even as the presidency tops the electoral agenda, a serious battle looms for control of the U.S. Senate -- with survival of the Democrats' majority far from guaranteed.

This may be less than obvious to those focused on New York, where Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long is widely believed to face very long odds against Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand. Elsewhere, competitive clashes are ensured between the forces of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Democrats hold 51 seats and Republicans 47, but two independents currently are caucusing as Democrats. Of 33 Senate seats up for election this fall, 23 are in Democratic hands at the moment -- which on one level means the Republicans get to play offense, as they seek to flip more seats amid a hard economy.

And, seven Democratic-caucus incumbents aren't seeking re-election, which could put their seats in GOP reach, to varying degrees. Sen. Jim Webb's coming departure in Virginia lets loose a high-profile contest, as does Sen. Herb Kohl's retirement in Wisconsin. Sen. Joe Lieberman's coming retirement in Connecticut removes him from the Democratic caucus. Same goes for Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Daniel Akaka of Hawaii.

Among Senate Democrats seeking re-election, Bill Nelson of Florida may face a tough challenge, for example -- most likely from GOP Rep. Connie Mack IV, who knocks Nelson's "lockstep" loyalty to President Barack Obama.

But Democrats are, of course, seeking to flip Republican seats, too. "Anyone who looks at this fairly would still see it as likely we'll keep the Senate," argued a New York Democratic operative who preferred not to be identified.

SPLIT DECISION: Nearly a month after Nassau Republican insurgent Frank Scaturro won the Conservative Party congressional primary as a write-in candidate, he says it still may be a couple of weeks before he announces whether he'll actively campaign -- given that rival Legis. Francis Becker won the Republican nomination.

Incumbent Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) stands to benefit from a continued Becker-Scaturro divide. When Becker lost to McCarthy in 2010, he had the Conservative line, which gave him 9,455 votes. That year, Becker also got 2,940 votes as candidate of the Independence Party -- which under new county leadership backs McCarthy this time.

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