The presidential race is dominating the headlines, but the future of the country hinges nearly as much on the outcomes of tight Senate contests across America. Given that the House is likely to remain in the GOP's control, the make-up of the Senate will be a crucial factor in determining the course of President Obama's second term or Mitt Romney's first. Republicans need a net gain of four seats to reach a majority (or three seats if Romney wins, since that gives the vice president a deciding vote), and they have a roughly 50/50 chance of picking up Democratic seats in North Dakota, Montana, and Virginia, as well as a virtually certain pickup in Nebraska. However, Democrats currently think they will hold on to the Senate, despite the fact that a recent surge by Romney should lift all Republican boats on Election Day. Here, six signs that Democrats will retain their slim Senate majority:
Missouri: Todd Akin flounders
Embattled Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's seat was seen as a gimme for Republicans, considering that the red state of Missouri is bound to vote for Romney. But her opponent, Rep. Todd Akin (R), may have scuttled his campaign by infamously claiming that victims of "legitimate rape" could miraculously prevent themselves from getting pregnant. Until that point, Akin had been the heavy favorite to win the race, but the polls now show McCaskill with a comfortable lead.
Indiana: Richard Mourdock makes an ill-advised comment
Like Missouri, Indiana is more than likely to end up in Romney's column. And like Akin, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is a far-right conservative who won the Republican primary with strong support from the Tea Party, dethroning longtime Sen. Richard Lugar. But now, Mourdock is in trouble for his own comments about rape, claiming that pregnancies from rape were "something that God intended to happen." His race against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) is now considered a toss-up.
Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren may topple Scott Brown
The Senate race in Massachusetts might be the most closely watched in the country. Sen. Scott Brown (R) shocked the political class when he won Ted Kennedy's seat in a special election in December 2009, but the reliably blue state could fall back into Democratic hands in 2012. Liberal darling Elizabeth Warren currently holds a slim lead in the polls.
Maine: An independent winner may side with the Dems
Former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent, is the favorite to prevail in an increasingly nasty, three-way race to succeed retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of a dying breed of moderate Republicans. King hasn't stated which party he will caucus with if he gets to the Senate, but many observers say he is likely to join the Democratic team.
Arizona: The Democrat is surprisingly competitive
In the race to pick up the seat vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl (R), Rep. Jeff Flake (R) and Democratic rival Richard Carmona are locked in a dead heat. Still, Carmona has gotten himself into some hot water with women voters, recently telling a male journalist that he was "prettier" than CNN anchor Candy Crowley.
Nevada: The Democrat gets a boost from Obama and Reid
The state is leaning toward Obama, and that may be helping Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), who hopes to unseat Sen. Dean Heller (R). The race is another nail-biter, and Berkley hopes an assist from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior senator from Nevada, puts her over the top.