We've done the uncompetitive seats and the open/toss-up races. All that remain are the safebuts – seats for which assertions of safety are immediately followed by "but…." This small group of races are not what we could call competitive. Nor are they uncompetitive. Think of them as the sasquatches of American politics, the missing link between man and ape. I'll let you determine which primate represents which party.

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  • NE Open (Hagel retirement): Nebraska's conservative. Scott Kleeb is a good Democratic candidate for a plains state. I like him. But Mike Johanns, the former Governor, seems like he will be too much for a rookie to handle. A weaker Republican might be in trouble, but if the queen had a dick I suppose she might be the king. In a year that favors Democrats this is potentially a little competitive, but a whole lot would have to go right for Kleeb (and a lot wrong for Johanns) to make it close. Call it for Johanns with a 1% chance of Kleeb prevailing and a 15-20% chance that he causes the GOP a few sleepless nights.

  • Mitch McConnell (KY): McConnell is another guy who should be safe by a mile, but…well, people just don't seem to like him very much. I suppose that is the harvest of being a mean, partisan bastard all of one's political life. He has under 50% approval in his state and can't crack 50% in polling against war vet Steve Lunsford (although McConnell is consistently ahead in said polls). McConnell has the upper hand but this is going to be a lot closer than anyone expects of one of the highest-profile Senators. The guy in charge of making sure other Republican Senate candidates win better watch out for his own ass.
  • Elizabeth Dole (NC): Governor Mike Easley proved that Democrats can win statewide races in NC, although he politiely declined to give up the statehouse to battle Dole. Challenger Kay Hagan is the clear #2 in this race, but there has been enough variance in polling and signs of hope from the DNC to suggest that a massive investment of resources could put this in play. Worth it? Probably not. It's important to note, though, that North Carolina is changing more rapidly than any state east of the Mississippi – especially the high-tech area and PhD factory known as "The Triangle." As the blue menace creeps down the coast and claims Virginia, North Carolina could become competitive within 10 years. But right now Dole is likely to be OK.

  • Susan Collins (ME): George W. Bush's bestest friend in the Senate might seem to be in trouble in a state Kerry won by 9%. The reality of New England's strange political schizophrenia argues otherwise. Rep. Tom Allen is as strong a statewide Democratic challenger as Maine can produce in this era, so if he fails to seriously test Collins then both she and Olympia Snowe (who beat a token challenger by 35% in 2006) can safely be considered incumbents-for-life.
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    Essentially, these are the "Oh, Shit" races for the GOP. If November rolls around and they are legitimately worried about any of these, they're in big trouble. These are races that only become competitive when everything has gone wrong for one party and everything went right for the other.

    If that sounds familiar, well, that was 2006 – an election night that saw Republicans sweating out a Senate race in Virginia, losing 3 House seats in Indiana, and seriously contemplating the possibility of losing a House race in Wyoming. The GOP is clearly in a transitional period and, unfortunately, sometimes a 1994-style thrashing is necessary before the ship can get pointed in the right direction again.