How many Senate seats would Republicans need to pick up in order to take over the majority if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the presidency? And how many Republican pickups are possible? Or likely?
At minimum, a three-seat pickup would be necessary for the GOP to take control. Add one more if Obama wins, because the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote. Depending on which prognosticator you favor today, a six- or seven-seat pickup is possible, and a three- or four-seat gain is likely.
Big Green is spending bales of cash to keep Republican Senate pickups down, shoveling its money at a few close races.
The off-highway vehicle crowd is tracking that money and sending some of its own, with hopes of returning an OHV-friendly Senate to power.
OHV enthusiasts now have their own political action committee, the Trail PAC, founded last year by trail rider, former racer and event organizer Don Amador. I asked him which Senate seats his PAC is watching most. "Anti-access groups are smearing pro-trail candidates in three key Senate races," he said: "George Allen in Virginia, Denny Rehberg in Montana and Heather Wilson in New Mexico -- all Republicans."
That also happens to be the League of Conservation Voters' total 2012 "Dirty Dozen" list so far -- the group's catalog of must-beat candidates.
Amador explained that five Big Green groups have formed a coalition to defeat New Mexico's Heather Wilson, who is running for the seat left vacant by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman's retirement. Her Democratic opponent is Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., a board member of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. "That group has a long history of opposing responsible OHV recreation on public lands," Amador said.
The groups joining LCV against Wilson are the political arms of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They have reportedly reserved $2 million worth of air time for anti-Wilson TV ads to run until early August.
Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund, a political action committee formed last year, is airing TV ads characterizing Rep. Denny Rehberg as "anti-hunting and fishing." Land Tawney, president of the PAC, said his group is spending $350,000 on its TV ad campaign -- a substantial buy in Montana.
The League of Conservation Voters supported the ad, said Don Amador. Rehberg is going against incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester. It could be a tough challenge for Tester.
"Tawney's group is an extreme anti-access group, strongly opposed to OHVs," said Amador. "It's laughable that Rehberg, a rancher, would be against hunting or fishing, which shows how off in never-never land this 'Hunters and Anglers' outfit really is. And Denny's a staunch supporter of the OHV community."
Former Virginia Gov. George Allen is campaigning hard to win back his Senate seat. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who took it from Allen by less than 0.5 percent in 2006, is retiring. The LCV says Allen has "one of the worst environmental records ever." The OHV PAC disagrees, seeing him as a good steward of federal lands and a friend of public access.
Amador's PAC is also supporting two additional Republican pro-trail Senate candidates: Sen. Dean Heller, who was appointed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval when Sen. John Ensign resigned in 2011, and Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake. Neither of their races has attracted the ferocious attacks of the other three key OHV-friendly candidates.
Amador explains the Trail PAC's concern: "These are must-wins to switch the Senate power structure." Because no matter what happens in the presidential race, Senate control could shape the next presidential term.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.