Josh Kraushaar | The 7 Senate Races to Watch in 2016

Democrats are looking to reclaim their Senate majority in two years, but after losing nine Senate seats in 2014, their path back to that majority won’t be easy.

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

So to kick off the new year, here is National Journal‘s preview of the seven most compelling Senate races in 2016, with the most pressing question that will determine the race’s outcome listed below:

Nevada: Does Gov. Brian Sandoval run against Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid?

Despite sporting the worst approval ratings of any senator running for reelection in 2016, Reid is as well prepared as anyone to take on his competition—or at least to scare them away from running in the first place. The GOP’s dream candidate, Gov. Brian Sandoval, would probably start out ahead, thanks to his statewide political profile, moderate reputation, and Hispanic background. But he’s far from a sure thing to run, knowing Reid’s excellent track record in pulverizing his opposition. Giving up an influential job where he’s become one of the GOP’s nationally compelling politicians to wrestle in the mud with the Senate minority leader isn’t exactly a no-brainer of a decision.

Reid, however, is looking vulnerable enough that Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston rates his chances as no better than 55 percent, no matter whom the Republicans run against him. But if Sandoval passes on the race, there’s a greater chance that a hard-right candidate could emerge in a primary—and that’s proven to be a surefire path to victory for Reid in the past. And the presidential-year electorate in 2016, with higher Hispanic turnout, should be very beneficial for Reid. That’s one reason he was such an enthusiastic champion of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. It’s no coincidence that President Obama announced the decision, Reid by his side, in Las Vegas.

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