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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, joined by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., left, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., right, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, calling for an amendment to the Constitution aimed at curbing special interests' financial clout in elections. Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives returned to Capitol Hill today after a five-week vacation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Don't forget, Election Day is about more than the presidency. Keep your eye on the Senate.


Don't forget, Election Day is about more than the presidency. Keep your eye on the Senate.

WATCH  |  With so much focus on Tuesday's presidential election, it may have slipped your mind: Other candidates are on the ballot, too. Here's why you should also be thinking about the Senate, and the key races that could determine which party controls the chamber in 2017.

The Senate is in play

Two people who certainly haven't forgotten about the Senate this election: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Their own battle has been quietly raging in the background.

In October, Ryan warned a group of college students that they had to vote in Wisconsin's Senate race, too -- or else. 

“If we lose the Senate, do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee?” asked Ryan. “A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?”

Sanders used those remarks to help raise $2.4 million for Senate candidates he's backing.

The 'Trump effect'

Ryan is right to worry. After six years of Republican control, Democrats actually have a chance to take back the Senate. Most attribute this to the "Trump effect" -- distaste for the GOP nominee has pushed some Republican voters away.

Both Ryan and Sanders clearly realize the stakes of winning the Senate. Even if their party's presidential candidate wins, they need at least one friendly chamber of Congress to have even the slightest chance of achieving most of their policy goals.

GOP majority is vulnerable

Republicans hold a 54-46 majority in the Senate (the 46 number includes the two independents who caucus with the Democrats).

On Tuesday, Republicans have to defend 24 seats, while Democrats only have to protect 10. Six of the vulnerable GOP seats are in states that President Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

But only a few states have Senate races that are so close that they’ll likely decide the fate of the Senate. Here are some of them:

Nevada: The race for Harry Reid's seat

With Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retiring after this term, his seat is up for grabs -- and the race is in a dead heat

The contest pits Republican Rep. Joe Heck against Democratic former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

Masto who would be the first-ever Latina senator if she wins.

FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2016, file photo, Rep. Patrick Murphy, left, and Sen. Marco Rubio shake hands before the start of a debate at Broward College in Davie, Fla. There is much more at stake than the White House. State by state, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, candidates and campaigners are making their last pitch for Senate and House seats, state legislative seats, governor’s offices, ballot questions, judgeships, city councils and more. Florida voters will decide whether Rubio serves a second term. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Florida: Marco Rubio's seat

Millions of dollars have been poured into the race between incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy. Rubio is up only 3 points, according to RealClearPolitics

Missouri:  A Trump state that could flip

While most pollsters agree Missouri is likely to favor Donald Trump by double digits in the presidential race, the Senate race is weirdly competitive: Missouri’s secretary of state Jason Kander is trailing behind sitting Sen. Roy Blunt by only 1.5 points.

Other states to watch

At least three other states have close Senate races:

  • In New Hampshire, incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte is up 6 points against the current state Gov. Maggie Hassan. 
  • In North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr is up 6 points against Deborah Ross, a former executive director of the North Carolina ACLU.
  • In Indiana, where there's no incumbent, GOP Rep. Todd Young and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh are tied.
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