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GOP-allied groups see Senate as good bet

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans' clear shot at winning control of the Senate is attracting tens of millions of dollars from GOP-allied outside groups eager to spend on a surer bet than a White House race with a resurgent President Barack Obama and an unsettled GOP field.

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Republicans need to capture four Democratic seats to grab the majority and Democrats have all but conceded one -- Nebraska -- where Sen. Ben Nelson decided against a third-term bid in the heavily GOP state. Control of the Senate will hinge on tight races in Massachusetts and Nevada, where Democrats see their best chances of unseating two of the newest Republican senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller; Montana and Missouri, where Democrats Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill won narrowly in 2006, and open Democratic seats in Virginia and Wisconsin, according to Republicans, Democrats, campaign consultants and lobbyists.

By the numbers, the odds heavily favor the GOP; Democrats are defending 23 seats, including six open seats and one independent, to the Republicans' 10.

But eight months to Election Day, Democrats are expressing more optimism about their prospects of keeping the majority. Obama's steadily improving standing with the electorate, signs of a healthier economy and housing market and the lack of clarity in the highly divisive GOP presidential field are energizing Democrats.

The current Senate breakdown is 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Obama's deep-pocketed campaign and its expected spending in battleground states such as Nevada, Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin is certain to lift Democratic candidates down ballot.

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