Signs of spring are finally sprouting up in much of the country, but the weather isn’t the only thing heating up. The midterm elections may still be more than six months away, but the political posturing is already in full bloom.
    Candidates are trading pointed barbs from coast to coast, in races big and small. But perhaps no races will be more closely watched nationwide come November than the U.S. Senate races.
    That’s because control of the Senate is at stake. Democrats are currently the majority party in that legislative body, but Republicans only need to pick up six seats to wrest away control.
    Political prognosticator Nate Silver, a blogger and statistician who made a name for himself by accurately predicting how all 50 states would vote for president, as well as who would win 31 out of 33 U.S. Senate races in 2012, relaunched his at its new ESPN home last month.
    On March 23, he made his first U.S. Senate forecast since July 2013, giving the GOP a slight edge.
    “As always, we encourage you to read this analysis with some caution,” Silver wrote. “Republicans have great opportunities in a number of states, but only in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas do we rate the races as clearly leaning their way. Republicans will also have to win at least two toss-up races, perhaps in Alaska, North Carolina or Michigan, or to convert states such as New Hampshire into that category. And they’ll have to avoid taking losses of their own in Georgia and Kentucky, where the fundamentals favor them but recent polls show extremely competitive races.”
    However, he cautions, much can change over the course of the next several months, and “it wouldn’t take much for it to revert to the Democrats, nor for this year to develop into a Republican rout along the lines of 2010.”
    So, short of scandalous allegations or costly blunders that push voters toward one candidate or another, what could be the gamechanger?
    As in the 2012 presidential election, women are expected to be the deciding factor ­­— both on the ballot and in the voting booth.
    Both parties have strong female U.S. Senate candidates, including Michelle Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who would be the state’s first elected female senator; Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is attempting to unseat GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Michigan Republican Terri Lynn Land, who is seeking retiring Democrat Carl Levin’s seat.
    Democrats usually have the edge among female voters, and the party’s focus on issues that typically appeal to women — pocketbook policy issues that disproportionately affect women, such as pay equity and the minimum wage; health care and contraceptive coverage; and education — could hold some sway.
    “There’s no secret that over the last couple of cycles, women have been a disproportionate part of the targeted persuadable voters,” pollster John Anzalone, a top campaign adviser to Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, told the AP.
    Democratic voters historically tend to be less likely to cast their ballots in midterm elections than their Republican counterparts, however, and the GOP isn’t ready to concede the moderate female vote — especially given the fact that many of the key Senate races are taking place in areas that are heavily Republican, such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana.
    Yet unmarried women in particular could play a crucial role in the midterms, and in light of the many gaffes made by the increasingly vocal tea party extremists — many of whom appear to be unapologetically misogynistic — convincing those women that the party has not been waging a war on women might be a tough sell.
    After all, just last year the National Republican Congressional Committee held seminars teaching candidates how to talk to women, and while it may stop some from alienating voters with an embarrassing remark — and it maybe could have even scored them a few dates back in high school — it doesn’t do much to reassure this unmarried female voter that they do, in fact, truly understand or care about the challenges facing American women.

    Amy Gehrt may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.