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The Senate battle, along with a few key governor races and some always-interesting propositions, will make Tuesday’s midterms an interesting curtain-raiser to the 2016 presidential race already under way.JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama isn't on the ballot this week, but his presence looms large as embattled Democrats fight rearguard actions to hang on to their majority in the Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six Senate seats to take control. They are certain to retain a majority in the House of Representatives. The Senate battle, along with a few key governor races and some always-interesting propositions, will make Tuesday's midterms an interesting curtain-raiser to the 2016 presidential race already under way.

Kentucky Senate

If the dour and unpopular Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell fails to hold the bluegrass and coal-rich state of Kentucky, then his party may be in for a long, miserable night of dashed hopes. But that now looks far less likely than it did earlier this fall.

Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has staged a spirited campaign, replete with videos of her blasting away with a shotgun, dumping on the President and poking fun at Mr. McConnell. "I am not Barack Obama" she says, adding: "I disagree with him on guns, coal and the [Environmental Protection Agency]." And she pointedly refuses to say if she even voted for Mr. Obama, calling herself a "Clinton" Democrat. The distance from Mr. Obama may not be enough. At times she has closed the gap, but polls now show her falling back – and the national party has pulled its money to spend in greener pastures.

Georgia Senate

President Obama confidently claims that if Michelle Nunn, the Democratic challenger, can win this red state then his party will hold the Senate. It's a bold statement from a President who has largely been absent from the fray, mainly because embattled Democrats don't want him around. But Ms. Nunn, the daughter of Georgia's former senator Sam Nunn, shares many of his small-"c" conservative views and has proved herself a solid campaigner.

She faces David Perdue, a Republican businessman, who has sought to portray Ms. Nunn as an Obama acolyte. "You support ObamaCare, Common Core [education standards], higher taxes, amnesty [for illegal immigrants] and the economic policies that have failed, that have actually generated more people out of work right now than at any time since Jimmy Carter was president," he says. To which Ms. Nunn replies that she has only spent "45 minutes of her life with the President Obama, compared to seven years running President George H.W. Bush's Points of Light organization." Georgia is one of two races likely to go into overtime, with the run off not until Jan. 6. The battle for the Senate may not be over until then.

North Carolina Senate

This is another "must hold" if the President's party wants to hang on to a Senate majority. Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan, was among those who rode Mr. Obama's 2008 charismatic surge of "Hope and Change" that brought record numbers of African-American and young voters out in this purple state six years ago. Now it has become the priciest battleground in the 2014 midterms. More than $100-million (U.S.) in out-of-state money has poured into North Carolina to pay for a dizzying media barrage.

Republican Thom Tillis blasts ObamaCare, calls the President confused and weak on foreign police and accuses Ms. Hagan of hypocrisy. "Kay Hagan's gone to Washington and voted with President Obama 96 per cent of the time," is his refrain. In a toss-up race rife with viciously negative attack ads, Ms. Hagan has looked for new coattails to ride. She found them in Hillary Clinton, the widely presumed Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, who railed against "out-of-state billionaires" who are "trying to buy this election." The former first lady, senator and newly minted grandmother told a partisan audience in Charlotte, N.C.: "We love the name." (It's also her granddaughter's name.)

Kansas Senate

A Kansas Senate seat is perhaps the closest race in the country and the Democratic Party doesn't even have a candidate. That could help but it may not be enough to unseat Republican Senator Pat Roberts. The last time a Democratic Senate candidate won in reliably-red Kansas was 1932. Yet the race is coin-flip close because the Democrats threw in the towel early.

Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out back in September, turning the contest into a two-way race. The President's party is hoping that Independent Greg Orman will not only oust the Republican incumbent but will then opt to caucus with the Democrats in Washington. Mr. Orman, who has been both a registered Republican and a Democrat, insists he really is Independent and that's what Washington needs.

"I've tried both parties; and, like most Kansans, I've been disappointed," he says. He voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and then for Mitt Romney, the Republican, who won Kansas, in 2012. The race has seesawed, with Mr. Roberts, 78, being embarrassingly forced to admit he doesn't actually own a home in the state while lashing out at the wealthy 45-year-old Mr. Orman as "a liberal Democrat."

Louisiana Senate

Senator Mary Landrieu's pitch is simple: that she wields great clout in Washington as a veteran senator and chair of the powerful energy committee. Ms. Landrieu, from a storied Louisiana political family and the only Democrat now holding state-wide office in this increasingly red southern state, rejects accusations that she's just another rubber-stamp Democratic senator for Mr. Obama.

"I've worked with three presidents. I've worked with four majority leaders. I've worked with six governors. I've been able to move an energy agenda forward regardless of who was there," she says. Except, as her opponents pointedly note, she has so far failed to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved, a vital project for the refineries that line the Louisiana coast.

"Senator Landrieu has clout, but she uses it for Barack Obama. She doesn't use it for us," says Republican challenger Representative Bill Cassidy. Meanwhile, Tea Party favourite Rob Maness may take enough votes to deny the mainstream candidates a majority, making Louisiana another likely runoff state. The runoff would be Dec. 6, setting off a firestorm of campaigning and big spending for the next four weeks.

Colorado Senate

Democrats in Colorado needed help. With polls showing Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper, both Democrats, behind their Republican challengers, it was time to bring in the big dog. That was not President Obama, despite the fact that he won Colorado in both 2008 and 2012. Rather, it was former president Bill Clinton who came stumping for Mr. Udall last week

"Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance when it comes to this race right here," Mr. Udall said. That may prove to be too true. Republican hopes of unseating both Mr. Udall and Governor Hickenlooper have brightened in recent weeks. Polls show Mr. Udall running behind Republican Representative Cory Gardner, who is doing better than expected among women despite attack ads portraying him as anti-choice.

The state's fast-growing Hispanic population may decide the outcome. With many increasingly disenchanted with President Obama over the lack of progress on immigration reform, their support for Democratic candidates may be vulnerable. Republicans have made strong pitches on Spanish-language media. If Hispanic turnout is down, Republicans may reclaim the statehouse as well as Mr. Udall's seat.

New Hampshire Senate

For the third time in five years, Scott Brown is running for the U.S. Senate. He became an overnight Republican sensation when, in 2010, he won in Massachusetts to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy for the last two years of a six-year term. Then, in 2012, he was trounced by Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Unbowed, Mr. Brown, who lived in New Hampshire as a child and owns a cottage there, moved to the Granite State.

He's running again in a bid to oust Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat and former governor who is the first woman in U.S. history to hold both posts for a state. Ms. Shaheen fingers her Republican opponent as an opportunist and carpetbagger, although she lets surrogates use the term. "This is my home. This is where my kids grew up. … My goal has been to serve the people of New Hampshire, not to serve myself," she says. But Mr. Brown has focused his attacks on the President, accusing him of being weak and ineffective and leaving the United States vulnerable to Islamic State infiltration and Ebola. "We have people coming into our country by legal means bringing in diseases. We have a border that's so porous that anyone can walk across it," he says.

Florida Governor

Florida, a key battleground state, where the deadlocked 2000 election ended up in the Supreme Court and finally put George W. Bush in the White House, has another closely watched race this year. A former Republican governor is running against the current Republican incumbent.

Charlie Crist, Republican turned Independent and now Democrat, is seeking to unseat Governor Rick Scott in a pivotal battle. Big money and wild accusations have turned the governor's race in the Sunshine State into particularly nasty fight. "You almost bankrupted the state," Governor Scott said of his predecessor. "You're the last person who ought to be talking about jobs."

Meanwhile, Mr. Crist, who says he quit the Republican Party out of principled disillusionment, accuses Mr. Scott of being "out of touch" because he spends his time in his personal jet and "oceanfront mansion." On Cuba, always a divisive issue in Florida, Mr. Crist wants to scrap the U.S. embargo. Governor Scott backs it and calls the Castro brothers "terrorists." Meanwhile, with lingering memories of "hanging chads" that confounded the 2000 count, both sides are ready with poll watchers and lawyers to dispute the outcome.

Legalizing marijuana in Washington, D.C.

Across the country, voters in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia will cast ballots on a dizzying range of propositions. More than 140 propositions are on the ballots.

One almost certain to pass in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington, D.C. would legalize pot for recreation use. Several states have already done so, but nothing is as simple in the country's capital where African-Americans are eight times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their (mostly) richer white neighbours .

President Obama has said candidly that he "smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person." Despite his admission, legalizing marijuana in the capital may create a furore.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as among "the most dangerous class of drugs ." Meanwhile Congress, which still has a whip hand over the District of Columbia, may take a dim view especially if the Republicans control both houses.