Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Emoji Challenge!

So, it's now Sunday Funday here on the blog (scratch that-that's too cutesy, even for what we're about to do).  It's really GTKY Sunday, where I go-ahead and try to do some random GTKY activity, and today we're going to be doing the Emoji Challenge.  For those of you who haven't been watching videos from YouTubers desperate for a new tag video in the past month, the Emoji Challenge essentially is this: you find five Emojis that describe your interests, your personality, your likes, or just you.  I am kind of an Emoji addict if you ever text with me, and so I thought this would be appropriate.  Without further adieu...
1. Unimpressed Emoji

Okay, I'm not hip enough to know exactly what all of these are called, but this one is my favorite to use.  Seriously-so much idiocy happens in texting and on the internet, that if I'm looking at my iPhone, this is surely going to be my face half of the time.

2. Clapper Board Emoji

I mean, I couldn't skip the one about film.  Obviously movies are a major part of my life, and while I don't use this one as often as I should, it's a favorite if only because it's cinematic.  Plus, it's oddly detailed, with production, director, and everything listed on it.

3. Statue of Liberty Emoji

I mean, it's kind of a snooty-looking Statue of Liberty, isn't it?  If this was a selfie, it wouldn't get particularly high marks.  Still, though, this is clearly the NYC emoji and I couldn't skip that because I love everything about the Big Apple.

4. Mount Fuji Emoji

I'm a weird conundrum, in that I love the heart of busy cities like New York, but also have a huge penchant for the wilderness, particularly the mountainous wilderness.  While Mount Fuji isn't the first mountain I think of when I think of great mountains (that'd be the Himalayas or the Rockies), it's still wholly iconic and I love this serene emoji.

5. Orange Heart Emoji

Wait, you're saying this isn't an actual emoji?  That they somehow have red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink hearts but for some reason left out the orange heart?  That can't be possible!!! #stillnotlettingthisgo

And there you have it-my emoji challenge!  What five emojis represent you?  Share yours in the comment or tweet me them on Twitter!

Just Call Her Dame Joan Collins

Don't you love how cheeky Joan Collins looks as she becomes Dame Joan?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Everybody's Linking for the Weekend

It's Saturday-huzzah!!!  And with that, we get back into our old "Everybody's Linking for the Weekend" write-ups, where I link to some of the articles and stories that I've been following all week.

On Entertainment...

-Lena Dunham continued to stir up controversy with her article about "Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?" for The New Yorker.  I know that Lena may do things like this on occasion just to see where the uproar flies (I love her, but she occasionally trolls the public a bit), but in this case it was just a cute article playing on the ridiculousness of stereotypes that isn't dissimilar to the humor of Sarah Silverman or Larry David.  Plus, the reaction to it seems wholly predictable and no piece I've read seemed particularly genuine other than knee-jerk.  As a result I'm not going to link to the outrage articles, but occasionally provocative speech is just that and while I get where people are coming from, I don't quite agree with them.

-Tim Brayton over at the Film Experience finished up his fascinating take on the Rise and Fall of Dreamworks animation, whose Home premieres this weekend amidst a tumultuous time for the studio.  Honestly-this is one of the coolest articles I've read in a while with an in-depth look at a Hollywood studio (recalling Entertainment Weekly before the magazine just became a series of photos with pun-inflected captions to them).  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

-Loved this article from Buzzfeed recounting one person's look at the One Direction break-up, and particularly the part about the double standards employed on girls (who are silly for loving a band so much) and boys (who can mourn and weep over LeBron leaving Cleveland without any public mocking).

On Politics...

-The big story out of Washington yesterday had to be the retirement of Harry Reid.  The chips fell quickly and Politico has an account of how Chuck Schumer swiftly assumed the mantle of next Senate leader, while The Hill looks through the contentious Democratic Primary that could emerge with Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto seeming the frontrunner but Rep. Dina Titus and former Secretary of State Ross Miller both also appearing interested.  I'd like to remind both Titus and Miller that the Republicans have an open governor's race in 2018 and Sen. Dean Heller running for reelection, so if we all learn to share we might have a clear primary and everyone gets a prize.  Meanwhile every Republican in the country is salivating over the prospect of Gov. Brian Sandoval taking a shot at the open seat, as seen in the LA Times, but he seems more intent to wait and see if Jeb Bush picks him over Rob Portman for the veep slot.  In a presidential year, a Republican field without Sandoval would probably start as the underdog considering the uptick in Hispanic voters and recent trends in Nevada regarding presidential elections.

-National Journal included an article about potential fractures for the Democrats headed into the 2016 cycle.  Indeed, with Nevada, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania all seemingly poised to have contested (and theoretically bitter) primaries, the weird streak of Democrats clearing the field for their preferred candidate appears to be over.  Speaking of Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the preferred candidate by many for that state, appears likely to enter the race against Mark Kirk (see this article from HuffPo for more details).  Between Duckworth (or her congressional colleague Robin Kelly) in Ilinois, Kamala Harris in California, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, and Donna Edwards in Maryland, a record number of women of color could be entering the Senate in 2017.

-One other story yesterday came out from the EPA.  Bloomberg reports that at least one unidentified chemical was used by most companies while fracking, which comes amidst an all-out war against the practice by environmental groups, including a ban on the practice in New York.  This occurs at a time when we seem to have too much oil in reserves and nowhere to put it.

Shameless Self-Promotion of the Week...

My Favorite YouTube Video of the Week:

My beloved Grace Helbig has her own show that premieres next week, and in preparation for that jump to the mainstream, she was on Jimmy Fallon.  Here she is discussing her mom:

Just One More...
-I cannot believe that this is happening, but my beloved Suze Orman Show will be signing off tonight after 14 years on the air.  The Washington Post did a beautiful piece on Suze, her show, and her legacy (the good and the bad), but I will say that the way those teenage girls felt up-top about One Direction, I feel about Suze leaving.  I met her once at a book-signing (she was bound-and-determined to talk with every last person), and she referred to me as adorable when I came up for an autograph.  I told her that her book Young, Fabulous, and Broke had changed my entire perspective on money and had become my "financial bible."  She smiled, said she "loved that" and indicated that The Money Book was "my new financial bible" (which it has become).  I will miss our Saturdays together, and while I always follow her on Twitter and am excited to see where her new talk-style show takes her, I'm going to miss our Saturday nights together.

Friday, March 27, 2015

OVP: Timbuktu (2014)

Film: Timbuktu (2014)
Stars: Abel Jafri, Hichem Yacoubi, Toulou Kiki, Pino Desperado, Kettly Noel, Fatoumata Diawara
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Foreign Language Film-Mauritania)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I'm always excited when a country gains its first nomination at the Oscars in the Foreign Language film category, as it's usually my first introduction to that country and its filmic output.  This was certainly true for Mauritania, which enjoyed its first nomination with the controversial and provocative Timbuktu.  The film, which is hard to follow for those who don't have a regular study of the politics of the region, is still a difficult and haunting film that stands out in a way that not only keeps select scenes highly memorable, but makes you want to take the plunge further in the country's cinematic output.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film takes place over a series of vignettes, slowly linking together as the film progresses.  Character names are dropped, but rarely picked up, and really the characters end up being more like descriptions rather than specific people, human characters hidden amidst a terrorist Jihad group similar to Boko Haram.  The humanity in that though, the fact that there is something so unknowable about these characters, allows you to project a lot of your personality and feeling toward the characters, making certain scenes hauntingly real.

Because brutal doesn't begin to describe the difficult nature of this particular film, steeped in torture and death.  For starters, the heat is unrelenting.  There is a scene late in the film involving cattle in a river that feels almost cooling for a second-we see the water rushing and are given some respite from the sand, but then we still have to deal with the death.  We see an original sin-style scene, where a seemingly innocent man is pushed too far, killing a man over his most beloved cow being slaughtered.  This death ends up coming back to haunt him and his family as the film progresses, with his wife eventually trying to end his death at the hand of the Jihad, only to die herself and leaving their young daughter an orphan in the sand.

The film frequently comments on the humanity of the villains, leading to the supposed controversy surrounding the film, but like Downfall a decade ago, this is just creating a situation behind villainy.  There's no condoning the actions of the terrorists, but perhaps just questioning their decisions.  They are still human, frequently discussing women and soccer despite strict rules against such things, but they also clearly have a choice in the torture and death they impose, and even they sometimes question the why, and most meaningfully, the "what for" of the tyranny.  What purpose does all of this death and destruction, this extreme violence (the stoning scene in the middle of the film is certainly the most brutal thing I've seen onscreen in a long time-I almost had to leave the theater until it was over and was certainly watching through cupped hands)?  It's a question that Western audiences might find alien until they realize that some of their citizens are prepared to run off to join ISIS and realize that this sort of horrible decision-making and celebration of destruction reaches to every corner of the globe.

Those are my thoughts on this thought-provoking but very tough film.  I am curious A) if any of you have seen it (I saw it at the Walker Art Center, which is generally code for this being in like ten theaters in America) and B) what you thought?  It's a blank slate sort of movie, frequently beautiful even when it's more a series of ideas and essays than an actual cohesive film.  Share your thoughts below if you were a fan (or not so much)!

Ranting On...the Backwards Beliefs of Mike Pence

Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN)
I don't always agree with certain politicians, but I usually understand their point-of-view.  That wasn't the case this past week with both a decision that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made regarding religious freedom laws and his dragging-his-nails decision regarding needle-exchange programs, and I thought if ever there was a reason for a rant, this was it (plus, it fits nicely with the focus this past week on the blog regarding Indiana politics).

For those of you unfamiliar, the governor signed a religious freedom bill that could allow businesses to reject gay/lesbian/transgender customers in their stores based on their own personal beliefs.  While there are multiple ways that one could interpret the religious freedom bill, that's really what it's boiling down to, and from almost every standpoint I just don't understand how someone could think this is a good idea.  For starters, it's clearly legalized discrimination-the reality is that if someone comes into your shop or building, wants to pay you for a service, you shouldn't be able to say 'no' to them because of whose hand they happen to be holding while they are buying the product.  For me this is complete and utter common sense.  It is literally the EXACT same thing as telling someone who is black or a woman or older or unmarried or Christian that they don't have the right to purchase something because of who they are.  The only time that someone should be refused a service is if there is a potential public safety risk, such as a 12-year-old buying cigarettes or a convict trying to buy a gun.  There is no safety risk in selling any services to someone just because they are gay, and as a result it's just being discriminatory.

This is wrong for many reasons, but the reality is that religion should not be a reason to justify discrimination, and since it is the last card left in the anti-gay marriage/anti-gay rights deck of arguments, I think someone needs to say that out-loud: Freedom of Religion is a freedom for you to practice your religion.  That's it.  Whether you want to be Catholic or Baptist or an Atheist or a Belieber, it's up to you, but that's where it ends.  You can say anything that you want about other people's lifestyles, but you shouldn't be able to hinder their freedom.  That's what this really is all about.  Your freedom of religion doesn't extend to my freedom, end of story.  And that means you cannot decide whom I should be able to marry in a state-sanctioned marital ceremony.  You can say "not in my church" since that falls under Freedom of Religion but you cannot say that I can't get married, and you cannot legally deny me a right to a florist or a caterer or a photographer-that's discrimination, and it's wrong.  It's that simple, and also just because you use religion as a shield card doesn't stop you from being a bigot.  Religion is not a get out of being a homophobe free card, and I say this as a gay man who regularly attends Catholic services.  Decisions in life are not easy, but the law shouldn't be encumbered because you don't want to make difficult moral choices.

The other part is that I don't get why this is the avenue that Republicans want to take against the gay rights movement.  Of all of the ways to attack gay people, the best you can come up with is the free market?  The capitalistic business model that you worship as the be-all, end-all solution to why the government shouldn't be anything more than a sea of tanks and a couple of embassies?  That's the weirdest thing about this-why would you want to hinder businesses making more money?  Why would businesses want to hinder growth and the ability to pay the bills?  You see most companies are bending over backward to try and attract new gay clientele. Every major corporation in America (well, 98% of them-Chick Fil-A and Hobby Lobby need not apply) is trying to shore up gay dollars and loyalties because they are a new and emerging market, which is not only great for business, it's kind of the fun part about being in business.  Hindering growth in states like Indiana is going to potentially have new companies questioning expansion or moving into your state, which is awful for your state's economy (as there is no state with zero-unemployment, least of all Indiana which was still has one of the higher unemployment rates in the country).

Finally, before I exit, I do want to say something about the Scott County needle exchange program.  For starters, while I think he took too long and isn't doing enough, Mike Pence made the right decision to try and curb the frighteningly high increase in HIV-infections in the county due to needle-sharing.  The reality is that needle-exchange is just one of many programs that we need to institute to try and curb HIV-infection amongst intravenous drug users.  We also need to get to the root of the problem (drug suppliers, addiction treatment), as well as increase awareness through HIV-testing, and hopefully, work to find a cure to a disease that has ravaged communities for decades.  Throwing in the towel when your state starts seeing insanely above-normal HIV-infection rates and doing it with the authenticity of a five-year-old sharing her toys: not really a step in the right direction.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ranking the Members of One Direction

We are interrupting our regularly-scheduled review today to bring you the news that, if you have a Twitter account, you saw your feed explode with yesterday (and if you do have a Twitter account, why are you not following me?).  Yes, Zayn Malik has decided to break the hearts of fourteen-year-old girls and gay men everywhere by leaving the band One Direction, and all jokes aside (and boy did the jokes come flying, particularly from those over 25), this is a bummer.  One Direction wasn't The Beatles or quite frankly even the Spice Girls, but they are definitely the biggest band on the planet right now and I enjoyed a lot of their music.  So in honor of this being the beginning of the end (we all saw what happened after Geri Halliwell adiosed herself from the Spice Girls), I figured I would rank the five members of the band, from most to least favorite:

5. Louis Tomlinson

Pro: Umm...he arguably has the best nose of the group?  I'm kind of at a loss here...

Con: Louis is not the best singer in the group, and as Pewdiepie frequently quips, "no one cares about Louis."  Louis is cute, but definitely not the cutest, and he's not the worst singer, but he never gets the lead.  Also, he's ridiculously bad at handling the gay rumors that have surrounded him.  I get that you don't like that people say you're gay when you say you aren't (I could insert a Lance Bass joke here, but I'll attempt the high road), but your reactions border on homophobia and that's really sad from a group that has done a lot to deter homophobia in a major way amongst its fanbase.

4. Niall Horan

Pro: He's definitely a charmer, and I'm a sucker for a blond with a cute accent.  Also, my friend Abby loves him and I think she would have something to say if I put him in last.

Con: Again, he's not the best singer in the group, and I like my boy band members to be a bit edgier-without the tattoos and the like he's sort of the choir boy, the nice guy that parents encourage to be on the posters rather than one of the tattooed-to-the-hilt fellas, but I like the bad boys, what can I say?

3. Liam Payne

Pro: He's a good singer, frequently adding at least a verse to most songs and always being a major part of the chorus.  He's one of the taller guys (I like taller guys), and has the smoldering eye thing down pretty clearly.  Also, he's got a bit of that bad boy thing going on, but still with the "you-can-change-him-vibe" (don't give me that look-I know this is all marketing and shallow-I dissected electoral battles in the Senate this morning, what more do you want from me?).

Con: He's kind of moody seeming, and he's not particularly charming in interviews like Niall or Harry are.

2. Zayn Malik

Pro: I put this on my Tumblr, but Zayn is definitely the prettiest, and quite frankly the best singer (whenever there's a "high note" happening in a song, it's Zayn).  Plus, he's got the bad boy/misunderstood artist thing going stone-cold.  

Con: He broke up the band.  He was Number One on this list on Monday.

1. Harry Styles

Pro: Pretty much everyone agrees that if there's a breakout/Justin Timberlake, it's Harry.  He's got that ridiculously devilish-smile that is impossible to deny.  Seriously-watch him charm the pants off of basically everyone that interviews (when Tyler Oakley interviewed the band the flirting was off-the-charts).  Plus, he's a good singer and has the hair of a Greek poet.

Con: Isn't it kind of cliche to pick Harry as your favorite?

And there you have it-my compilation of my favorite members of the band.  Who are your favorites?  Share them in the comments!!!

The State of the Senate

With quite a bit of movement in the Senate races, I feel like it's time for another "State of the Senate," where we count down the most competitive races in the country, with Number One being (in my opinion) the most likely to change parties.  Without further adieu:

Honorable Mention: It's worth noting that while I don't think either are particularly competitive here, it's still not out-of-the-question that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) could either retire or lose in a primary, opening up a challenge from a moderate Democrat like former Surgeon General Richard Carmona or that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) could be vulnerable if Hillary Clinton is competitive in Missouri to a challenge from Secretary of State Jason Kander, who was by far the best candidate the Democrats could have hoped for in the Show-Me State.  However at this point it appears these are competitive on paper, but not in reality, so they stay off the top ten.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)
10. North Carolina

The Tarheel State is playing a game of wait-and-see right now, as everyone is wondering what will former U.S. Senator Kay Hagan do.  Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) appears likely to run for a third term despite retirement rumors to the contrary last year, and would probably be the frontrunner against any Democrat (despite its swing state nature, North Carolina is still slightly Republican nationally and that should help Burr eek out those crucial final couple of points).  However, Hagan ran a pitch-perfect campaign in 2014 and nearly won despite the entire national tide being against her (she would have won and handily had the race taken place in 2012).  She's a proven fundraiser and I would imagine that the DSCC is pretty much begging her to run right now.  Were she to skip the race I suspect that the Democrats would turn to State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who is a formidable opponent but nowhere near what Hagan would be if she ran.  This is also a question of whether Hagan is done with electoral politics (I cannot imagine she'll ever have as strong of an opportunity to re-enter the political fray, particularly with a competitive White House and governor's race also on the ballot).  If she does, this race moves up, but until I hear more from her I'm keeping it right at the bottom of the list.

9. Indiana

This race moves onto the list with the announcement that Sen. Dan Coats (R) will retire rather than seek a non-consecutive fourth term.  His announcement sets up an all-out war within the Republican caucus, with Reps. Jackie Walorski, Martin Stutzman, Todd Young, Todd Rokita, and Susan Brooks (as well as Coats' Chief of Staff Eric Holcomb) all considering a race here (it's worth noting that some will probably sit out and wait to take on sitting Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in 2018, but a sitting senator is not the opportunity that an open seat in a presidential year would be, and they all know this).  The Democrats have an incredibly thin bench after the 2010 elections, though I would imagine that despite some refusals late Tuesday that former Sen. Evan Bayh will be asked pretty hard by the DSCC to re-consider running considering that he's only 59, has likely seen his chances at ever running for the White House disappear (he was once the Golden Boy of the Democratic Party, but returning to the Senate is probably the best he could do at this point), and most importantly has $10 million still left in his campaign account, giving him an almost insurmountable financial advantage.  Were he to refuse we'd see either former Rep. Baron Hill run or perhaps State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who is the only statewide-elected Democrat other than Sen. Donnelly and is in an ugly public brawl right now with Gov. Mike Pence over her job (and may want to leverage Democratic anger in the state to a higher position).  Either way, this race got considerably more competitive this week even if the Republicans maintain an edge.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
8. Ohio

The good thing for the Democrats is that they have perhaps their best candidate possible, but the bad news is that that still might not be enough.  Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) got what may be the best the Democrats have to offer (former Governor Ted Strickland), but he's still a very well-respected senator that probably fits his moderate state just a teensy bit better.  Plus, Strickland's age (he'll be 75 on Election Day) may affect his performance even if he's about as close to an incumbent as a non-incumbent can be (considering his decades of public service).  Strickland also needs to dethrone a potential up-and-comer in PG Sittenfeld (a City Councilman, not a mystery novelist), though he should be able to dispatch him.

All this being said, if Hillary Clinton can approach the numbers that Barack Obama did in 2008, taking on the Republican by 5-points or more in the Buckeye State, all bets are off.  Vote-splitting is an endangered species in America, and to expect very partisan swing voters to go off-base that much for a man they elected statewide in 2006 and almost did in 2010-that's a stretch.  All things being equal I'd bet on Portman, but a wind for the Democrats could turn this seat to Strickland.

7. Colorado

With Sen. Cory Gardner currently occupying the Senate seat that Mark Udall won in 2008, the Democrats recent run of good luck (three Senate elections, three governor's races, and two bids for the White House all going blue) finally ended, and Colorado started to look more like the swing state it is supposed to be.  Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) doesn't seem to have the same poor campaigning skills as Mark Udall, though, and will probably benefit from higher Hispanic turnout in the 2016 election (one of the big question marks is will Hillary Clinton be able to duplicate the high turnout of Hispanic voters in 2016 that Barack Obama did in his elections, and that's doubly important when we see who is going to carry the Centennial State).  The leading contenders for the seat appear to be, oddly enough, a married couple: Rep. Mike Coffman and his wife Attorney General Cynthia Coffman are at the top of the NRSC's recruitment efforts, though considering that Mrs. Coffman just won her office it appears that Mr. Coffman may be the more likely contender.  Mike Coffman represents one of the most liberal seats in the country held by a Republican, so were he to make a stab at the Senate, he would almost assuredly be giving the DCCC one of the thirty seats it's looking at to win the majority.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)
6. Pennsylvania

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has not been the conservative firebrand he was once billed when he was in the House, taking a much quieter approach as Pennsylvania's junior senator, which is a good thing considering that this is a state that Hillary Clinton is likely to do well in next year (Pennsylvania has gone Democratic every year since 1988).  The Democrats are obviously not satisfied with former Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost this seat in a nail-biter six years ago and is reportedly not a team player, but there's not a lot of options yet.  Several of their top contenders either have shown no interest (Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Montgomery County Chairman Josh Shapiro) or are embroiled in scandal (Attorney General Kathleen Kane).  Alleghany County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is frequently mentioned, but Sestak has such a lead right now and is such a ferocious campaigner (he did oust a legend and sitting senator six years ago in Arlen Specter) that I wouldn't bet against him.  The DSCC and Pennsylvania Democrats will probably get over their aversion to Sestak pretty fast if he wins the primary, as with 4-5 seats needed to win the majority (depending on who is Vice President), Pennsylvania is too important to not go full throttle, regardless of whether or not someone is seen as a maverick.

5. New Hampshire

Every Democrat worth his or her salt is waiting on the decision of Gov. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire.  While races in Wisconsin, Pennyslvania, and Ohio have started to form and we have a decent idea of whom our candidate will be, New Hampshire is a wait-and-see game for Democrats, as the popular governor will have to decide whether or not she will pursue the Senate or run for re-election.  Republicans (and some Democrats) seem to think it will be the former, and have already started to campaign on behalf of sitting Sen. Kelly Ayotte.  An early poll in the state showed that Hassan led the incumbent by four-points, and while New Hampshire has shown a weirdly sporadic nature in its elections recently (just ask Carol Shea-Porter, who has won 60% of her House races depending on the waves), they've been pretty damn blue in presidential years, being the only state that went for Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.  If Hassan passes, Democrats will try their luck with either former Gov. John Lynch (who seems reluctant to re-enter the political world), Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, or perhaps even Shea-Porter (who seems more likely to once again seek her old seat but may not want to have to acquiesce to the Granite State electorate every two years).  But none of them would start out with the positioning that Hassan would, and considering that she's been rumored to want even higher office than governor or senator, the national platform that a Senate seat provides may be too appealing to pass up.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL)
4. Florida

This one goes way up the list for me for three reasons.  The first, and most important, is that it appears that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will be forgoing a run for reelection in favor of a play for the White House (or more likely, Number One Observatory Circle).  Rubio isn't invincible, but he surely would be the favorite if he had run for reelection, while an open seat election in a year where Florida will be critically important for both parties means that this will be high turnout, helping the Democrats in a way they weren't able to be six years ago.  The second is that with Rubio out there is going to be a grand march of Republicans running for the seat, ranging from Reps. Vern Buchanan and Curt Clawson to Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera to State CFO Jeff Atwater-this could turn bloody and could result in a Tea Party style candidate winning in a state where Republicans cannot afford one.  And third, the Democrats seem to have coalesced around their best possible candidate: Rep. Patrick Murphy.  While there are still rumblings that someone like Rep. Alan Grayson may run, these seem much adieu about nothing, and Murphy has the moderate (and relatively bland) profile that someone like Sen. Bill Nelson has coasted on for years to win statewide and he's a voracious campaigner.  It's worth noting that in an inverse of Mike Coffman, the Democrats may be sacrificing a House seat to win a Senate seat here, as Murphy represents one of the only districts in the country won by Mitt Romney but currently held by a Democrat.

3. Nevada

Nevada is in a weird position right now.  On a presidential level, its results are looking less like a swing state and more like simply a light blue state, but thanks to poor performance in Midterms and a nail-biter Senate race in 2012, they still have statewide races that look very competitive.  The Democrats appear to be running Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is wildly unpopular in his home state but is the sort of fighter that you should never totally bet against.  The grand matchup against the state's wildly popular Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and Reid seems not to be happening, as Sandoval is more likely to wait and see if he'll be asked to the Vice Presidential Prom (or to run on his own for the White House in 2020 if Hillary wins), so the Democrats will likely have to contend with either Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison or State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson.  I am on record as saying that, with Sandoval all but out of a Senate race regardless of Reid's stance, the Democrats would be better off if Reid just retired, as he is too much damaged goods and we could go with Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is Reid's chosen successor without all of his baggage, but that plan doesn't appear to be happening, so it's very possible the Democrats win the 4-5 seats they need to take the majority but still cannot take the majority because of Harry Reid's stubbornness.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-FL)
2. Illinois

The Land of Lincoln is currently sitting, waiting for the popcorn to start popping in the Democratic Primary.  At the moment four Democratic members of the House (Reps. Cheri Bustos, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster, and Tammy Duckworth) are all exploring a Senate bid against Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).  There's a good reason for this: Illinois is the most liberal state in the country currently represented by a Republican, and is Hillary Clinton's home state.  The Democrats are sure to win the state on a presidential level, likely by double-digits, which means that Kirk will need an insanely high number of crossover votes which simply won't be possible with a decent Democratic challenger.  With Attorney General Lisa Madigan likely to clear the field for the gubernatorial election in 2018 and Sen. Dick Durbin seemingly staying in the Senate forever, this is probably the best shot any of these ambitious pols have to win a promotion for a while, and they know it.  Expect a pretty bloody primary, which will only help Kirk, but for the Democrat to start out with an advantage in the general.  My personal preference would be Kelly, whose seat isn't a risk to go red (like Bustos's) and hasn't recently lost a high-profile race just to come back and win (like Foster and Duckworth, the latter of whom is clearly the DSCC's favorite).

1. Wisconsin

It's become a running joke at this point, but it appears that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has not been told that he is a Republican in a blue state, because his staunch conservative voting record clearly doesn't imply he is aware of this fact.  Johnson appears to be getting a rematch from former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) who can clear the field and has passed on potentially easier races (the 2012 Senate race, the 2014 governor's race) probably with a bit of bitterness against Johnson, so expect this race to get nasty and quick.  The big question for Democrats is how will Feingold, most famous for his crusades for campaign finance reform, operate in a post-Citizens United world.  Either way, it may not matter-this is a state that Hillary Clinton will probably start as a frontrunner in (with or without Scott Walker) and that may be enough for Feingold to get across the finish line similar to Tammy Baldwin in 2016.  It's worth noting that with Feingold, Hagan, and Bayh all potentially running in 2016 the Democrats may well have a lot of very familiar-looking freshmen in 2017.

And there you have it-my look at next year's Senate elections.  What are your thoughts?  How would you change the order and what race are you most looking forward to?  Share in the comments!