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Standing in front of a nearly hundred-year-old barn on a south-central Kansas farm, independent challenger Greg Orman asserted this week that Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts no longer represents the interests of small-town and farm voters who have long formed the bedrock of his political career.

For Orman, a suburban Kansas City businessman, the move represented both a final-week offensive into Roberts' turf in a race that has been unexpectedly competitive.

Typically a Republican stronghold, Kansas is suddenly up for grabs as Republicans seek the six-seat gain necessary to take control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats. Democrats control 55 Senate seats to the Republicans' 45. Some of the states with high-profile Senate races include Colorado, New Hampshire, Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota, Kentucky, Louisiana and Iowa.

If Republicans fall short, a gain of five seats would effectively split the 100-member Senate between the two parties, instantly elevating Vice President Joe Biden's role as the 101st senator to break ties.

And after millions of Americans vote next week, it's possible that one or two men will decide which party controls the Senate. One is Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who generally "caucuses" — or cooperates — with Democrats but says he might switch to the Republicans. The other is Orman.

Orman, who has said he will caucus with whichever party wins a majority, has emerged as a formidable alternative to Roberts after the incumbent barely survived a GOP primary and the Democratic nominee dropped out.

Orman, running as a centrist, has repeatedly said that voters are tired of partisan bickering and want problem-solvers in Washington.

Meanwhile Roberts, a three-term GOP incumbent, this week picked up the endorsement of beloved Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund and a somewhat reluctant endorsement from his former Republican primary challenger, Milton Wolf.

In the perennial swing state of Colorado, the Senate race appears neck and neck, according to a Denver Post poll released Thursday. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Republican rival Cory Gardner are essentially tied, with Udall at 44 percent and Gardner at 46 percent, with a 4-percentage-point margin-of-error. The poll surveyed those who are likely to vote and those who returned ballots in Colorado's first all-mail election.

Should Udall survive it will be a sign that demographics and a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation can win states like Colorado even when the national political environment favors Republicans.

But if Gardner wins, it may offer the GOP a path forward in states they have been unable to gain ground during the Obama administration.

Other hot Senate races:

■A trio of Democratic-backing independent groups on Wednesday rushed to air $1.3 million in TV ads to help New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who at one time seemed heading toward a safe re-election. Outside groups spent $9 million against Shaheen and another $2.7 million promoting her Republican challenger, former Sen. Scott Brown.

■Republican David Perdue has spent the better part of a month defending his business record in Georgia's tight U.S. Senate race, as Democrat Michelle Nunn blasts him as an out-of-touch businessman who shipped jobs overseas.

■Total spending in North Carolina's tight Senate race topped $100 million on Wednesday, making it the first such contest in the nation to cross that threshold, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation data. Endangered Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is facing Republican challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

■Senate Democrats are scaling back their spending in South Dakota, as recent polls show the Republican nominee, former Gov. Mike Rounds, moving ahead. The South Dakota seat, held by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is viewed as a must-have for the GOP.

■The Senate Democrats' campaign committee on Tuesday released an ad that criticizes Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as spending three decades amassing wealth in Washington while his Kentucky constituents struggled. McConnell and the Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, are locked in a tight contest.

■U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has become a target in the GOP drive to gain Senate seats. She has doubled down on her support for the federal health care law even as polls show the revamp remains unpopular in Louisiana. She's facing U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness.

Denver Post contributed.

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