Analysis

Democrats See Senate Gains in Election

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The Democrats have a chance at winning control of the Senate. They need six more seats to take control. There are just enough vulnerable Republican seats to make a Democratic takeover possible. But Republicans are counting on using their organizational strength to counter the rising Democratic tide.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If it's September of an even-numbered year, you can feel sure that everything that happens in Congress is done with the election in mind. Our best understanding about this fall's election is changing day by day. Analysts give Democrats a good chance at breaking Republican control of the House. A few months ago, Republicans seemed very likely to hold on to the Senate, but now the battle for the control of that chamber is growing tighter.

To sort out what's happening, we've brought in NPR political editor Ken Rudin. Ken, good morning.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And NPR national political correspondent Mare Liasson. Good morning to you.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what is the roadmap for Democrats, if they have one, to actually win control of the Senate?

LIASSON: Well, there is a roadmap, Steve. They need six seats net to win control of the Senate, and they have some targets. The pool from which they're fishing for those six seats include very tight competitive races in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Montana, all held by Republican incumbents. The Democrat is either tied or ahead at this moment.

INSKEEP: I gotta tell you, at the beginning of the year, when you looked at the political map, you could see that Rick Santorum, the senator in Pennsylvania, was vulnerable, but it was hard to find the second vulnerable Republican. What's changed?

LIASSON: Oh, there are plenty of vulnerable Republicans now. I talked this week with Senator Chuck Schumer, who's head of the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee. He said he feels good about where the Democrats are. He certainly is not predicting that they're going to take over control of the Senate. The one race the Democrats are on the defense for is in New Jersey, where the Democratic incumbent is trailing by a couple points with his Republican challenger. But Democrats are also very hopeful about the Virginia race, which didn't look too competitive too long ago.

INSKEEP: Ken Rudin, is there really a chance that a Democratic Senate candidate can win in the state of Virginia, a very Republican state right now?

KEN RUDIN: Well, it's not as Republican as it used to be. It used to be a really clear red state. But if you looked at all the votes that were counted in the 2004 presidential race, George Bush only got about 50-51 percent of the vote.

If we were talking about George Allen's prospects for a second term a few months ago...

INSKEEP: The Republican Senator, yeah.

RUDIN: Exactly. It was a cakewalk. He was actually measuring the drapes for the White House in 2008.

But he got himself into a lot of trouble, first with the M word, which was macaca, of course, then the J word: he didn't know how to define whether he was Jewish or not. Actually, Steve - you probably know this - he would be the first Jewish African-American president ever elected.

INSKEEP: What do you mean African-American?

RUDIN: Well, George Allen's mother was born in Tunisia, and the fact that her family was raised Jewish, he would be the first Jewish African-American president. And that's the real shame in this.

INSKEEP: Tunisia, that's in Africa! That's part of Africa!

RUDIN: That's absolutely right. By the way, we haven't even mentioned the Democratic nominee, who's running against him, Jim Webb. And this has nothing to do with how Webb is campaigning, and he's not campaigning that well, actually. But the fact is that Allen seems to be imploding.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about national politics here. Obviously these races are state by state, but people are trying to nationalize them to some degree. Republicans have felt they have an advantage if people are talking about terrorism. Democrats have felt they have an advantage if people are thinking about Iraq. Who's gaining in that battle?

LIASSON: I think Iraq is still the top issue in a lot of polls that we've seen around the country. However, terrorism is gaining, and I think you have to give the White House credit for that.

They set out very purposely to make terrorism, not Iraq, the main issue of this election. They wanted to kind of shift the focus away from Iraq, where things aren't going well and where the war is unpopular, and back on to the war on terror.

RUDIN: Let me make the opposite argument. We wouldn't be talking about Mike DeWine in Ohio or Jim Talent in Missouri if there were not an anti-Republican mood based really on President Bush's low numbers, the low approval rating of Congress, and the war in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Vulnerable Republicans here.

RUDIN: Right. Because Mike DeWine has really done nothing wrong. Jim Talent has really done nothing wrong that would warrant them being defeated in 2006, and it's really the war and the anti-Republican mood.

INSKEEP: Have Democrats gained at all as this - word of this National Intelligence Estimate has brought the headlines back to Iraq? This is an intelligence document saying that Iraq has actually increased the motivation for terrorists around the world.

LIASSON: I think that the whole debate over the NIE shows how intensely partisan and politicized every single thing about Iraq and the war on terror is and is going to remain for the next six weeks. And the White House hoped to de-link Iraq from the war on terror, but the NIE just re-linked it in a very negative way for the White House.

But look, both sides are using the NIE to bolster their own arguments: either why it's important to stay the course in Iraq or why Iraq is a disaster and we have to do something different.

INSKEEP: We started by saying Democrats still have a better chance. But would you call them the favorite to win the Senate at this point?

RUDIN: I say no. I still think that there are certain vulnerable incumbents. Mike DeWine in Ohio, Conrad Burns in Montana, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, and Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island. They could all go down to defeat. Talent still has a slight lead in Missouri. And also, the Democrats are very nervous about New Jersey. You know...

LIASSON: It's very hard to see...

RUDIN: Please, go ahead.

LIASSON: ...how the Democrats get to six if they can't hang onto New Jersey. It means they have to do a clean sweep of all these other tight races, and that would be a pretty tall order.

The big question all along is whether Democrats could kind of ride the anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-incumbent tide to victory, or with the Republicans' very formidable structural advantages, including money, could that be enough to kind of hold back the tide.

INSKEEP: Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ken Rudin, thank you.

RUDIN: Thanks, Steve. Can I just say that Ken Rudin is also writes the Political Junkie column on NPR. You can read it. The nine people who already read it read it on npr.org. But thanks, Steve, for mentioning that.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Democrats Poised to Make Gubernatorial Gains

The open Minnesota Senate race is now considered "Leaning Democratic."

The open Minnesota Senate race is now considered "Leaning Democratic." hide caption

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Neil Abercrombie

No Hawaii incumbent has ever been defeated for re-election, and that includes Neil Abercrombie. hide caption

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Bork Thomas

Fifteen years ago today, the Senate Judiciary Committee splits down the middle on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. hide caption

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Of the 36 contests for governor this year, Republicans are clearly at a disadvantage. For one thing, the GOP has more statehouses at stake (22) than do the Democrats (14). And in the 10 races where no incumbent is running —usually the best opportunity for a change in party — Republicans currently hold nine of them.

As we did last week with the Senate races, here's a list of this year's gubernatorial candidates (incumbent in BOLD). Of course, all ratings are subject to change. For more detailed information, go to the NPR interactive map:

ALABAMA: Bob Riley (R) vs. Lucy Baxley (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

ALASKA: Sarah Palin (R) vs. Tony Knowles (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN (Frank Murkowski (R) defeated in primary)

ARIZONA: Janet Napolitano (D) vs. Len Munsil (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

ARKANSAS: Asa Hutchinson (R) vs. Mike Beebe (D) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Mike Huckabee (R) term limited)

CALIFORNIA: Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vs. Phil Angelides (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

COLORADO: Bob Beauprez (R) vs. Bill Ritter (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Bill Owens (R) term limited)

CONNECTICUT: Jodi Rell (R) vs. John DeStefano (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

FLORIDA: Charlie Crist (R) vs. Jim Davis (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN (Jeb Bush (R) term limited)

GEORGIA: Sonny Perdue (R) vs. Mark Taylor (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

HAWAII: Linda Lingle (R) vs. Randy Iwase (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

IDAHO: Butch Otter (R) vs. Jerry Brady (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN (Jim Risch (R) retiring)*

ILLINOIS: Rod Blagojevich (D) vs. Judy Baar Topinka (R) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

IOWA: Chet Culver (D) vs. Jim Nussle (R) – TOSSUP (Tom Vilsack (D) retiring)

KANSAS: Kathleen Sebelius (D) vs. Jim Barnett (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

MAINE: John Baldacci (D) vs. Chandler Woodcock (R) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

MARYLAND: Bob Ehlrich (R) vs. Martin O'Malley (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC

MASSACHUSETTS: Kerry Healey (R) vs. Deval Patrick (D) – LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Mitt Romney (R) retiring)

MICHIGAN: Jennifer Granholm (D) vs. Dick DeVos (R) – TOSSUP

MINNESOTA: Tim Pawlenty (R) vs. Mike Hatch (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN

NEBRASKA: Dave Heineman (R) vs. David Hahn (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

NEVADA: Jim Gibbons (R) vs. Dina Titus (D) – TOSSUP (Kenny Guinn (R) term limited)

NEW HAMPSHIRE: John Lynch (D) vs. Jim Coburn (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

NEW MEXICO: Bill Richardson (D) vs. John Dendahl (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

NEW YORK: John Faso (R) vs. Eliot Spitzer (D) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC (George Pataki (R) retiring)

OHIO: Ken Blackwell (R) vs. Ted Strickland (D) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Bob Taft (R) term limited)

OKLAHOMA: Brad Henry (D) vs. Ernest Istook (R) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

OREGON: Ted Kulongoski (D) vs. Ron Saxton (R) – TOSSUP

PENNSYLVANIA: Ed Rendell (D) vs. Lynn Swann (R) and Russ Diamond(Ind.) – DEMOCRAT FAVORED

RHODE ISLAND: Don Carcieri (R) vs. Charlie Fogarty (D) – LEANS REPUBLICAN

SOUTH CAROLINA: Mark Sanford (R) vs. Tommy Moore (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

SOUTH DAKOTA: Mike Rounds (R) vs. Jack Billion (D) – SAFE REPUBLICAN

TENNESSEE: Phil Bredesen (D) vs. Jim Bryson (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

TEXAS: Rick Perry (R) vs. Chris Bell (D) vs. Kinky Friedman (I) vs. Carole Keeton Strayhorn (I) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

VERMONT: Jim Douglas (R) vs. Scudder Parker (D) – REPUBLICAN FAVORED

WISCONSIN: Jim Doyle (D) vs. Mark Green (R) – TOSSUP

WYOMING: Dave Freudenthal (D) vs. Ray Hunkins (R) – SAFE DEMOCRATIC

*In Idaho, Risch became governor when incumbent Republican Dirk Kempthorne left to join the Bush Cabinet. Risch decided not to challenge Butch Otter for the GOP nomination.

SENATE RATINGS UPDATE: Some changes since last week.

HAWAII: No change in ratings — it remains Safe Democratic — just a clarification in the candidates. Sen. Daniel Akaka will be the Democratic nominee, having defeated Rep. Ed Case in the Sept. 23 primary. The Republican primary winner was former Vietnam POW Jerry Coffee — who had pulled out of the race months ago following heart-bypass surgery. But the GOP establishment was hoping for a Coffee primary win, because then they could name his replacement. The new nominee is state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who is 72 years old.

MINNESOTA: The race between Amy Klobuchar (D) and Mark Kennedy (R) for the seat that Democratic incumbent Mark Dayton is vacating moves from Tossup to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

On to the questions:

Q: What does the latest flap involving Sen. George Allen (R-VA) do to his presidential aspirations? — Alan Feld, Silver Spring, Md.

A: The gentlest way to put it is to say that Allen is no longer a serious contender for the nomination. And that's a shame, because he was on track of becoming the first Jewish African-American president in history. Seriously, I don't know what to make of all that's been happening to him. Does he have a history of using the "N" word? Or are we seeing the "Swift Boating" of George Allen? It's been a surreal month or so for him. And for everyone trying to figure out what's going on.

The question now worth asking is, if not Allen, who will conservatives rally around for 2008? Arizona Sen. John McCain and outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have been making overtures to the right, but conservatives may need far more convincing. A dark horse the right might get excited about is Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, should he get into the race.

By the way, in last week's column, Mark Barabek of the Los Angeles Times asked about other potential presidential candidates who were ambushed on their way to a White House run. I mentioned a few: former Sens. Tom Daschle (D-SD), John Ashcroft (R-MO), and William Knowland (R-CA), and former Gov. Roy Barnes (D-GA).

Craig Shirley, the Republican consultant in Alexandria, Va.; Carl Leubsdorf, the Washington bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News; and David Kuhn of Rockville, Md., came up with one I had never thought of as having presidential ambitions: John Gilligan of Ohio, who was upset in his 1974 gubernatorial re-election campaign by ex-Gov. James Rhodes (R). Does anyone else remember Gilligan as a possible prez candidate? I have no memory of this at all.

Joel Goldstein, a law professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, wonders if Averell Harriman would have pursued the presidency a third time, had he defeated Nelson Rockefeller in their 1958 New York gubernatorial contest. Harriman had earlier sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and '56. But Rockefeller's victory over Harriman ended his hopes — and propelled Rocky to at least two serious presidential runs of his own. Joel also lists defeats for two candidates that could have — but did not — derail their chances of becoming president: Richard Nixon, who lost a 1962 California gubernatorial contest, six years before winning the White House; and Abraham Lincoln, who lost to Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate race, only to reverse the outcome when the two ran for president two years later.

Another question from last week that got a good response was from David Mark. He wanted to know whether, if Ben Cardin (D) — who has served in Congress for 20 years — wins this year's Maryland Senate race, he would be the person with the longest tenure in the House who went on to win in the upper body. I had no idea, and threw the question up to the readership.

Lots of fun stuff came in from Bruce MacNeil, Maureen Meyer, Mark Richard, Lori Glover, Drew Pritt, Al Eisele and the aforementioned Carl Leubsdorf. But only Dewie Gaul came up with the man who came within six months of the 20-year mark: Oscar Underwood (D-AL). Underwood was first elected to the House in 1894, but his term was interrupted in June of 1896, when his election was successfully contested by Truman Aldrich (R). Aldrich didn't run in the 1896 general election; that's when Underwood resumed his House career, which he maintained until his election to the Senate in 1914.

House members who had served 18 years before their election to the Senate include current Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and former Sen. Mark Andrews (R-ND).

Al Eisele of The Hill newspaper said Don Ritchie, the assistant Senate historian, pointed out that Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri did the opposite: He served 20 years in the Senate before serving one term in the House.

Q: In your comments about the Akaka-Case Democratic Senate primary in Hawaii that appeared in the Sept. 22 column, you wrote, "If God intervened before a primary did, GOP Gov. Linda Lingle would be in position to name a Republican to the Senate." Not so. In Hawaii, state law requires that a replacement U.S. senator be from the same party as the one who has vacated his seat. So while Gov. Lingle could name a political dud to the vacant seat, and having one of our senators leave office early could create some fireworks down the road, the short-term prospects would not affect the balance of power in Congress. — Maka Fox, Honolulu, Hawaii (similarly, Dave Iacobucci and Gary Nielsen)

A: Thank you for the correction; it's amazing the stuff I learn from this column! Maka, by the way, writes the "Political Eye" column for the Honolulu Weekly.

Q: I am an Australian living in England and I love listening to your "Political Junkie" segment on TOTN and reading your column. I love learning about U.S. politics and you clearly explain the issues and personalities in a clear and entertaining way. By the way, in your "Hawaii trivia" of last week, you said that no incumbent member of Congress from the state has ever lost re-election. What about Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D)? Didn't he lose to Republican Pat Saiki in the 1986 general election? — Barry Yau, University of Warwick in Coventry (similarly, Steve Ury of Los Angeles, Calif.)

A: No. What happened is that Abercrombie won a special election for a vacant House seat in September of 1986. But on the same day, Abercrombie lost the Democratic primary for the same seat. So while he was able to serve from September '86 to January '87, he never had the opportunity to run for the full term, because he lost the primary on the same day he won the special election. In November of that year, Saiki defeated Mufi Hannemann, who had beaten Abercrombie in the September primary, becoming the first and only Republican to win a House race in Hawaii.

Q: How can you say that Congressman Ed Case's decision to challenge Sen. Akaka in the primary wasn't ideological? He tried to sell it as generational for his own opportunistic purposes, and you bought it. Look at their voting records! Look at their donors! — D. Kimball, Honolulu, Haw.

A: You are right that Case was far more conservative than Akaka on a myriad of issues, notably the war and economic policy. It's not a question of me "buying into" Case's salesmanship; it's pretty easy to make the case that the challenge is generational, especially when you are 53 and your opponent is nearly 30 years older. Actually, more than ideology or age, it may have been Case's ambition that ultimately was the deciding factor. He's a man in a hurry: He ran for governor in the 2002 Democratic primary, then jumped into the special House race when incumbent Patsy Mink (D) died later that year; he apparently didn't want to wait until 2010, when the seat of Sen. Dan Inouye (D), 86 years old by then, would be up.

Q: In your roundup of the Hawaii primary, you mentioned octogenarian Sens. Akaka and Inouye. Are they the oldest senatorial delegation in history? — Art Kallen, Alexandria, Va.

A: No. In 2002, the combined ages of South Carolina Sens. Strom Thurmond (R) and Fritz Hollings (D) came to 180 years. That is 16 years more than the current Dan duo from Hawaii.

MEET THE CHALLENGERS: This week, Democratic challengers to Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington. Meet Claire McCaskill and Darcy Burner.

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