Ahead Of Election, GOP Senate Seats Vulnerable

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There are a growing number of Republican Senate seats that appear vulnerable this November. Amy Walter, editor in chief of Hotline, says Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi are in play and winning one of these states will allow Democrats to hold 60 seats in the Senate.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Democrats in Congress are thinking about the number 60. Could they pick up enough Senate seats on November 4th to reach that philabuster-proof super majority. They need to gain nine seats to do it. And Amy Walter joins us to talk about some of the surprisingly tough fights Republicans are facing this year. Amy's editor in chief of the political news service, the Hotline. Amy, welcome back.

Ms. AMY WALTER (Editor in Chief, Hotline): Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And yesterday, here in the program, we heard about Republican Elizabeth Dole in trouble in North Carolina. Let's move on to a neighboring state, Georgia, and the Republican incumbent there, first termer Saxby Chambliss, is getting a surprisingly tough fight from Jim Martin. What's going on?

Ms. WALTER: That's the question that a lot of people are asking. What is going on? This is a race that was on nobody's radar screen, as opposed to, you're right, North Carolina, where Democrats had said earlier on, they thought that they could give Dole a race, but nobody had really been talking about Saxby Chambliss. And now, it looks like this race is tied or at least very, very close.

Jim Martin, people don't know a whole a lot about him. He was a former legislator. Martin doesn't have much money. Chambliss has a four to one lead there in terms of cash. So theoretically, you think that maybe Chambliss could buy his way out of these problems. But when you look at where Democrats, you know, how well they're doing, even in the solid South, its turn out as well as enthusiasm can be a big problem for Saxby Chambliss.

BLOCK: Let's talk about another Southern state now, and this is Kentucky, and it's the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who, according to some polls, is a dead heat with Democrat Bruce Lunsford. Let's listen to an ad. This is an ad that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running against McConnell on Lunsford's behalf.

Unidentified Man: Some places, it'd be considered a crime, but not in Washington. Wall Street and the big banks gave Mitch McConnell $4.4 million for his campaigns, and he fought for less regulation of Wall Street.

BLOCK: And Amy, in this old west ad, we see Mitch McConnell's face on a wanted poster, and there are wild horses stampeding through town. Now, let's listen to the response ad from Mitch McConnell.

Unidentified Woman: They really are shameless, Bruce Lunsford and his is out-of-state allies attack on Wall Street money, but who's paying for the ads smearing Mitch McConnell? Wall Street is.

BLOCK: Amy, this financial bailout package is popping up in a lot of campaigns.

Ms. WALTER: It is popping up in a lot of campaigns, and, in fact, just going back to Georgia for a moment, Saxby Chambliss actually ran an ad defending his vote on the bailouts. So clearly, the economy - big, big issue in both of these races.

But what's different, of course, you can see the McConnell really fighting back very hard, very vigorous. This is a tough campaigner who is obviously in a very, very difficult environment, but he has both the money as well as an opponent in Bruce Lunsford who has a significant amount of political baggage. It's just unclear if that's going to be too heavy even in a good, good year for Democrats.

BLOCK: Amy, let's talk about one more state where Democrats are looking for a possible pick up, and that's Mississippi.

Ms. WALTER: That is a state that Democrats have had on their list for a little while now, mostly because the incumbent Roger Wicker. who was appointed to replace Trent Lott who had resigned from his seat. He's not as well-known as the Democrat Ronni Musgrove, the former governor from that state. So, on name ID alone, Musgrove was doing a very good job.

But I think that what's been happening over the last few weeks here is that Wicker's have been putting Musgrove on his heels. He's run a very aggressive campaign trying to paint Musgrove as out of step on social and cultural issues. And so, this is one place where I think, for Democrats, they do need to have a very, very good night if they're going to pick this one up.

BLOCK: Amy, earlier this election season, we talked about the one incumbent Democrat who could be in trouble; it was Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. What's going on with that race?

Ms. WALTER: Well, it's interesting that the Republican Senate Committee are pulling its ad out of the state of Louisiana, which means that they're playing 100 percent on defense, just trying to basically stem their losses rather than trying to go on offense. But I think it's really to remember is, that to get to 60 seats, these three races - at least one of them have to go Democrats way, between Kentucky and Georgia and Mississippi. If Democrats pick up one of those three, it's likely that they'll get the 60.

I think it is also important to remember that so many of these Republicans who were in tough races this year were elected in 2002, which was a completely different environment. The president was popular. Obviously, issues like war and terrorism, that was breaking for Republicans. This is the difficulty about running every six years as opposed to a House member, who runs every two years. If you've been in the Senate, this is your first reelection since 2002. It's literally night and day.

BLOCK: Amy Walter is editor-in-chief of the Hotline. Amy, thanks again for coming in.

Ms. WALTER: Thanks again.

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