Democrats Could Reach 60 Senate Seats

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Republicans are trailing not only in the presidential race but also in House and Senate races. Both parties are wondering whether Democrats can win enough races to give them the votes to push through the legislation they want. There's a chance that Democrats can reach 60 seats in the Senate.


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. If you're counting, the long campaign has just 18 days to go and Republicans find themselves trailing not only in the presidential race, but in some senate races as well. NPR political editor Ken Rudin is here to talk about that morning, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: At this point in time there is speculation that Democrats could win as many as 60 senate seats. What are the chances?

RUDIN: Well, they're improving every day. Obviously with the collapse of the Dow and the collapse of people's financial futures, it's also the collapse of the Republican Party. John McCain has seen that in national polls and key battleground states, in the Senate and Republican senators and senate candidates have seen that around the country. We always thought that some senators would lose. John Sununu of New Hampshire was always trailing. Open seats in Virginia where John Warner is retiring was likely to be a Democratic pickup. But there are other Republicans suddenly in trouble perhaps because of the economy.

MONTAGNE: So, give us some highlights on these other seats out there?

RUDIN: Well, like for example, Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina was never thought to be in trouble. She's a member of the Senate Banking Committee ,and that has hurt her standing back home when they're talking about the bailout, not the rescue plan but the bailout. An unknown state Senator, Kay Hagan, now has pulled ahead of Elizabeth Dole in many polls. Saxby Chambliss, the conservative in Georgia, was never thought to be in trouble. Perhaps both Saxby Chambliss and Elizabeth Dole are hurt because of the infusion of the African-American voters, whether Barack Obama wins those two states or not. More and more black voters are coming that have jeopardized the Republican standings there. Ted Stevens under indictment of course. A lot depends on how he does, how his trial does. Sarah Palin was thought to excite the Republican base in Alaska and could pull Ted Stevens to victory, but again he still trails in that race as well.

MONTAGNE: And third party candidates figure in all of these. Where would that be?

RUDIN: Well, actually, that's hurting Republicans, too. In Minnesota, Norm Coleman was hoping to run against Al Franken and Franken's incendiary comments in the past- but there's a third party candidate who's using all his venom on Norm Coleman in Oregon. Gordon Smith has a - Republican incumbent Gordon Smith has a conservative third party candidate that's hurting the Republican in Oregon as well. So across the board it looks like Republicans are in big, big trouble.

MONTAGNE: Any bright spots out there?

RUDIN: Let me think for a second. No, no. Actually the only chance of the Republicans had of picking of seat - Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, she was a victim not of her own misdoings or you know, misdeeds, but about demographics. The Democrats got hit hard by Katrina, but even the Republicans seemed to be pulling out of the Louisiana contest. And Mary Landrieu now seems to be headed for a comfortable victory.

MONTAGNE: Now this thing about 60 seats, it's considered a magic number.

RUDIN: Well, it is magic in the sense that any party that has 60 seats in the Senate, they can do whatever they like, they can push their legislative agenda, they can get their judicial nominees through. Right now it's 51-49, Democratic if you include the two Independents. Democrats have 51 seats, so they need 9 seats. For the longest time the Republicans felt that their best hope of gaining some say in the way the government is run is the White House.

John McCain did have a lead for some time, but in more and more national polls McCain seems to be slipping behind Barack Obama. If polls show that John McCain is going to lose the White House, if polls show that the Democrats are going to pick up gains in House and Senate, it seems like the Republican's only hope, the best hope for any say in anything, is to keep the Democratic gains in the Senate less than nine to keep them from getting the magic number of 60.

MONTAGNE: Now, there's word that the Republican National Committee could inject $5 million into Senate races. Would that make a difference at this point?

RUDIN: Well, as you say, with 18 days ago it's hard to make the case that anything would change. People have really made up their minds. It seems like once the economy has turned sour, the Republican's hopes have gone sour as well, but all you could do is just turn to the Boston Red Sox last night. They were down, thought to be out, and they had a chance to come back. The question is whether Republicans can do that in 18 days.

MONTAGNE: NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

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