GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority With record-low approval ratings, Republican congressional representatives are scrambling to get ahead in the polls. With only three weeks to go before midterm elections, everyone is asking whether the GOP can hold on to either house of Congress.
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GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority

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GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority

GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority

GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority

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With record-low approval ratings, Republican congressional representatives are scrambling to get ahead in the polls. With only three weeks to go before midterm elections, everyone is asking whether the GOP can hold on to either house of Congress.


So that's the view from one congressional district. Let's get the national picture, as we've been doing each week from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and our political editor Ken Rudin. They're both in our studios.

And, Ken, does an FBI investigation of Congressman Weldon have effects beyond his district?

KEN RUDIN: Well, not per se. I mean, you still have the sense of Iraq hovering over the entire national landscape. You have a general anti-Republican feeling. But again this is one more seat that the Republican didn't want to have to work hard to defend. Yesterday, President Bush was in another Pennsylvania district with Don Sherwood. He's a Republican member who's gone on TV apologizing for having a five-year affair with another woman. I mean this is - two years ago, Don Sherwood won with 97 percent of the vote.

You don't want this kind of anguish with two weeks to go in the election, another seat that the Republicans would not have had to defend.

INSKEEP: One drift after another.

RUDIN: Well, don't call Don Sherwood a drip. But absolutely, I mean it keeps happening. With Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney and Tom DeLay you have that culture of corruption, but then you have the individual scandals that's hurting the party as well.

WERTHEIMER: Mara, what is the Republicans strategy for the next couple of weeks?

LIASSON: Well, they make sure that their base is fired up. Their base is demoralized. They want to get it energized. And Republicans say they want people to know what the stakes are. The Republican Party is actually starting an ad on Sunday with a picture of Osama bin Laden, quotes from his threats against America, and then the tagline: These are the stakes, vote November 7th. That's a pretty clear message. The problem is that Republicans are now playing defense in a much bigger pool.

About 50 seats are now considered competitive, many more than a month ago. And the question now is do Democrats actually have the resources to take advantage of all of those potential new opportunities. Today is the day that the campaign committees file their financial reports with the FEC. And what we are finding is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - the Senate and House committees - have actually out-raised their Republican counterparts, although the RNC has raised much more money than the DNC, the Democratic National Committee.

But the Republicans have a lot more cash on hand to spend in these last crucial two weeks on TV ads and Get Out the Vote efforts.

INSKEEP: Mara, let me come back to that ad again, the Osama Bin Laden ad. Republicans have said several elections now, couple of elections anyway, that Democrats cannot protect you and that message has worked. Can it work this time?

LIASSON: Well, and the president is out everyday saying that the Democrats are the cut-and-run party. It's worked before. Republicans think it can work again, at least to limit their losses.

WERTHEIMER: What about, can incumbents in trouble, are there House seats that Republicans have just folded on?

RUDIN: Well, Linda, there's a whole bunch of Democratic seats that the Republicans would have loved to gone after: John Spratt in South Carolina, Jim Marshall in Georgia. For the longest time they were talking about taking these Democratic seats away from them. But given the fact that more and more Republicans seats have been, you know, now seen as vulnerable, they've been actually pushed back on a defensive and they're just try to limit their losses rather than try to take Democratic gains.

INSKEEP: Can we move back to the Senate? We've been checking both of these houses. What's happening there? Each time you've talked to us over the last couple of weeks things have been slightly different?

LIASSON: Well, they still need - Democrats still need that net 6 seats pick-up to take control. Republicans that I've talked to are pretty pessimistic about hanging on to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana and Ohio.


LIASSON: So that's four potential pickups for the Democrats. So that firewall that the Republican Party has been talking about building, that is spending tens of millions of dollars, pouring them into just a few states to kind of maintain control of the Senate, that really now comes down to three states: Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

Missouri is a dead heat. Republicans feel their numbers are getting a little better in Tennessee and Virginia. The president was in the red state of Virginia yesterday campaigning for George Allen. But as soon as he was off the stage, George Allen said well, on Iraq, the president has his ideas and I have mine. He was distancing himself.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, very briefly. If you're a national Republican, do you reach a point sometime soon where you might say the House is gone, save the Senate?

RUDIN: Every Republican I've spoken to acknowledges that the House is gone. Mara is exactly right. If the Republicans can hold on to two of the three -Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee - then they retain control of the Senate with two weeks to go.


LIASSON: Yeah, I think that's right. I think it's hard to find a Republican that thinks that they're going to keep the House. That I agree with Ken. But I think they're very, very confident they will have the majority in the Senate after November 7th.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. Ken Rudin tracks key races that could swing control of the House in Political Junkie at Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Mara Liasson is our national political correspondent. Mara, thanks for coming in once again.

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Key Races That Could Swing Control of the House

Some 20 Republican House incumbents are in serious jeopardy of defeat next month. hide caption

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A Democratic sweep doesn't mean some Dems don't lose as well. hide caption

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Fifty-four years ago today, Republican Sen. Morse and Democratic Sen. Byrd announce their refusal to back their parties' presidential nominee. hide caption

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The precarious position the Republican Party finds itself in, with less than three weeks to go, is best illustrated by the growing list of vulnerable House seats the party has to defend. Once thought to be about 25 at most, the list seems to be expanding each day. Conversely, the list of Democratic seats thought to be within reach for the GOP has all but vanished; some are now forecasting the Dems retaining each and every House seat they currently control.

If nothing else, that is the telling sign that this could be a memorable year for congressional Democrats, their best since 1982, when they picked up a net of 26 seats. Reaching that total this year may or may not be somewhat of a stretch. But that doesn't matter; what they are focusing on is getting the 15 seats they need to make Nancy Pelosi the speaker. As of this writing, that goal is certainly within reach.

The following is a list of the House races that bear watching on Nov. 7, with early projections (incumbents in bold). Of course, all ratings are subject to change.


5th Congressional District: J.D. Hayworth (R) vs. Harry Mitchell (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

8th Congressional District: Randy Graf (R) vs. Gabrielle Giffords (D) -- DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Jim Kolbe (R) retiring)


4th Congressional District: John Doolittle (R) vs. Charlie Brown (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

11th Congressional District: Richard Pombo (R) vs. Jerry McNerney (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN


4th Congressional District: Marilyn Musgrave (R) vs. Angie Paccione (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED

7th Congressional District: Rick O'Donnell (R) vs. Ed Perlmutter (D) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Bob Beauprez (R) running for governor)


2nd Congressional District: Rob Simmons (R) vs. Joe Courtney (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

4th Congressional District: Chris Shays (R) vs. Diane Farrell (D) -- TOSSUP

5th Congressional District: Nancy Johnson (R) vs. Chris Murphy (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN


13th Congressional District: Vern Buchanan (R) vs. Christine Jennings (D) -- TOSSUP (Katherine Harris (R) running for Senate)

16th Congressional District: Joe Negron (R) vs. Tim Mahoney (D) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Mark Foley (R) resigned, though his name remains on the ballot; votes cast for Foley will go to Negron)

22nd Congressional District: Clay Shaw (R) vs. Ron Klein (D) -- TOSSUP


8th Congressional District: Jim Marshall (D) vs. Mac Collins (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC

12th Congressional District: John Barrow (D) vs. Max Burns (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC


6th Congressional District: Peter Roskam (R) vs. Tammy Duckworth (D) -- TOSSUP (Henry Hyde (R) retiring)

8th Congressional District: Melissa Bean (D) vs. David McSweeney (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC


2nd Congressional District: Chris Chocola (R) vs. Joe Donnelly (D) -- TOSSUP

8th Congressional District: John Hostettler (R) vs. Brad Ellsworth (D) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC

9th Congressional District: Mike Sodrel (R) vs. Baron Hill (D) -- TOSSUP


1st Congressional District: Mike Whalen (R) vs. Bruce Braley (D) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Jim Nussle (R) running for governor)

3rd Congressional District: Leonard Boswell (D) vs. Jeff Lamberti (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC


3rd Congressional District: Anne Northup (R) vs. John Yarmuth (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

4th Congressional District: Geoff Davis (R) vs. Ken Lucas (D) -- TOSSUP


1st Congressional District: Gil Gutknecht (R) vs. Tim Walz (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

2nd Congressional District: John Kline (R) vs. Coleen Rowley (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED

6th Congressional District: Michele Bachmann (R) vs. Patty Wetterling (D) -- TOSSUP (Mark Kennedy (R) running for Senate)


2nd Congressional District: Dean Heller (R) vs. Jill Derby (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN (Jim Gibbons (R) running for governor)

3rd Congressional District: Jon Porter (R) vs. Tessa Hafen (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED


1st Congressional District: Jeb Bradley (R) vs. Carol Shea-Porter (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED

2nd Congressional District: Charlie Bass (R) vs. Paul Hodes (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN


1st Congressional District: Heather Wilson (R) vs. Patricia Madrid (D) -- TOSSUP


19th Congressional District: Sue Kelly (R) vs. John Hall (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED

20th Congressional District: John Sweeney (R) vs. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN

24th Congressional District: Ray Meier (R) vs. Michael Arcuri (D) -- TOSSUP (Sherwood Boehlert (R) retiring)

26th Congressional District: Tom Reynolds (R) vs. Jack Davis (D) -- TOSSUP

29th Congressional District: Randy Kuhl (R) vs. Eric Massa (D) -- TOSSUP


11th Congressional District: Charles Taylor (R) vs. Heath Shuler (D) -- TOSSUP


1st Congressional District: Steve Chabot (R) vs. John Cranley (D) -- TOSSUP

2nd Congressional District: Jean Schmidt (R) vs. Victoria Wulsin (D) -- REPUBLICAN FAVORED

6th Congressional District: Charlie Wilson (D) vs. Charles Blasdel (R) -- DEMOCRAT FAVORED (Ted Strickland (D) running for governor)

15th Congressional District: Deborah Pryce (R) vs. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) -- TOSSUP

18th Congressional District: Joy Padgett (R) vs. Zach Space (D) -- TOSSUP (Bob Ney (R) retiring, expected to resign)


6th Congressional District: Jim Gerlach (R) vs. Lois Murphy (D) -- TOSSUP

7th Congressional District: Curt Weldon (R) vs. Joe Sestak (D) -- TOSSUP

8th Congressional District: Mike Fitzpatrick (R) vs. Patrick Murphy (D) -- TOSSUP

10th Congressional District: Don Sherwood (R) vs. Chris Carney (D) -- TOSSUP


5th Congressional District: John Spratt (D) vs. Ralph Norman (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC


17th Congressional District: Chet Edwards (D) vs. Van Taylor (R) -- DEMOCRAT FAVORED

22nd Congressional District: Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R write in) vs. Nick Lampson (D) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Tom DeLay (R) resigned)

23rd Congressional District: Henry Bonilla (R) vs. Ciro Rodriguez (D), others -- LEANS REPUBLICAN


At Large: Peter Welch (D) vs. Martha Rainville (R) -- LEANS DEMOCRATIC (Bernie Sanders (I) running for Senate)


2nd Congressional District: Thelma Drake (R) vs. Philip Kellam (D) -- TOSSUP


8th Congressional District: Dave Reichert (R) vs. Darcy Burner (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN


1st Congressional District: Alan Mollohan (D) vs. Chris Wakim (R) -- DEMOCRAT FAVORED


8th Congressional District: John Gard (R) vs. Steve Kagen (D) -- LEANS REPUBLICAN (Mark Green (R) running for governor)

The possibility of the Democrats holding on to all of their House seats would be pretty remarkable. Even in great Democratic years of the past half-century, the party has still not been able to protect all of its seats. For example:

1982 (+26 seats): Dem incumbents defeated: 1 (Bob Shamansky of Ohio); open Dem seats lost: 3.

1974 (+43 seats): Dem incumbents defeated: 4 (Peter Kyros of Maine, Tom Luken of Ohio, Frank Clark of Penn., Frank Denholm of S.D); open Dem seats lost: 2.

1964 (+38 seats): Dem incumbents defeated: 5 (George Grant of Ala., Kenneth Roberts of Ala., George Huddleston of Ala., Ralph Harding of Idaho, J. Arthur Winstead of Miss.); open Dem seats lost: 5.

1958 (+49 seats): Dem incumbents defeated: 1 (Coya Knutson of Minn.); open Dem seats lost: 0.

The last time the Democrats ended Republican control in the House was 1954. That year, they did it with only a net gain of 19 seats. And even then, five Democratic seats were lost, including three incumbents (Robert Condon of Calif., Courtney Campbell of Fla., and Howard Miller of Kans.).

RATINGS UPDATE: Some changes since the last column.


Ohio: Moves from Tossup to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

Montana: Moves from Tossup to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

Tennessee: Moves from Leans Republican to TOSSUP.

Virginia Moves from Leans Republican to TOSSUP.


Michigan: Moves from Tossup to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

Minnesota: Moves from Leans Republican to TOSSUP.

Meanwhile, a big response to the Oct. 4 column about the Mark Foley scandal. Forest Frost of Montrose, Colo., writes, "Am I the only one that sees the irony in the Mark Foley scandal? In 2004, Democrats tried to push topics like the war in Iraq and national security, while the Republicans were successful in making the election about, as Jon Stewart says, 'boys kissing.' Now that the Republicans have their own 'boys kissing' scandal, I hear party pundits lament that it's a shame we are talking about this instead of important issues like the war in Iraq and national security."

Rich Herberts of Crestwood, Mo., offers this: "Your rant on Weekend Edition Sunday was way off line. No one outside of the Beltway gives a care about what you perceive to be a huge issue. Is Mark Foley an idiot? Yes. Do people want to hear about this? They did originally, but it has become a tempest in a teapot. I think most people vote on their congressman based on more substantive issues than a gay congressman hitting on pages. To think that enough people would really care about the issue nationwide to turn out the majority is just, well, wrong."

Luis Rodriguez says the Foley scandal "is all a smokescreen to cover up the situation in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the eroding of our liberties under the Constitution. I am certain that the press would do a service to the people of this country by publishing news on the ongoing debate on the elimination of habeas corpus by this government instead of Mark Foley's sexual inclinations."

On to the questions:

Q: If Dennis Hastert were to resign as speaker between now and the November election, who would be the most likely person to succeed him? -- Bryce Farrington, Montrose, Calif.

A: There's no perfect person, and that's one reason why he's not resigning. However he may have handled the Foley scandal, the others in the Republican leadership didn't fare much better. Both Majority Leader John Boehner and Whip Roy Blunt said things that were construed as blaming the speaker for the mess; whether or not their comments were misinterpreted, it did not sit well with the GOP rank-and-file membership. Besides, resigning would keep the focus of the story on the competence of the party leadership. As it is, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, and GOP campaign committee chair Tom Reynolds of New York are in big trouble, and part of it is an outgrowth of the Foley scandal.

Hastert has made it clear that he won't resign, and that makes sense. But if current trends continue, he won't be the speaker of the House after this year. And I suspect he won't become the minority leader in the 110th Congress, either.

Q: Can you explain why voters in Mark Foley's district are being told to vote for Foley in order to elect the candidate the Republicans have selected to run in his place? Why wouldn't that simply elect Foley, who presumably would decline to take office? -- Jim Foster, Mechanicsburg, Pa.

A: Foley not only withdrew from the race as a candidate, he quit his seat in Congress. But he did so too late to get his name off the ballot. Florida law allows the party to pick a replacement nominee and provides that any votes cast for Foley will go to that replacement. Whether Republicans in the usually Republican 16th Congressional District can hold their noses and select Foley on the ballot is another matter. GOP leaders insist the voters are sophisticated enough to understand what's at stake here.


Molly Kaye of Denver, Colo.: "I've lived in Denver for over 30 years, and in the last few years, this state has been Republican. This year there are signs of change on the state level. The conservative Rocky Mountain News endorsed Bill Ritter, the Democrat, for governor. And I still see many John Kerry bumper stickers on cars, but very few Bush or [Republican gov. candidate Bob] Beauprez."

Jim Terr of Santa Fe, N.M.: "I hope New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will change his mind and debate his Republican opponent, John Dendahl. Dendahl is the nominee of a party representing a significant portion of New Mexicans who deserve the respect of having their candidate's views aired and responded to. If Richardson is the world-class negotiator and confronter of bullies he promotes himself as being (as part of his presidential resume), he shouldn't be afraid to confront Dendahl and rebut whatever might get thrown at him."

Rose Sponder of Penn Valley, Calif.: "Despite President Bush's recent fundraiser with Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA), this race has gotten almost no national notice. Here in the 4th District, it is noteworthy, to say the least, that heretofore unknown Democrat Charlie Brown has put up such a huge, substantive fight against the well-funded Doolittle."

Dee Scott of Monson, Mass.: "Kerry Healey (R) is running for governor of Massachusetts. Interestingly, the Republicans here are running ads questioning the wisdom of having single-party rule. [The Democrats control the state legislature.] They have a point there. How do we get them to run the ad nationally?"

Eric Martin of Lincoln, Neb.: "I've noticed significant shifts in power from one political party to the other: 1982, 1994, 2006. Apparently, we now know exactly how long it takes for absolute power to corrupt absolutely."

CLAYTIE AND THE LADY: The obit of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Oct. 4 column prompted Debbie Russell of Austin, Texas, to write: "The most damaging thing Clayton Williams did in the campaign (besides refusing to shake Richards' hand, as you pointed out) was his stupid comment, 'Rape is like the weather: You can't do anything about it, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it.' And don't be so quick to say Richards was her own worst enemy in her 1994 re-election loss to Bush. You should check out Karl Rove's role in that campaign."

BOO WHO: The Oct. 4 column also had a note about former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan (D) being booed at a World Series game. In case any politicos plan on attending this year's Series, Ivan Swift of Toney, Ala., has this advice: "Political campaign managers will tell you it's often dangerous for a candidate to be introduced at a ball game. There's a ready-made crowd of booers sitting in the stands – their team may be losing, they're alcohol fueled, they've got a gripe over some government action or lack of action. A few boo, and the chorus chimes in."

NANCY AND SLUGGO: Here's a great piece of trivia from Douglas Weber, a researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, that we've never seen before: 1924 was the last time anyone was first elected to the California congressional seat now held by Nancy Pelosi through a regular election; everyone since then first won via a special. Pelosi was first elected in 1987, following the death of Sala Burton (D). Burton had succeeded her late husband, Phil Burton (D), in a 1983 special. Phil Burton, one of the most powerful members of the House, won a special 1964 election that was caused when John Shelley (D) was elected mayor of San Francisco. Shelley first came to the House in a 1949 special, following the death of Richard Welch (R). And Welch was first elected in a 1926 special, following the death of Lawrence Flaherty (R). Flaherty's first election was in 1924.

And how 'bout this one on the New Jersey Senate race from Paul Mulshine, the wonderful political columnist at the Newark Star-Ledger, regarding the candidacy of Bob Menendez, the appointed Democratic incumbent: "No Hudson County pol has won statewide since A. Harry Moore got elected to the Senate back in 1934."

SEEING DOUBLE: As for the feature in the Aug. 9 column about whether any twins have served together in Congress, Farar Elliott, the Curator of the House and Chief of the Office of History and Preservation of the House (try fitting that on a business card), tells us that two members of the House have a twin sibling: Jean Schmidt (R-OH) a sister, and John Barrow (D-GA) a brother.

WANT AN NPR CONVENTION PIN? If you have a 2006 Senate, House or governor campaign button that I don't have, I will gladly trade you a (gasp) rare NPR lapel pin from the 2004 national conventions! Send a photocopy of what you have to Political Junkie, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001.

IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "POLITICAL JUNKIE" ON THE AIR: Remember, not only can you read "Political Junkie" each week, but you can hear it, too. Tune in to NPR's Talk of the Nation, a call-in program, every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, for a half-hour on politics. Check local listings to see if your local NPR station carries TOTN. If not, you can always hear the program on the Web at

Also … check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections. And don't forget about "It's All Politics," our weekly podcast. New edition of the podcast goes up every Thursday at noon.

And speaking of which, this note from Chris Proctor of St. Louis, Mo.: "Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy the podcast. One thing that I will offer in feedback is that there just isn't enough sarcasm on the show. You two [Rudin and Elving] are just too serious. But seriously, I have been looking for an e-mail address to contact you about the show. You should promote it more if that is going to be the only way for podcast listeners to contact you."

WAIT, THERE'S MORE: If you want to know what Ken Rudin thinks about now that he is on medication because the Yankees have once again failed to show up for the post-season, you may want to read this in-depth interview conducted by FishbowlDC, the widely-read site about the media profession.

Please … If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, don't forget to include your city and state.

This Day in Campaign History: Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse, a liberal Republican, endorses Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat, for president. Morse says his party's presidential nominee, Dwight Eisenhower, "surrendered" to the right wing of the GOP. Also on the same day, Sen. Harry Byrd, the powerful Virginia Democrat, announces he cannot back Stevenson, but he does not endorse Eisenhower (Oct. 18, 1952).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: