ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. And we're going to start with politics this hour. The outlook for the midterm elections appears to be firming up and it doesn't look good for the party in power. Polls show Democratic candidates have leads in about 40 House districts now held by Republicans, as well as in four states where Republican senators are on the ballot.
In a few minutes, Robert will talk with our political observers. First, here is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, with what the parties plan to do in the campaigns' closing weeks.
MARA LIASSON: It's hard to find an optimistic Republican anywhere these days.
Mr. TONY FABRIZIO (Republican Pollster): The outlook is very, very bleak.
LIASSON: Tony Fabrizio is a Republican pollster trying to reelect his clients in a political environment made toxic by the Foley scandal and the Iraq war.
Mr. FABRIZIO: To be honest with you, I don't know what can change the environment now. The only things that could change the environment to our advantage are things that I would never want to have happen.
LIASSON: Like another terrorist attack. That possibility is the subject of the latest Republican Party ad which begins airing on cable TV this Sunday.
With a ticking time bomb as its only audio, the screen shows quotes from Osama bin Laden promising to attack America again. These are the stakes, the ad says. Vote November 7.
But conservative Tim Graham, analyst at the Media Research Center, worries that terrorism and national security aren't working for Republicans the way they used to.
Mr. TIM GRAHAM (Analyst, Media Research Center): I think we've talked about almost nothing else, it seems, in 2006 than Iraq and the war on terror. I think the problem here is that those issues are talked out.
The key here for the Republicans is, if you're focused on turning your base out, I think core voters in the conservative movement really need to be shown what are we going to get if the Democrats get their dream here. What will it mean on abortion? What will it mean on Supreme Court nominations? What will it mean for taxes?
LIASSON: That message is being sent by the GOP, but there's no time left for a brand-new strategy.
Mr. CARL FORTI (National Republican Congressional Committee): The die has been cast and now it's all about execution.
LIASSON: That's Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. If there's not much Republicans can do about the overall political environment, and with polls showing Democrats more energized than Republicans, Republicans have to hope, as one strategist put it, that professionalism trumps enthusiasm. And the Republicans are professionals. As Forti points out, they've been better than Democrats at raising money and turning out voters.
Mr. FORTI: Financial advantage is really important. You know, in years past and this year we're going to be able to out-shout our opponents in most cases, and we're hoping that'll have an advantage. We just reported that as of September 30th we had $39.2 million in the bank.
LIASSON: But this year, as of September 30, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported that it had $36 million in the bank, an unprecedented parity.
Forti's Democratic counterpart, Bill Burton, says the Democrats' problem is that they might not have the funds to go after all the opportunities in the growing pool of competitive races.
Mr. BILL BURTON (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee): Well, we have a great problem to have, which is that there's almost too many great Democratic candidates around the country for us to fund them all. So what we're doing is we're looking at all the candidates, we're seeing where they're most competitive, where they've got the greatest shot at taking out the Republican incumbent, and we're making decisions that way.
LIASSON: One brand new target for Democrats is Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, a race that wasn't considered competitive until recently. Today, the DCCC went on the air with this...
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Announcer: And Gutknecht opposed a $1500 bonus for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but voted to raise his own pay eight times.
LIASSON: The Republicans' troubles have already sparked a round of second-guessing about the strategy designed by Karl Rove, President Bush's political mastermind.
Rove stresses bringing out the base, using conservative appeals to pump up the numbers of Republican votes without worrying too much about anyone else.
Republican pollster Fabrizio thinks that might not work again this year.
Mr. FABRIZIO: They tried to use the same playbook they used in 2004 and didn't realize that just because it works in one election, it doesn't mean it's going to work in another election.
LIASSON: This year, Fabrizio says, Republicans all across the country are getting their base vote, but it's not enough.
Mr. FABRIZIO: I mean, look at how it is playing out. In a lot of these races, it's not a function of the base not turning out. It's a function of Democrat intensity being so great for the Democrats and independents breaking so significantly against Republicans. So if you get out your base, they get out their base, and independents break against you two to one, who wins?
LIASSON: The answer to that question means the Republicans' end game will be all about minimizing their losses.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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