House, Senate control at stake

The Nation Votes

November 06, 2006|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- The most expensive midterm campaign ever -- and one of the nastiest -- wraps up today with Democrats positioned to end 12 years of Republican control of the House and possibly take the Senate as well, according to independent analysts and politicians in both parties.

Projections of Democratic gains range from 20 to 40 House seats, more than the 15 needed to erase the Republican majority. Senate control will likely be determined in four tossup states.

National polling in the final days of the campaign showed an uptick for Republicans. The results suggested that Democratic gains might not reach the high end of the predicted range.

"Every decade, the American people have a big election where they say `no' to the status quo and `yes' to a new direction. This election is a `Yes' to a new direction," Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Saddam Hussein's death penalty conviction, announced yesterday, won't have a significant impact on the U.S. elections, in which Iraq has been a pivotal concern, party officials said.

"I don't expect that it's going to, to have that much effect one way or the other," Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who heads the Republican Senate campaign effort, said on NBC.

Republican pollster Neil Newhouse agreed that Hussein's conviction would have an "insignificant impact" on tomorrow's vote.

The "persuasion phase" of the campaign is over, he said. "I'm not sure that's something that's going to make a difference in terms of who turns out to vote."

Independent analyst Charles Cook has predicted a Democratic pickup of 20 to 35 House seats and four to seven in the Senate. Another independent forecaster, Stu Rothenberg, said Democrats would gain 34 to 40 House seats and five to seven Senate seats.

A more conservative analysis by Congressional Quarterly projects a nine-seat Democratic gain in the House, with 24 more seats, all held by Republicans, in the tossup category. The magazine shows the parties holding 48 Senate seats each, with four seats rated tossups.

The battle for the Senate might turn on the fate of four embattled Republican incumbents: Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Conrad Burns of Montana, George Allen of Virginia and Jim Talent of Missouri. All either trail their Democratic challengers or are in a statistical tie, according to the latest polls.

To take over, Democrats would need to win all four, as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Republican incumbents are running significantly behind. It also assumes Democrats don't lose any of the 18 seats at stake tomorrow that are currently counted in their column.

One of the Republican targets is Maryland, where Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele has gained on Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, according to a recent poll for The Sunl. Democrats, meantime, nourish hopes of an upset victory over Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.

A new national poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that Republican efforts to mobilize supporters might be cutting into the Democratic advantage. Likely voters favored Democrats for Congress by 4 percentage points, down from an 11-point edge in mid-October.

For months, Democratic prospects have been brightest in regions that have been trending away from the Republicans, including the Northeast and portions of the Midwest. But anti-Republican sentiment, fueled by a stream of bad news in Iraq, has grown over the past two months and Democrats have gained opportunities in other parts of the country.

Underscoring that reality, President Bush's first campaign stop yesterday was in Nebraska, where Republicans hope to hold a House seat that they have controlled since 1958 and where Bush received 75 percent of the vote in 2004.

Bush, White House strategist Karl Rove and other Republican leaders have predicted that the party will keep its majorities in Congress. Privately, however, well-placed Republicans say they are expecting losses in about 30 House districts and possibly enough Senate seats to tip that chamber.

A recent spate of good economic news, including the lowest unemployment rate in five years, near-record highs in the stock market and plunging gasoline prices, appears to have done little to help Republican candidates, who are being dragged down by Bush's unpopularity and the course of events in the Iraq war.

Rising violence in Iraq has negated the White House's stated strategy of making national security the focus of the election, said Democratic pollster Paul Maslin.

The Bush administration "has gone empty on its argument of `Stick with us because the world's a dangerous place,'" he said. "People are saying, `I'm not sure I really want to.'"

Polls show that many Americans regard their vote this year as a way of sending a message of disapproval to Republicans in Washington, especially Bush.

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