Democrats Have Shot at Winning Senate
While still a longshot, some stumbles by favored Republicans and surprisingly strong showings by some underdogs are making Democrats optimistic about their chances of winning back the Senate.
Six weeks before Election Day, the Democrats suddenly face a map with unexpected opportunities in their battle for control of the Senate.
In Virginia, a state that few expected to be seriously competitive, Senator George Allen looks newly vulnerable after a series of controversies over charges of racial insensitivity, strategists in both parties say. In Tennessee, another Southern state long considered safely red, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat, has run a strong campaign that has kept that state in contention.
Elsewhere, Democratic challengers are either ahead or close in races in five states held by the Republicans: Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, according to political strategists in both parties and the latest polls.
All of these races could shift direction in a matter of days, let alone six weeks, and Republicans are counting on their superior finances and large blocks of television advertising to hold the line. Democrats also have their own vulnerabilities, particularly in New Jersey, where Senator Robert Menendez is in a tight race with his Republican challenger, State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., according to recent polls.
Democrats must win six Republican seats to regain a Senate majority, meaning they would have to win nearly every close race. Even the most optimistic Democrats acknowledge that such a feat would require a big anti-Republican wave, a lot of money and a lot of luck. Still, a shift in the Senate was always considered a long shot this year. Some analysts now say, however, that there are enough Republican seats facing serious challenges to make it at least plausible.
Despite his setbacks, I believe Allen will ultimately win re-election, even though his presidential bid is toast. As attractive a candidate as Harold Ford is, I don’t see him winning Tennessee when all’s said and done (although Tennessean Glenn Reynolds thinks it’s his race to lose at this point). Further complicating the Democratic calculus is that Republican incumbents once considered sure-fire losers, notably Rick Santorum, are back in the game.
Still, given the position from which the GOP is starting–a commanding lead in the Senate, a comfortable one in the House, a second term president, and an ongoing war–it’s remarkable that they’ve put themselves in a position where losing is quite possible. They’ve squandered, in less than two years, the considerable good will they had coming out of the last presidential election.