- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

The chances are more than likely that Republicans will keep their Senate majority this November and may even expand it by a seat or two.

Republicans have an eight-point lead among likely voters in their bid to defeat Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in Virginia, and they enjoy an even stronger double-digit lead in the race for the open Democratic seat in Nevada.

Meantime, the titanic battle for New York's open Democratic seat between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Republican rival, Rep. Rick Lazio, is in a dead heat despite a 2-to-1 Democratic edge among registered voters.

Mrs. Clinton is running poorly among Jewish voters, polling only 54 percent of their vote in a recent survey, far below the usual two-thirds Democratic margin that party officials say is needed to win.

All of this means that if the Republicans were to pick up all three of these Democratic seats, the Democrats would have to win three GOP-held seats two incumbents and the open GOP seat in Florida just to keep their 46-seat minority from shrinking further.

To win outright majority control of the Senate, Democrats "would have to beat four to five incumbent senators," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"No more than two elected incumbents in either party have lost in almost a decade and a half," he said.

There are 34 Senate seats at stake this fall, with most of the focus on the five open seats four of them held by Democrats and one by a Republican.

Among the four open Democratic seats, Republicans appeared almost certain to pick up the seat held by retiring Sen. Richard H. Bryan of Nevada.

John Ensign, who lost to Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 1998 by 428 votes, was running 14 points ahead of his Democratic rival, lawyer Ed Bernstein, and is now considered a shoo-in to put the seat in Republican hands.

In New York, Mrs. Clinton has a two- to three-point edge over Mr. Lazio, a lead that is within the margin of error that puts the race in a dead heat.

She has come under fire as a carpetbagger who has never lived in New York until she moved into a Westchester County home earlier this year; for making more than $700,000 in taxpayer-financed jet trips from New York to Washington and back; and for being far to the left of the broad political mainstream.

As the race entered into its final two-month home stretch, Mr. Lazio had a substantial $10.2 million on hand, compared with $7.1 million for Mrs. Clinton.

The contest for New Jersey's open Democratic seat was also tightening between Republican Rep. Bob Franks and Wall Street multimillionaire Jon Corzine who spent $35 million of his own money to capture the Democratic nomination. Mr. Corzine has said he will spend another $35 million on the general election campaign and refuses to debate Mr. Franks, triggering a wave of editorial-page criticism against him.

Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who is vacating the seat, has suggested that "if I had known then what I know now" about Mr. Corzine, he would have run for another term.

Hurting Mr. Corzine the most may be his liberal legislative agenda that estimates say would cost taxpayers $756 billion a year or $4,900 per taxpayer. Mr. Franks has been calling his opponent "Universal Man" because of Mr. Corzine's call for universal government-funded health care and universal prescription-drug benefits.

A Gannett New Jersey poll showed Mr. Franks with a slight lead, 29 percent to 24 percent, but with an unusually large 44 percent undecided or refusing to say how they will vote.

In Nebraska, former Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson held a double digit lead for the seat held by retiring Sen. Bob Kerrey, though the GOP's 50 percent voter-registration advantage could help tip the seat into the Republican column.

In Florida, the GOP's only open Senate seat is also its most vulnerable. Rep. Bill McCollum, one of the 13 House impeachment managers who argued the case against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has been running behind state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson by double digits, but the race has grown tighter in recent weeks.

In the Virginia race, however, Mr. Robb appears to be in deep trouble, as former Republican Gov. George F. Allen continues to pound the senator in a blitz of TV ads that accuse him of talking conservative but voting liberal on tax cuts and other issues.

"If Allen doesn't make any mistakes, then George Allen is going to beat Chuck Robb," said elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

Meantime, some of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents appeared to be doing much better. Sen. Spencer Abraham of Michigan was leading his Democratic opponent, Rep. Debbie Stabenow, by nine points in the latest polls, while a Delaware poll last week showed Sen. William V. Roth Jr. five points ahead of Democratic Gov. Thomas R. Carper.

Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams was narrowly trailing or tied in head-to-head polls with three of the major candidates for the Democratic senatorial nomination that will be decided tomorrow in a party primary.

In Missouri, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft and Gov. Mel Carnahan remained locked in a tight race, with a Mason-Dixon poll showing Mr. Ashcroft leading by 1 point last week. Despite its closeness, Mr. Ashcroft has never been behind all year, and internal Republican tracking polls showed the senator with a much wider, double-digit lead.

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