- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

Republican prospects for expanding the 10-seat Senate majority in the November election have grown in recent weeks, with polls showing the GOP ahead in three open races and holding a slight lead over one Democratic incumbent.
Republicans are leading in their bid to pick up Democratic open seats in New York and Nevada and have moved ahead in the contest for an open GOP seat in Rhode Island. In Virginia, surveys give former Republican Gov. George F. Allen a narrow lead over Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb.
As the state has grown more conservative, with Republicans now in control of Virginia's top elective offices and both legislative chambers, Mr. Robb is in danger of losing his bid for a third term as a result of an all-out, well-funded drive by GOP Gov. James Gilmore to defeat the Democrats' last statewide elected official.
"We're in pretty good shape right now. We're ahead in three of the five open seats, and in Rhode Island and Nevada we have significant leads," said Stuart Roy, chief spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"If we hold our majority, it will be the first time since the early 1900s that Republicans have had a majority in the Senate for four consecutive elections," Mr. Roy said.
But at least two incumbent Republican senators are in trouble. In Delaware, five-term Sen. Bill Roth, the powerful Finance Committee chairman, is running behind Democratic Gov. Tom Carper. And in Michigan, Sen. Spencer Abraham is in a statistical tie against Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow.
"We'll pick up several seats," predicts Jim Jordan, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Robb is two points behind, but he's won statewide six times. He's a tough candidate."
Another GOP opportunity may open up in Nebraska where Democratic Sen. J. Robert Kerrey is considering a job as a university president instead of seeking a third term in the Senate.
Mr. Kerrey is the last Democrat holding statewide office in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats. State Attorney General Don Stenberg has already announced his candidacy for the seat and a top Democratic Party official admits that Mr. Kerry's possible retirement "is bad news for us."
At stake this fall are 33 Senate seats, 19 held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats.
Of the open Democratic seats, Republican have their best chance in Nevada, where former Rep. John Ensign is strongly favored to win the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Richard H. Bryan.
With the state's top Democrats declining to run against Mr. Ensign, "Nevada has turned into a mess for the Democrats," said Stuart Rothenberg, whose newsletter closely tracks congressional races. "Make Ensign a clear favorite to win the seat."
"Nevada looks bleak. We're clearly starting out from behind there, no doubt about it," Mr. Jordan said.
In New York, where veteran Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is retiring, the GOP has its second-best chance of picking up another long-held Democratic seat. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to run four to eight points behind New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in most polls.
GOP prospects are growing in New Jersey. Rep. Bob Franks is the front-runner in the Republican field vying to pick up the seat of Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who has decided to call it quits. Former Democratic Gov. James Florio, who lost re-election in 1993 after he raised taxes, is also running.
The GOP has two open seats to defend this year, one in heavily Democratic Rhode Island where Republican Lincoln Chafee was appointed in November to fill the remaining term of his late father, Sen. John Chafee, who had decided not to seek a fifth term.
A poll conducted by Alpha Research Associates for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and released last week showed Mr. Chafee leading his strongest Democratic challenger, Rep. Robert Weygard, by 50 percent to 32 percent. A Brown University poll last September had the two men in a dead heat.
The other open seat is in Florida. Sen. Connie Mack is retiring and Rep. Bill McCollum, one of the House impeachment managers who presented the case for President Clinton's removal last year, is the front-runner for the GOP's nomination to succeed him. He seems certain to face Democratic state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, who leads in the early polls.
Mr. Robb continues to be the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbent. A Richmond Times-Dispatch poll last month showed the contest close, with Mr. Allen leading 42 percent to 41 percent. But another poll of registered voters by WWBT-TV in Richmond conducted last month showed Mr. Allen ahead by 51 percent to 44 percent.
On the Republican side, Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams is one of the GOP's most vulnerable freshmen who could face a strong challenge from former Rep. Tim Penny, a centrist-to-conservative Democrat who has been an analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute.
"If Tim Penny wins the DFL [Democratic Farmer Labor Party] primary, he beats Rod Grams in a walk," said DFL leader Vance Opperman.
But Mr. Grams, a former television newscaster, has several things going for him that could get him to a second term. Mr. Penny, who holds some pro-life and anti-gun control positions, will have to survive a primary battle with at least two other candidates in the more liberal DFL party.
Moreover, Mr. Grams has raised $2.2 million in his campaign war chest and is running in a state that seems to have become much more conservative since the 1988 election of Reform Party Gov. Jesse Ventura over two more liberal, major party opponents.

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