- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

The election battle for control of the Senate probably will be decided by a single seat that will determine the fate of President Bush's remaining agenda, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Saturday.
Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee predicts that when the votes are counted in November, "I think it will be a one-seat net gain up or down for either the Republicans or the Democrats" that will decide which party dictates the Senate's agenda for the next two years.
In an interview, Mr. Frist lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who he said "has become a rallying flag that symbolizes obstructionism of this president's vision of America."
Mr. Frist also said Mr. Bush had agreed to an extraordinarily heavy schedule of campaigning to oust the Senate Democrats from power and that the NRSC was "working hand in glove" with the White House to do that.
However, he said, the Democrats have "the edge in this cycle" because of the historical trend for the presidential party in power to lose seats in its first midterm elections and the fact that the Republicans have 20 seats to defend this fall, versus 14 for the Democrats.
But he also said Republicans, to a large degree, have "neutralized that advantage because of our success in recruiting better-known candidates" and because of the president's commitment to campaign heavily in several key races.
White House and NRSC planning for Mr. Bush's campaign appearances "has already been laid out. It will be very heavy. It will be substantial," he said.
Mr. Frist also said the Republicans will be focusing their attacks on Mr. Daschle's strategy of blocking most of Mr. Bush's second-year agenda, especially the Democrats' stalling tactics on most of the president's judicial nominees.
The Democrats' defeat of Mississippi's U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering, whom Mr. Bush nominated for the U.S. Appeals Court, would be a major campaign issue against the Democrats, he said.
"I sense that this obstruction by Daschle is catching hold. It is the applause line at town meetings. It has become real to people as we look at the obstruction of judicial nominees, and Pickering has come to symbolize that. He has become the embodiment of that," he said.
"And it's not just in the South. It has been elevated to a national stature," he said.
"It has become increasingly clear with the obstruction that Daschle has been able to achieve by totally controlling the agenda of the United States Senate that unless we retake the majority, the Bush vision cannot be fulfilled completely" over the next two years of his term, Mr. Frist said.
The rest of the president's agenda "will come more slowly, with more strings attached, more unnecessary entitlements, and come with a judicial system that is not consistent with what it would have been if we had a majority," he said.
Mr. Frist also said complaints had come from the party's grass roots about the White House's early support for Senate candidates in party primaries.
"You hear talk about it, that you should not participate or express your support for individual candidates. I think it is just unrealistic if we are to be successful for us to sit totally on the sidelines," he said.
Mr. Frist said Republicans see their best opportunities to take back the Senate in South Dakota, Missouri and Minnesota.
Among the three races, the Senate contest in Republican-leaning South Dakota appears to be the most promising, he said. Sen. Tim Johnson, a freshman Democrat who won with 51 percent of the vote in 1996, was challenged by Rep. John Thune, a three-term congressman who won statewide in 2000 with 73 percent of the vote.
"It goes back and forth, but right now we have a three-point advantage there. Republicans have a 10-point voter-registration advantage and the undecided vote is pretty low," Mr. Frist said.


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