- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

The battle for control of Congress has grown tighter. More Senate races have moved into a dead heat, though Republicans are likely to hold on to the House, say campaign analysts.
The Democrats' tenuous, one-vote grip on the Senate appears even shakier with the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota in a plane crash Friday.
The fiery, two-term liberal's re-election was seen as pivotal to the Democrats' chances of holding the Senate. Now that race is murkier than ever as Democratic officials decide who will replace him on the ballot.
Nearly one week before voters go to the polls nationally, the multilayered dynamics governing the elections seem to favor Republicans. The stock market was making a comeback as a result of improved corporate earnings, perhaps easing voter concerns about the economy and jobs. The apprehension of a suspect in the sniper killings of 10 persons and wounding of three others, after a swift FBI manhunt, ended a story that was drowning out election messages.
In addition, general party-preference polls on Congress were virtually dead even, a sign that Republicans say favors them. And President Bush's approval ratings remained in the mid-to-high 60s, the highest for a president in a midterm election since John F. Kennedy.
Meantime, the shrinking number of truly competitive races for the Republican-controlled House has substantially reduced the Democrats' chances of regaining a majority there.
"So far, Democratic candidates have made surprisingly little headway in altering the basic dynamics of individual competitive races. That's why there is likely to be little net change in the House," elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg said in his latest report.
"Our current projections haven't changed much in months. We count 220 seats for the Republicans, 209 for the Democrats, with six tossups. If the parties split the tossups, the House's numbers would be exactly as they are today," he said.
Reviewing all 435 Houses races, congressional-election tracker Charlie Cook puts 202 of them in the Democratic column, 217 in the Republican column, and only 16 in the tossup category.
"If Republicans hold on to all 217 seats, they will need to win just one of those 16 tossups to maintain a majority in the House. If Democrats hold on to all 202 seats, they will still need to win all 16 of those closest races," he said last week in the Cook Report.
The Senate races, however, had so many tossups that it was difficult to make any kind of forecast about who will win the Senate on Nov. 5. If anything, close races have become even closer.
There are a total of 34 Senate seats at stake next week, 20 held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. The GOP needs a net gain of one seat to put it back in charge of the chamber where many of Mr. Bush's bills and judicial nominees have been killed, blocked or delayed.
The GOP's best chances for upsets were in Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and possibly New Jersey.
In Minnesota, Mr. Wellstone had been leading his Republican rival, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, by about four to six percentage points, although Republican polls showed the race in a statistical dead heat. Mr. Coleman, a former Democrat, saw some of his support wane among Republicans last week when the Wellstone campaign ran TV ads showing Mr. Coleman praising him in his first 1990 race and also complimenting President Clinton.
Mr. Coleman and the National Republican Senatorial Committee suspended all of their TV ads and campaigning as Minnesota mourned the senator's death and Democratic Party officials met to choose a new candidate.
In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan was still trailing former four-term Rep. Jim Talent, and in South Dakota, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson was running behind Republican Rep. John Thune. Yet both races were noticeably tighter last week.
The battle for Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli's seat, who dropped out of the New Jersey race after a gifts-and-cash scandal decimated his poll numbers, is getting tighter, too. A Mason-Dixon poll showed Republican Doug Forester running six or seven points behind former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. Republican polls showed the race even tighter than that.
Democrats, on the other hand, saw their best chances to pick up seats in three states where races were similarly too close to call.
In Arkansas, Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson was in a dead heat with state Attorney General Mark Pryor, 45 percent to 45 percent, according to the last Zogby poll. Rep. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, continued to lead Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in an Oct. 16 American Research Group poll of 600 likely voters, but by no more than two points in more recent polls.
In a rematch in Colorado, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard also was neck-and-neck with Democrat Tom Strickland. A Rocky Mountain News poll had Mr. Allard ahead by three points earlier this month, but a Zogby poll showed the race tied.

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