- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

Both Democrats and Republicans say that after months of ugly battles, tomorrow’s election will come down to which party does a better job of getting its voters to the polls.

“We are feeling very good,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “This election has evolved into a national referendum on change.”

But to take control of the House and Senate, Democrats must overcome a Republican ground game that exceeded nearly all expectations in the past two national elections.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, continued warning yesterday that Election Day could be bleak for them and urged their conservative base to turn out. Also, Republicans defended in the starkest terms possible the war in Iraq, which polls show has been a tremendous drain on their popularity during this election.

“We need to win the war, and it would be disastrous to lose,” said Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, during an appearance with Mr. Schumer yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“To pull out and withdraw is losing,” she said. “The Democrats appear to be content with losing.”

Mr. Schumer called her charge “outrageous” and said voters no longer trust President Bush and congressional Republicans to run the war.

“Democrats want to win the war, which is why we want to change the strategy,” he said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ticked off five elections in the past 50 years where voters broke heavily to throw incumbents out of office.

“Every decade, the American people have a big election where they say no to the status quo and yes to a new direction,” he said. “And this election is yes to a new direction, which is what Democrats are offering.”

Mr. Emanuel said Democrats are defending one or two of their seats with hopes of capturing 48 seats held by Republicans. Democrats must score a net gain of 15 seats to assume control of the chamber.

Even Republicans have acknowledged privately in recent weeks that they expect Democrats to win the House or come within a handful of seats of doing so. But polling in recent days also suggests a shift in favor of Republicans.

Republican hopes were boosted by three separate polls released this weekend showing the party rapidly closing a gap in the so-called “generic ballot question,” a measure of overall partisan trends.

Democrats’ advantage in the generic ballot shrank from 14 percentage points to six points — 51 percent to 45 percent — in two weeks, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday. Similar results were reported in a Pew Research Center survey, showing that a 13-point Democratic advantage (53 percent to 40 percent) among likely voters in early October had dwindled to just four points (47 percent to 43 percent) in the first four days of November. And the latest Gallup/USA Today poll shows that a Democratic advantage of 23 points a month ago had tightened to seven points (51 percent to 44 percent) in the latest survey, conducted Thursday through yesterday.

“We’re in a tough political environment,” House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday. “But I’ve been on the road for these last five weeks. I’ve been in all these tough districts, and our candidates are doing what they need to be doing.

“They’re running their grass-roots operation, the get-out-the-vote effort,” he said. “And they’re talking about the issues the American people care about, whether it’s keeping taxes low, securing our borders or making sure the president has the tools to fight the terrorists.”

Republicans say that Democrats have not offered viable alternatives for fighting the war on terror and accuse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco, of keeping a low profile in recent weeks so as not to ruin her party’s prospects of seizing control of the House.

In an interview Friday with the San Francisco Chronicle, Mrs. Pelosi said she expects to pick up 22 to 26 seats and said her only concern was that Republicans will rig the election.

“That is the only variable in this,” she said. “Will we have an honest count?”

Democrats are determined to “take back the country for the American people — Democrats and Republicans alike — because it’s been held hostage by the radical right wing of the Republican Party,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “This is a freak show, and it has to come to an end.”

While Mrs. Pelosi has steered clear of toss-up races in conservative districts across the country, she campaigned over the weekend for Democrats in the Philadelphia suburbs and Connecticut.

Mr. Bush yesterday campaigned in Grand Island, Neb., where he delivered his carefully crafted campaign speech for a seventh time. The president urged a packed house of supporters to turn out the vote.

“I really do want to thank the grass-roots activists, the people who worked hard to get these candidates to where they are. And I just urge you to keep working for the next 48 hours,” he said to cheers.

As he has done repeatedly during his six-day, 10-state effort to energize Republicans before Election Day, Mr. Bush took issue with inside-the-Beltway “prognosticators.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the same predictions I’ve heard,” the president said. “The prognosticators have already decided the outcome of this election before the good people of Nebraska have voted. But don’t worry about it, the same thing happened in 2004.

“Some of them up in Washington had already picked out their new offices in the West Wing,” he said, provoking laughter from the Republican crowd. “They listened to the prognosticators. Then the people showed up to the polls, and the movers were not needed.”

Later yesterday, Mr. Bush delivered his eighth rally speech, this time in Topeka, Kan. And today, Mr. Bush will make campaign stops in Florida and Arkansas before ending his campaign, as he always does, with a rally in Dallas.

• Joseph Curl contributed to this report from Crawford, Texas.

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