Tuesday, November 7, 2006

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Republicans are counting on a late surge in the public-opinion polls to cut their expected losses as a record number of American voters are predicted to participate in today’s midterm elections.

Democrats expressed concerns yesterday about recent polls that suggested a slip in support, but they are still widely expected to pick up a significant number of seats in both houses of Congress and deliver President Bush his first electoral setback since he was first elected in 2000.

“We are feeling very, very good about things,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Other Democrats are less ebullient. His House counterpart, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said he was “nervous” about the latest polls.

Democrats need a net gain of six seats in the Senate and 15 in the House to take control of Congress. Since 1994, Republicans have held the House without interruption and the Senate nearly so. At least four Republican-held Senate seats — Virginia, Missouri, Rhode Island and Montana — along with Democrat-held Maryland, are widely considered too close to call.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, were guardedly optimistic that this year’s much-predicted Democratic “tidal wave” will fail to materialize. Still, Republicans await the results more anxiously than Democrats.

Many Republicans delighted in recent polls conducted by the Pew Research Center and by the Washington Post/ABC News that showed Democrats losing their considerable advantage in the final days of the election.

The campaign of Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who is widely expected to lose his bid for a third term today, thanked Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr. for bringing “San Francisco liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi,” the House minority leader, into the state this weekend to campaign with him.

“The fact that so-called ‘moderate’ Casey would welcome Pelosi and her extremist liberal record to Pennsylvania in the final days of a campaign shocked and motivated the Republican base,” said campaign manager Vince Galko. He said her appearance helped Republicans set a record of more than 380,000 contacts with voters over a two-day period.

The Republican majority in the House is widely considered to be at greater risk than in the Senate. More than 30 Republican-held seats nationwide are thought to be in jeopardy, including seats left open by scandal-plagued Republicans Tom DeLay of Texas, Bob Ney of Ohio and Mark Foley of Florida. There are no more than a handful of vulnerable Democrats.

Whatever the outcome of today’s election, both sides are poised to complain of electoral shenanigans.

Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, warned reporters of “glitches” and “skulduggery” that had already been documented that might suppress the vote.

“Beware of voter fraud,” warned the Republican National Committee, which compiled reports from across the country of Democratic allies trying to register the dead, illegal or those who are already registered.

The DCCC yesterday accused the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) of spending $600,000 on “dirty tricks” in the form of late-night phone calls to voters disparaging Democratic candidates.

NRCC lawyer Donald F. McGahn II wrote the Democratic committee to say the disclaimers on the Republican calls are the same as those used by Democrats and noted several Democratic television commercials that were taken down over concerns about their veracity.

“Perhaps if you paid as much attention to your own client’s political advertising as you apparently do my client’s phone calls, the DCCC would have better luck in keeping its advertising on the air,” Mr. McGahn wrote. “How are those spots in Indiana and Kentucky coming? Did you ever get those falsehoods on the air?”

Both sides have dispatched hundreds of lawyers into states expecting tight races and banked hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight any irregularities they suspect.

Yesterday, in the final hours of a long and bruising campaign, both sides made a final plea to voters. “We want to end the disgraceful lies and astonishing incompetence,” promised Mr. Schumer, who said Democrats are “poised to win.”

“But we’re not spiking the ball until we get in the end zone. We need everyone to get their friends and families to the polls tomorrow,” he wrote in an appeal to Democratic voters. “And we need a final fundraising push for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Every dollar you give today is another van we can rent to drive people to the polls tomorrow and another person we can deploy to keep watch for any voter suppression activities.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, pointed to Republican accomplishments.

“Under the House Republican watch, gas prices are low, the stock market is at all-time highs, and America has not been attacked since September 11th,” he said. “From economic security to national security to border security, House Republicans have tackled tough issues. If the Democrats gain the House majority, Nancy Pelosi has made it clear they will raise taxes, coddle terrorists, and provide amnesty to illegal immigrants.”

Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, noted widespread speculation that there will be an opening on the Supreme Court in the near future. Senate confirmation of any Bush nominee would be dramatically more difficult if Democrats control the chamber.

“For weeks, commentators have speculated that significant numbers of conservatives, alienated by overspending, the Iraq war, and other perceived GOP disappointments, will stay home on Election Day, giving one or both Houses of Congress to Democrats,” he wrote yesterday on HumanEvents.com. “But for those who care about reforming the Supreme Court, sitting this one out may soon look like a mistake of historic proportions.”

Replacing a liberal member of the high court “could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the 20-year movement to recast the court with a constitutionalist majority,” Mr. Rushton said. “It would be a cruel twist indeed for conservatives to ‘teach Republicans a lesson’ next Tuesday, only to be taught a lesson themselves within months when the new Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy leads a Democratic majority against the most important Supreme Court nominee in decades.”

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