- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

National Republicans are dumping more than $1 million into Senate races in the Democratic strongholds of Maryland and New Jersey but are facing a bleak field elsewhere, strategists from both parties say.

“Every week, it gets better,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). “Every week we get closer to our goal of taking the Senate and I’d say right now we’re on the edge. What looked like a distant possibility six months ago is a very, very real possibility right now.”

Democrats this year, unlike past elections, are running on a strong national security agenda and have taken the upper hand in fundraising, he told reporters yesterday. Mr. Schumer played several ads paid for by the DSCC in conservative states such as Virginia and Tennessee attacking Republicans for their continued support of the Iraq war. In each ad, the Democrat says changes must be made without offering specifics.

“National security is a win for Democrats,” said Mr. Schumer, adding that North Korea’s recent nuclear test will help the party. “What happened in North Korea … inures to our benefit.”

In addition, he said the party will have poured “a minimum of $20 million” into the local efforts that make sure their voters show up at the polls, a tactic mastered by Republicans in recent years.

“We’ve been in the wilderness for a while,” Mr. Schumer said.

While Republican strategists privately acknowledge that the races look tough for the GOP, they remain confident that they will keep Democrats from gaining the six seats they need to win control of the chamber.

Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said yesterday that Republicans have paid $650,000 for advertising in the reliably Democratic state of Maryland, where Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele hopes to beat Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for the seat being vacated by Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes. They are dumping another $500,000 in New Jersey, another Democratic state where Republican Tom Kean Jr. hopes to beat incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez.

“The Democrats have been forced to spend money in Michigan, Maryland, Washington and New Jersey because they are being pressed on holding these seats,” Mr. Nick said. “This defies the national political climate and is money that is not going toward attacking our incumbents.”

Mr. Schumer said yesterday that Mr. Menendez was not his first choice for the seat but that he has been a “great candidate.”

Republicans, meanwhile, appear increasingly pessimistic about their chances of keeping incumbent Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine of Ohio. Polls continue to show both men trailing.

In Pennsylvania, challenger Bob Casey Jr. has raised amounts of money on par with Mr. Santorum. In Ohio, Mr. DeWine maintains the cash advantage but national Republicans have dropped plans to continue spending heavily on advertising there.

“The bottom is sort of beginning to fall out in Ohio for them,” Mr. Schumer said of the state that handed President Bush his re-election victory in 2004.

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