- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Given the Senate’s traditional six-year cycle, the seats in Congress’s upper chamber being contested in 2006 are essentially the same seats that were up for grabs 12 years ago in 1994. When Republicans achieved their historic 1994 victory by regaining a majority in the U.S. Senate, they took the relatively easy route, capturing all six open seats vacated by retiring Democrats and knocking off two incumbents. In Tennessee that year, Bill Frist defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Jim Sasser. In Pennsylvania then-36-year-old Rep. Rick Santorum defeated Democratic incumbent Harris Wofford, whom Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey had appointed in 1991 after the death of Republican Sen. John Heinz.

If Democrats are to regain majority status in the Senate this year, they will have to do it the hard way — by knocking off at least five Republican incumbents. Altogether, Democrats must achieve a net gain of six seats. The only open seat vacated by a Republican is the Tennessee seat held for two terms by Mr. Frist. If Democratic Rep. Harold Ford prevails over GOP candidate Bob Corker in their neck-and-neck race for Mr. Frist’s seat, then Democrats would still have to defeat five Republican incumbents. If Mr. Corker wins, to gain a majority Democrats would have to defeat at least six GOP incumbents, while retaining all 18 of the Democratic seats, including the relatively tenuous New Jersey seat held by the appointed Sen. Robert Menendez and the potentially troublesome Democratic-controlled seats in Maryland and Washington. That is a tall order.

Knocking off at least five incumbent senators from the other party in one election isn’t easy. Over the last 50 years, Republicans have done it only once: in 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s coattails were instrumental in defeating nine Democratic incumbents. Since 1960, Democrats have managed to defeat at least five Republican incumbent senators in only two elections (five in 2000, three of whom — Rod Grams of Minnesota, John Ashcroft of Missouri and Spence Abraham of Michigan — were from the class of 1994; and seven in 1986 — when Democrats regained a Senate majority — six of whom were from the class of 1980). Question: Who was the Republican incumbent senator to be defeated for re-election in both 1986 and 2000? Answer: Slade Gorton of Washington, who was re-elected in 1988 after losing in 1986.

The most endangered Republican senators this year are (1) Mr. Santorum, who is facing the son of Robert P. Casey Sr. (see above), the late, popular Pennsylvania governor; (2) Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who is defending his seat against a popular Democrat in a state that gave John Kerry 61 percent of its presidential vote in 2004 and where Democrats control more than 80 percent of the seats in the state legislature; (3) Conrad Burns of Montana, who, according to a recent compilation of polls by the authoritative RealClearPolitics Web site, is trailing his Democratic opponent by an average of nearly 6 percentage points; and (4) Mike DeWine of Ohio (also from the class of 1994), whose uphill climb amid the scandalous Ohio Republican muck (which doesn’t even involve him) is becoming steeper by the week. Political prognosticator Stuart Rothenberg, who recently projected that Democrats will pick up four to seven Senate seats, rates the Santorum seat as a “likely takeover,” the Chafee and Burns seats as “lean takeover” and the DeWine seat as a “toss-up.”

If Democrats defeat those four GOP incumbents, then they would still have to capture three of the remaining four top battleground states: Missouri, where incumbent Jim Talent is facing a strong challenge from State Auditor Claire McCaskill; Virginia, where George Allen, the only Republican challenger to defeat a Democratic incumbent (Charles Robb) in 2000, holds a small lead over James Webb; New Jersey, where Mr. Menendez is being vigorously challenged by Tom Kean Jr., the son of a popular former governor; and Tennessee. Both Mr. Rothenberg and fellow election forecaster Charlie Cook rate all four as “toss-ups.” Republicans have an outside chance with Lt. Gov. Michael Steele of taking the open seat in Maryland.

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