- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says he is just as surprised as anyone that Democrats have a legitimate shot at taking control of the Senate in the November election.

“Here we are, two weeks from Election Day, in a position we’d never thought we’d be in,” the New York Democrat said yesterday during a National Press Club appearance with his Republican counterpart, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

“In 2005, most people were predicting we’d be lucky just to keep our 45 [seats],” Mr. Schumer said. “And now, I’d be disappointed if we just hold.”

Mrs. Dole, chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledged the negative draw President Bush’s Iraq policy is having on her party’s candidates, but she asked what leaving Iraq now would accomplish and questioned the national security credentials of Democrats.

“If Democrats were to take over the Senate, you’re going to see a weaker security situation,” she said.

Mr. Schumer brushed off the national security criticism, saying Republicans were resorting to name-calling out of desperation.

“The Republican candidates have nowhere to run,” he joked. “It’s as if they are in a small room where all the exit doors are locked.”

Mrs. Dole said her party’s weak showing in pre-election polls was the typical byproduct of an incumbent presidency.

“A midterm is always tough,” she said. “The incumbent party almost always loses a significant number of seats.”

That trend was bucked by Democrats in 1998 and Republicans in 2002.

With Democrats targeting seven Republican incumbents, polling data suggests it is most likely that races in Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri will determine who controls the Senate. Most polls also show the Democrats leading in the Republican-held states of Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Dole said that Republicans have a $14 million cash-on-hand fundraising advantage in those states and that Democrats must defend a few seats of their own in Maryland and New Jersey.

“I’m sure they never imagined they would be fighting to retain seats like these,” she said. “We’ll continue to fight for all of our incumbents.”

Since 2002, Republicans have enjoyed a significant advantage in voter turnout, thanks to what party activists call the “72-hour strategy.”

“We know that the Republicans have a very good turnout machine,” Mr. Schumer said.

He said, however, that in addition to a more favorable political climate, Democrats have been upgrading their turnout plans.

“The gap is going to be considerably less,” he said. “People are more open to the Democratic message.”

This year, the DSCC has broken its annual fundraising losing streak to the NRSC, according to campaign-finance records.

Mr. Schumer said that’s because voter trends are working in his party’s favor.

“We’re in a much stronger position heading into November than we thought we’d be,” he said. Still, he was quick to add, “It’s not a done deal. No one on our side is breaking out the champagne.”

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