- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Republicans say the latest evidence gives them reason to think they will maintain control of the Senate, although Vice President Dick Cheney may not feel free to leave Washington often during the next two years.

“There is this for the Republicans — at least the bleeding seems to have stopped on the Senate side, and in a few House races,” said pollster John Zogby. “Republicans can still turn this around.”

Race-by-race surveys of Senate contests by pollster Scott Rasmussen show that Republican-leaning voters may be “coming home” in closely watched states like Tennessee and Missouri, while the GOP is poised for a potential upset in Maryland.

To prevent Democrats from taking over the Senate, Republicans must hold their net losses to five — which would leave the Senate split 50-50, with Mr. Cheney available to cast a tiebreaking vote — and election analysts say four of the GOP’s incumbent senators likely will fall on Nov. 7:

• Mike DeWine in Ohio is now trailing Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown by such a wide margin — 20 percentage points in one poll — that even some Republicans now privately describe Mr. DeWine as “road kill.”

• Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, and polls indicate a large and growing lead for his Democratic rival, former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse.

• Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania — a reliable foe of abortion and same-sex “marriage” and a strong supporter of President Bush — trails pro-life Democrat Bob Casey by 16 percentage points in the latest poll.

• Conrad Burns in Montana is trailing Democratic state Sen. Jon Tester, and has been hammered by Democratic ads highlighting the Republican’s involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been buoyed by a strong stretch run by Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in Maryland, where the former state Republican Party chairman seeks the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Mr. Steele still trails Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in most polls, but turned in a solid debate performance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and this week won the endorsement of important black Democrats in Maryland. “If he gets over 20 percent of black vote statewide, it does have a significant impact for the politics of both parties,” Mr. Zogby said.

Republicans have also hoped to pick up a Democratic seat in New Jersey. However, six different major polls since Oct. 10 show Republican Tom Kean Jr. trailing Sen. Robert Menendez by as many as 6 percentage points in a state where institutional advantages favor the Democratic incumbent. “If we had a functional party in New Jersey, we might win that one,” said one veteran Republican observer.

Republicans say they feel increasingly confident about holding onto the Tennessee seat being vacated by retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The most recent CNN poll showed Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker with a 52 percent to 44 percent lead over Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., although Rasmussen showed a much narrower 49 percent to 47 percent lead for Mr. Corker.

Perhaps the most encouraging recent development for Senate Republicans has been the comeback by Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who some polls had shown trailing by as much as 9 percentage points to Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill just three weeks ago.

The most recent polls indicate the Missouri contest is a dead heat, with CNN showing both candidates at 49 percent, and Rasmussen giving Mrs. McCaskill a 48 percent to 47 percent lead.

However, Republicans have become concerned as recent polls show Sen. George Allen losing ground in Virginia. A Rasmussen poll released yesterday showed Mr. Allen with 46 percent to 51 percent for Democrat James H. Webb Jr., a former Republican who served about a year as Navy secretary in the Reagan administration.

Republicans says that their well-honed voter-turnout operation can make the difference in close races, but election analyst Charlie Cook remains skeptical about Election Day prospects for the GOP.

“In the House, Republicans are most likely to see a net loss of 20 to 35 seats, and with it their majority,” Mr. Cook wrote in the latest issue of National Journal. “In the Senate, the GOP could lose at least four, but a five- or six-seat loss is more likely.”

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