- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

Senate Democrats say Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota will be key to shoring up their fragile majority, banking that the Iraq war will help them unseat vulnerable Republicans in 2008.

With two liberal independents in their caucus, Democrats have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, where 60 votes generally are needed in order to make major policy changes. But they say there is a bright horizon for the next election, especially in those states.

“We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war,” predicted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, adding that Republican senators faced with constant votes on whether they support President Bush’s Iraq policy will have a tough time convincing voters that they deserve re-election.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, says a handful of Republicans are going to “look extinction … in the eye.”

“Look at the poll numbers of Republican senators, and the war in Iraq is a lead weight attached to their ankle,” said Mr. Schumer, who leads the campaign arm for Senate Democrats.

“They know that, and we’ve just been at this a couple of months and we’re going to keep at it,” he said. “It’s not an accident that the ones who are squirming the most are the ones who are up in ‘08.”

Last year, the Schumer-led Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee helped oust six Republicans, handing the chamber to the Democrats by a delicate one-vote margin.

A reporter asked Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, about Mr. Reid’s comments on Friday, wondering whether it would be tough to get Republicans to rally around Mr. Bush’s war position.

“We’re committed to getting the job done in Iraq in a way that will lead to reduced violence in Baghdad, that will give that government the time and the opportunity to move toward some growth in the economy and to do the infrastructure projects they need,” he responded.

“There are some things you do without regard to the polls or the politics,” he said. “But as the situation improves there, and I believe it will, then we can move on to other issues and be confident the American people will realize we did the right thing.”

Campaign staffers and analysts looking at the 2008 landscape agree that Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota will face voters angry about Iraq and are the most vulnerable in the next cycle.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee considers Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, one of its top targets. Republicans also are eyeing the South Dakota seat held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who in December suffered a brain hemorrhage and underwent surgery. He has not returned to the Senate, but his colleagues are helping him raise money for re-election.

Mr. Reid said Mr. Schumer showed him poll numbers that he finds “compelling and astounding” that prove Republican senators who back Mr. Bush on Iraq are hurting. Democrats echo this sentiment, saying they will prevail in 2008, when one-third of the Senate is up for re-election.

“2006 was a big problem for them for a number of reasons, but principally because there was a sense that [President Bush] was tuning out the pleas for help from the American people on Iraq,” said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who unseated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.

“And if [Mr. Bush] does it again in 2007 and 2008, they’ll have a worse year than they had in 2006,” Mr. Casey said.

Liberal bloggers, emboldened by the Democrats’ gains, are feeling confident, too, and are promoting anti-war groups attempting to unseat Republicans. Americans United for Change is targeting Miss Collins and Mr. Sununu in ads that show growing chaos in Iraq, list statistics on the number of troops killed and feature the senators standing with Mr. Bush.

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, has been voting with the Democrats on Iraq but is considered a likely 2008 target anyway. Democrats also have their eyes on New Mexico, seeing Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici as vulnerable because of his possible role in the U.S. attorneys scandal and rumors that he might retire.

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