- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2014

Republicans have done a good job of putting Senate seats into play this year, but they have been unable to seal the deal in most of those races, giving Democrats hope that a late-season comeback can keep them in control of the upper chamber.

With a week to go before Election Day, polls show the Republican Party has some momentum, but Democratic incumbents are hanging tough, producing an extraordinary map with 10 seats still in doubt.

The polls give Democrats hope that, despite trailing in key races, a strong get-out-the-vote operation can keep their losses to five or fewer, which would preserve control of the Senate and give President Obama at least some maneuvering room for his final years in office.

“If Democrats save their majority — and that is a real possibility — it will be in no small part because of the sophisticated technological and base turnout advantage they continue to enjoy,” said Karl Frisch, a Democratic strategist.

Republicans are poised to pick up seats in the House, but Democrats are in shape to gain ground in governorships.

But it’s the Senate where Mr. Obama’s agenda is most at stake and where the elections remain exceptionally volatile. Of the 36 seats up for election, 21 are held by Democrats and just four of those are solidly safe. Another seven are on the margins, and 10 others — nearly half — are in danger.

For Senate Republicans up for re-election, 11 of the 15 seats are safe.

Republicans’ ability to put seats into play that Democrats hoped to keep off the table is a testament to candidate recruitment in purple states. Former Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, has closed a gap in New Hampshire, and Joni Ernst and Rep. Cory Gardner, the GOP nominees in Iowa and Colorado, have built slight leads in polls.

But GOP candidates have been unable to break free in Alaska, North Carolina and Arkansas — all Republican-leaning states at the national level.

Indeed, Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, lost her Senate seat by more than 20 percentage points in 2010. This year, however, Sen. Mark L. Pryor, a Democrat, is 2 percentage points behind Rep. Tom Cotton, the GOP nominee, in an NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday.

Republican strategists said Mr. Pryor is a tougher opponent than Ms. Lincoln was. But they also said Republicans are trying to rebuild voters’ trust they lost the last time they had control of Congress.

“There are better candidates than expected on the left, but the reality of it is the Republican brand is still damaged. It is still suffering the problems the Bush family imposed on it,” said Michael McKenna, a GOP strategist who said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother and son of former presidents, isn’t helping matters.

“I don’t think the news that Jeb Bush is going to run, with Karl Rove presumably going to run his campaign, is going to make anybody feel any better about the Republicans,” Mr. McKenna said.

Whatever the cause, polling shows Republicans with an image problem. Although voters give Republicans an advantage on most key issues, such as handling terrorism, the economy and immigration, Democrats score better when voters are asked who governs “in a more honest and ethical way” or who is “more concerned with needs of people like me,” the Pew Research Center found.

Mr. Frisch said Republicans will have to find a way to appeal to new voters while not losing “their extremely conservative, older, white, male-dominated base.”

There is a precedent for a last-minute Democratic shift. In 1998, the sixth year of President Clinton’s time in office, a late surge helped Democrats stave off any defeats in the Senate and actually net seats in the House, in a stunning exception to the historical trend of second-term presidents getting whacked in the midterms.

That year, however, the Senate map heading into Election Day was more evenly divided, with Democrats holding nine of the 15 seats in play and Republicans holding the other six.

This year, 10 seats are heavily in play, and seven of them are held by Democrats. Democrats are likely to lose another three — in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana. The three Republican-held seats in play are in Kentucky, Kansas and Georgia.

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