GOP likely to hold on to control of Congress
WASHINGTON – Despite Republicans’ narrow hold on the House and Senate, the battle for control of Congress is not nearly as competitive as this year’s presidential contest.
Most political observers believe Republicans are in good shape to keep control of the House, thanks in part to the number of seats the GOP is likely to pick up in Texas.
A change is more likely in the Senate where eight or nine competitive races remain tight. But most of those races are in states that vote more Republican than Democratic, causing pundits to rate a turnover possible but unlikely.
At stake is which party gets to set the legislative agenda, deciding which issues get attention and whether the president’s proposals will become law.
Here’s the campaign outlook:
Republicans control the Senate by a slim margin: 51 Republicans to 48 Democrats and one independent who usually sides with them.
Democrats are expected to pick up a seat in Illinois, where rising star Barak Obama is running against imported-from-Maryland-candidate Alan Keyes. But that gain is likely to be balanced by Republicans winning an open seat in Georgia held by Democrat Zell Miller, who is campaigning for President Bush.
That leaves nine Senate races that pundits think are either too close to call or only slightly leaning to one side: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota.
Democrats are defending five of those seats while Republicans are protecting four they now hold.
While it sounds nearly evenly matched, all the competitive races are in states that voted for George Bush in 2000.
“In fact, I’d pay John Kerry to fly up to Alaska and put his arms around the Democrat nominee,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen, R-Va.
Even Democratic leader Tom Daschle, in danger of losing his seat representing conservative South Dakota, has shown voters a picture of him hugging Bush after the president’s post- 9/11 speech to Congress.
But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine, D-N.J., argues it’s significant that so many races are still competitive, despite being in GOP territory.
“The very fact that we’re even in a position to win back the majority is noteworthy,” Corzine said.
If the election is really close, control could come down to the outcome of the Louisiana Senate race, which could require a December runoff. (Candidates in Louisiana all run on the same ticket, with the top two slated for a runoff if no candidate wins 50 percent.)
“I think for certain we’ll be packing our bags for Cajun country,” Corzine said.
As in the Senate, Republicans believe more of the competitive races are in GOP-friendly territory.
“We only need to win seven of the 37 (most contested seats) to keep the majority,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y. “President Bush won 20 of those 37 seats.”
But Democrats hope there’s a strong enough dissatisfaction with the status quo that they’ll do better than otherwise expected in GOP-friendly areas.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Matsui, D-Calif., pointed to polls showing a majority thinking the country is moving in the wrong direction. Matsui said voters will blame Republicans for their unhappiness because the GOP controls both the White House and Congress.
But he acknowledged that Democrats will have to overcome the likely loss of several seats in Texas, where a GOP-controlled redistricting has endangered five Democratic incumbents.
“Texas is the problem. There’s no question,” Matsui said.
There are 227 Republicans, 205 Democrats, one Independent, who usually votes with Democrats, and two vacancies (in GOP-held seats) in the House. Democrats need to pick up 13 seats for control because they have no candidate in a redrawn Texas district they now hold.