As far as Karl Rove is concerned, George W. Bush just about has the presidential race wrapped up and the Democrats have no chance of regaining a majority in the Senate.
Rove told The Washington Times, in a September 23 interview, that he thinks Republicans will gain as many as four seats to hold a 55-to-45 majority in January. That's exactly the same prediction National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen made last month on Meet the Press. Rove added, "And even a gain of a couple of seats is going to work a sea change on their ability to obstruct these judges." But the poll numbers don't support the idea of such a large GOP pickup.
More than a month from election day, many of the races are too close to call, according to recent polls. These include seats held by retiring Democrats and Republicans.
“It is way too early to tell,” Democratic political consultant Brad Bannon told me. “In 2002, a lot of close Senate races broke in the last five days of the campaign.”
Look at the seats held by Democrats. Yes, the party is virtually guaranteed to lose Georgia, where Zell Miller, Republican national convention keynote speaker, has held the seat for four years. There's also a good chance that Democrats will lose John Breaux's Louisiana seat.
South Carolina appears to be within reach for the Democrats, with Republican Jim DeMint leading Democrat Inez Tenenbaum by 3 points earlier this month in the race for Fritz Hollings' seat. The race in Florida, where Democrat Bob Graham is retiring, is considered too close to call, with a poll this month giving Democrat Betty Castor a 1-point lead over Republican Mel Martinez.
"The Senate race is a dead heat right now as Florida voters struggle to learn about two candidates who have been competing with hurricanes and presidential candidates for the political spotlight,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, when the survey was released September 23. “Both Martinez and Castor are unknown factors to about four in 10 Florida voters.”
Democrats are> likely to retain North Carolina, where Democrat Erskine Bowles had a 9-point lead over Republican Richard Burr to succeed John Edwards, according to an early August poll. In South Dakota, Tom Daschle led Republican John Thune by 3 points in a late August poll. While Daschle's victory will likely be close, expect the Senate minority leader to tout the benefits his leadership brings to his constituents in the campaign's remaining weeks.
Among states where Republicans are retiring, Barack Obama is a sure bet to pick up Peter Fitzgerald's seat in Illinois. In Colorado, Democrat Ken Salazar led Republican Pete Coors by 11 points earlier this month in the bid to succeed Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
In Oklahoma, a poll taken this month shows Democrat Brad Carson holding a 1-point lead over Republican Tom Coburn to succeed Don Nickles. Yes, it's within the margin of error, but it's a vast improvement over a poll conducted in July that had Coburn up 12 points. In Alaska, Democrat Tony Knowles led Republican Lisa Murkowski by 1 point in a late August poll.
So, let's do the math. At this point, it looks like Democrats will lose two seats and Republicans will lose two seats. Four other seats are too close to call.
But that's not all, as Bannon told me. “I do find it difficult to believe that the GOP is going to pick up four Senate seats when they are the governing party and a majority of Americans think that country is heading in the wrong direction,” he said. “Voters have to vent their hostility and concerns about the economy and Iraq somewhere. That somewhere could be in he United States Senate.”
Remember, it was Rove who allowed President Bush to relax in the final days of the 2000 presidential campaign because he thought the election was in the bag. You would think Rove wouldn't make the same mistake again. If he does, don't expect to see Democrats complaining.
Mary Lynn F. Jones is online editor of The Hill. Her column on Capitol Hill politics runs each week.
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