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Senate Races in South Gain Momentum as Election Nears

With Republicans fighting to retain their 10-seat advantage in the Senate, Democrats are campaigning to pick up the six seats they need in November's elections to win a majority. Analysts focus on two key Senate races in Virginia and Tennessee.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    To take control of the Senate, where Republicans now enjoy a 10-seat majority, Democrats would have to pick up six seats on Election Day. While the polls are constantly shifting, the 10 races that appear to us right now to be most competitive are: two in New England, Rhode Island and Connecticut; two mid-Atlantic states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; two in the South, Virginia and Tennessee; two in the Midwest, Ohio and Missouri; and two in the West, Montana and Washington State.

    Tonight, we'll look at two of those in more detail. But first, for a national overview, we turn to Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

    And, Stu, welcome back.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG, Editor, Rothenberg Political Report:

    Thanks.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    When you were here two weeks ago, you said you saw a national wave developing that was affecting these Senate races that was beneficial to Democrats. Has that continued? Has anything changed in the last two weeks?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    I don't see any evidence that there's been a dramatic change, Margaret. It's still about a mood for change, people dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the performance of Congress, and the performance of the president.

    Of course, there has been a survey within the last couple days, USA Today-Gallup, that suggested that there was a surge, a Republican surge. We've had a lot of talk about a Republican surge. I have been cautioning for weeks, months, even years, it seems, for people not to overreact to a single survey.

    If we see further evidence, two or three other surveys suggesting the president's numbers are moving up, fine, but I just wouldn't overreact. I don't think that at this point we can say there's been a dramatic change.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And so how are the Democrats going about trying to take advantage of this, say, dissatisfaction with the president? Does there seem to be a national playbook that these Senate candidates in these competitive races are following?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    In race after race, they are seeking to link the president with the Republican candidate, Republican senator, in most cases. They're doing it in ads with photographs of the president, arm in arm, when they can. If they can't, they simply talk about Senator Michael DeWine and the Bush agenda or the like. Over and over again, it's an attempt to make this election a referendum on George W. Bush and on change.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. And so what are the Republicans doing then to defend against that? Again, is there sort of a national playbook or is it race-by-race?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes, there is a national playbook, and I think it is localize or, in cruder terminology, beat the stuffing out of your opponent. And in this case, it is making the opponent the issue.

    So in Ohio again, for example, both the DeWine campaign, and the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and the Republican National Committee have been beating up Sherrod Brown arguing he's a liberal, he's too liberal for the state.

    So it's not a question so much of, boy, the voters have got to love Mike DeWine. Some voters may indeed love Mike DeWine, but it's a choice that the Republicans are trying to force.

    And you may recall that Ken Mehlman has been talking for a long time about a referendum versus a choice, that if it's a referendum, the Republicans are in trouble. If it's a choice, they do much better. They're trying to make it choices in individual races.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Are the Republican candidates going so far as to really run away from George Bush? Is it that overt?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Well, they talk about their independence an awful lot. They emphasize how they have not always seen eye-to-eye with the president or their party. They're talking in some cases — Jim Talent all the time talks about how he works with Democrats, reaches across the aisle. This is very commonplace.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And certainly very different than, say, in '04 or '02?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Oh, you know, if you do this long enough, it's like the teams change jerseys, they change uniforms, but they run the same plays. I've seen this over and over again. And often I've seen the Democrats trying to distance themselves from an incumbent president.

    It's the nature of the race. Look, these are professional campaign consultants and operatives who are running races. They've learned lessons from previous cycles, and they're trying to apply them now.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right, now, money. Usually Republicans have a huge money advantage.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Well, the Democrats, I think, have done a very good job this cycle in cutting into that advantage. And if you compare the campaign committees, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee versus the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, the DSCC has done a bang-up job.

    Democrats, I think, are going to be better funded this time. There are 527 outside groups. The Republicans — you know, there are lots of ways to look at money. You have to look at the candidates. You have to look at the national party committees, the congressional party committees…

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Where the Republicans still have an advantage.

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Right, right. So, overall, there's more Republican dollars than Democratic dollars, but I think the Republican financial advantage has been eroded this cycle. The Democrats have done a good job raising money.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And on advertising, are they spending this money heavily on advertising yet? Are voters already be deluged with political ads?

  • STUART ROTHENBERG:

    Yes, absolutely. I mean, in some places, Montana, months ago there were ads running. And now we're at the point where voters are seeing ads in virtually every state. We're seeing aggressive ads, not just the early name I.D. ads.

    Absolutely. This is still about TV advertising. We hear a lot about the organization and knocking on doors, and that's important. But most campaign money gets spent on TV advertising, and it's happening around the country.