WASHINGTON – For someone who said he didn't want predict the outcomes of this year's eight or nine hotly contested races,Sen. Jon S. Corzine,D-N.J.,still outlined a plan Monday in which the Democrats could regain control of the Senate.
“We clearly have the momentum,” Corzine told reporters and others at a National Press Club luncheon. “Polls show us ahead or statistically even in each of the eight races that have long been identified as Senate battleground races.”
Sen. George Allen,R-Va.,on the other hand,said,“President Bush is the right leader at the right time in our nation's history,” and most Republicans will vote for senators who want to cooperate with Bush.
Corzine and Allen,chairs of the Democratic and Republican senatorial campaign committees,offered their opinions on up-for-grabs Senate races in South Dakota,Alaska,Colorado,Florida,Louisiana,Oklahoma,North Carolina,South Carolina and,more recently,Kentucky.
Each senator predicted his party could win all of them. The Senate includes 51 Republicans,48 Democrats and one independent.
Perhaps the closest race pits Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle against Republican John Thune,a former House member who challenged Sen. Tim Johnson,D-S.D.,two years ago.
“We know how to win close races there and we will again,” Corzine said. “Who in South Dakota believes they should trade a future majority leader for a freshman senator? Senator Daschle has the most organized,focused and energetic campaign in the country. And he's going to win.”
Allen said Daschle does not share the beliefs of mainstream South Dakotans and that he votes with such liberals as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
“Daschle's raised quite a bit of money,” Allen said,“and he needs every penny of it.”
Louisiana,Corzine pointed out,is Bush territory,but it has never elected a Republican senator.
Corzine said if all the incumbent Democrats win,additional victories in North Carolina,South Carolina and Florida – all states with open Senate seats – would bring the number of Democrats in the Senate to 51.
Allen said Bush is likely to win South Carolina by 15 percent,making it unlikely that Democrat Inez Tenenbaum,the state's elected superintendent of education,could beat Rep. James W. DeMint. In Florida,He said Mel Martinez,Bush's former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,would beat Betty Castor,former state education commissioner and president of the University of South Florida, because of his appeal to Hispanic voters.
Corzine also said it wasn't very long ago that he thought the Democrats didn't have a prayer.
“I've even joked about the challenge,” he said. “I've said that,as far as hard jobs go,being chair … fell somewhere between being Michael Jackson's lawyer and his surgeon.”
Allen predicted the GOP will strengthen its Senate majority because Republicans will vote logically on Nov. 2.
“Seven out of eight states are good for the president,” he said. “Why wouldn't they want to have somebody in the Senate who's going to vote with him?”
Both senators said Kentucky may have become the ninth state with a close race.
Sen. Jim Bunning,R-Ky.,a one-term incumbent,had a clear lead over his Democratic challenger,state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo,until what Corzine called Bunning's “erratic behavior” narrowed the gap. Bunning recently compared Mongiardo's looks to those of one of Saddam Hussein's sons.
Allen said Bunning has been the subject of “vicious and scurrilous” rumors and will win the Senate seat just like he won baseball games when he was a professional baseball player.
There was a humorous moment of agreement when the senators received Press Club mugs as thank-you gifts. Allen noted that the mugs were made in China,and he and Corzine both said their constituents would prefer that they were American-made products.
Jonathan D. Salant,a member of the club's board of governors and the discussion's moderator,said that while nobody had ever raised the issue before,he would be sure to mention the mugs at a board meeting Monday night.