Disparate Lists of Battleground States at Work
Key Senate Seats Are Largely Unimportant in Race for White House, and Vice Versa
By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page A04
When it comes to November battlegrounds, the maps conflict.
Contests in roughly a dozen states are likely to decide party control of the Senate this fall. Meanwhile, the campaigns of President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), are pouring millions of dollars into television ads in about 20 states.
The two fights are taking place largely in separate worlds. Of the 20 battleground presidential states, five have no Senate races this year. In eight others, one party is a clear favorite.
Looked at the other way, of the top 12 Senate races, half or fewer are unfolding in states that are drawing major attention from the presidential rivals.
In a call with reporters last week, Sen. Jon S. Corzine (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was brimming with confidence.
"The momentum and movement continue in our direction," he said. "If we went to the polls next Tuesday, we would take back the Senate." But he added a caveat: "We have less overlap than I would like" between the states Kerry is targeting and those where crucial Senate races are on tap.
The flip side of Corzine's regret was expressed by Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman. "The Senate battlegrounds are places where John Kerry Democrats are not likely to win. In those states, candidates will have to decide whether they are with Kerry or with the folks at home," he said.
At a time when the race-by-race prospects for Democrats have improved enough that some neutral observers are beginning to say the GOP's 51 to 48 majority might be overturned, Bush's expected strength in most of the states in which Senate seats are up for grabs looms as a major barrier to Democratic prospects.
Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that of 10 states he would rate as closest, "nine are very good for Bush." Those states include South Dakota, where Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle faces a strong challenge, and five southern states -- Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana -- where incumbent Democrats are retiring.
Three states in which Republicans must defend seats that could be in jeopardy -- Alaska, Colorado and Oklahoma -- also lean toward Bush. Among Allen's top 10, only Illinois, where the retirement of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) opens a seat, was carried by Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
Some Democrats still question who really won Florida, but Bush's 2000 margins in the other eight states ranged from 6 percentage points in Arizona and 8 in Louisiana up to 22 points in Oklahoma and South Dakota, and 31 points in Alaska.
Republicans add Washington to their list of targeted Senate races, and Democrats include Pennsylvania. Both states went to Gore, but the overall tilt of the playing field remains with the GOP.
Still, the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party are laying plans for "coordinated campaigns" in several states where important Senate races are unfolding. Planning for those cooperative efforts -- in which presidential, senatorial and other candidates jointly finance and cooperatively staff voter registration and turnout operations, and attempt to reinforce one another's messages -- was delayed by Kerry's preoccupation with fundraising and the preparation of his television spots in March and April.
A more delicate dance is being performed by Kerry and individual Senate candidates, depending on circumstances in particular states. Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel III (D), who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (R) in Pennsylvania, has been at Kerry's side almost every time the presidential candidate has been in the state, where Kerry is a slight favorite to repeat Gore's victory. Even in Colorado, where Kerry is not the favorite, Senate candidate Ken Salazar (D) met with the Massachusetts senator to discuss how they can help each other.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company