By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Some see the glass as half empty, others as half full. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sees it as overflowing.
Briefing reporters yesterday on Democrats' prospects in the midterm elections, Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had trouble thinking of a single race Republicans will win.
How about Nevada, where Democrat Jack Carter trails Sen. John Ensign (R) by 21 points?
"Jack Carter has done a very good job. . . . Nevada is moving up on our radar screen . . . We are getting more and more enthusiastic about Nevada."
And Arizona, where a poll found Sen. Jon Kyl (R) 18 points ahead of Democrat Jim Pederson?
"We're feeling better and better. . . . Our candidate Jim Pederson is running a great race. . . . The public seems to like what he says."
Or Virginia, where no conventional poll has found Democrat James Webb leading Sen. George Allen (R)?
"We think we have a good chance of winning in Virginia. . . . We regard it as a very, very good chance of a Democratic pickup."
Those who handicap Senate races say the Democrats could gain four or five seats -- just short of the six needed to gain control of the chamber. But the irrepressible Schumer, whose position requires a certain amount of cheerleading, yesterday outlined a November conquest in which Democrats pick up nine seats. "We're doing amazingly well and better than we ever thought," he pronounced.
To judge from Schumer's presentation, the Democrats will achieve this extraordinary triumph by employing an extended series of mixed metaphors. Schumer himself may have set a record in that department yesterday as he painted the electoral landscape:
"This administration is shrugging its shoulders. . . . It's like 'The Wizard of Oz' -- it showed the man behind the screen. . . . You know which way the winds are blowing. . . . There have been very few bumps in the road. . . . The wind continues to stay at our backs. . . . The idea that there should be no check and balance, no congressional oversight, just isn't flying. They want to try to bring back the 2004 playbook. . . . They're trying to find a new rabbit to pull out of the hat, but so far they've gone back to the old chestnuts."
Chestnuts? In the same hat with rabbits? With the wind at their back on a bumpy road?
"They're going to bring up the same old chestnuts in one form or other, and it's not going to work," Schumer continued. "Digging the hole deeper makes a difference. . . . The real way they can get well is a change in course. That's what America wants, a new direction. . . . We have an uphill road in the sense that the map is a tough map, but we're feeling very good. . . . The meat-and-potato issues are the Democratic base. . . . There's a big wind at Democrats' backs. . . . The national winds tend to blow better in Senate races, but we have a tougher map."
Okay, so it's definitely windy, and the Democrats have meat and potatoes, not chestnuts. But why would Republicans change course if it's the Democrats who have a tough map?
Schumer was having too much fun to explain. Forty reporters, desperate for some late-August political news, crowded around a conference table at DSCC headquarters. Schumer entered wearing cotton trousers and an open collar. "I guess nothing's doing," he surmised correctly when he saw the big crowd.
The senator, no stranger to news conferences, savored his 40-minute Q&A, resting his elbows on the table, removing his right loafer and jiggling his leg under the table as he spoke excitedly about Democratic prospects as if they were marathon runners.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): "Bob Menendez is running a great race."
Ohio candidate Sherrod Brown: "Sherrod Brown is running a great race."
Tennessee candidate Harold Ford: "Harold Ford is running a great race."
For the record, Schumer did not say that Pennsylvania candidate Bob Casey is running a great race. "Bob Casey is a great candidate and will be a great senator," he said.
Schumer bestowed his most generous praise on Claire McCaskill, who is challenging Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). "She is just wonderful -- I just respect her so," Schumer gushed. "She is a wonderful person, a very, very smart political leader."
Maryland presented a problem for Schumer because the Democratic primary hasn't happened yet. "We have two very good candidates in Maryland," the resourceful Schumer improvised. "Extremely strong candidates. . . . We feel very good about Maryland."
Amid such unbounded optimism, it would have been churlish to point out that the experts regard this as overly exuberant. While political forecasters such as Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg have switched in the past few weeks to predicting a Democratic takeover of the House, there are no such forecasts for the Senate.
Except Schumer's. Asked if any races were not going well for Democrats, he was stumped. "Hmmmm," he replied.
"How about Maine?" a reporter offered. Polls show Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) leading Democrat Jean Hay Bright by 50 points, and Democrats have likened Snowe's popularity in Maine to that of Jesus.
"Yeah," Schumer agreed. "Maine isn't going very well at all."
Mark that one down as half empty.