Democrats, on the Offensive, Could Gain Both Houses

In Miami, Carlos Arredondo arranges crosses in memory of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Scott Arredondo. The Iraq war factors heavily in many races.
In Miami, Carlos Arredondo arranges crosses in memory of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Scott Arredondo. The Iraq war factors heavily in many races. (By Lynne Sladky -- Associated Press)
By Dan Balz and David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Two days before a bitterly fought midterm election, Democrats have moved into position to recapture the House and have laid siege to the Senate, setting the stage for a dramatic recasting of the power structure in Washington for President Bush's final two years in office, according to a Washington Post analysis of competitive races across the country.

In the battle for the House, Democrats appear almost certain to pick up more than the 15 seats needed to regain the majority. Republicans virtually concede 10 seats, and a split of the 30 tossup races would add an additional 15 to the Democratic column.

The Senate poses a tougher challenge for Democrats, who need to gain six seats to take control of that chamber. A three-seat gain is almost assured, but they would have to find the other three seats from four states considered to have tossup races -- Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Montana.

In governors' races, Democrats are likely to emerge with the majority for the first time in 12 years. Five states are almost certain to switch parties, including the key battlegrounds of New York, Massachusetts and Ohio. Four races are too close to call, but only one of those seats -- in Wisconsin -- is held by a Democrat.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows some narrowing in the Democratic advantage in House races. The survey gives the Democrats a six-percentage-point lead nationally among likely voters asked which party they prefer for Congress. It was 14 points two weeks ago, but this remains a larger advantage than they have had in recent midterm elections.

The party in power almost always loses ground in the sixth year of a two-term presidency. Republicans had hoped that the partisan gerrymandering of most House districts would protect their majority, but the number of competitive seats has continued to grow throughout the year, increasing the likelihood of a Democratic takeover.

Rep. Rahm Emamuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stopped short of predicting that Democrats will take the House, but said: "I'm playing defense in one or two districts and offense in 46. I like those odds. I'd rather be us than them."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman predicted his party will retain majorities in both the House and Senate. "The Senate is in a better place than it was a week ago," he said, noting that GOP candidates in several of the closest races have improved their positions. "I think that the House remains very competitive," he added, pointing to a strong turnout operation that could save many incumbents in tossup races.

Republicans are fighting three forces: opposition to the war in Iraq, declining approval of the president, and historically low ratings for a Congress that struggled to produce notable achievements and that was often mired in partisanship.

The Democratic swing in the House is most evident in states east of the Mississippi River, where scandals, retirements and disaffection with the war have combined to put almost three dozen Republican-held seats at risk.

Ohio, the swing state that assured Bush's second-term victory, has turned into a Republican killing field. Republicans face the loss of the governorship and a Senate seat, and five GOP House districts are in danger of switching. Republicans fear the loss of other statewide races and at least one house of the state legislature.

Other GOP danger areas include Pennsylvania, where a Senate seat and five House incumbents are at risk, and Indiana, where Democrats could pick up three House seats. In New York, where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and gubernatorial candidate Eliot L. Spitzer (D) are cruising toward victory, Republicans are defending half a dozen House districts.

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