Democrats Press Battle For 60 Seats In Senate

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 27 -- Their moments came outside prime time, but the candidates Senate Democratic leaders hope will propel them to their biggest majority in decades also had their time in the spotlight at the Democratic convention.

After spending months trying to tamp down expectations, Democrats are openly discussing the possibility that they could net the nine seats that would bring them to the magic number of 60, a tally that would make it much more difficult for Republicans to filibuster their agenda in Congress next year. With that goal in sight, Democrats are working to energize activists in Denver to focus their agenda not only on Barack Obama's campaign but also on an array of races from Oregon to North Carolina, many of which were once viewed as all but out of reach for the party.

"Embrace it? Sure, it's like the beautiful girl I can't reach, but I'd love to embrace her," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an interview this week.

On the stump and in e-mail solicitations to supporters, Senate Democrats are arguing that electing Obama and running mate Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the White House won't allow their party to reach its goals unless they have a large enough majority to quickly enact the Obama agenda.

"Unless we give them a filibuster-proof Senate majority that can finally end the obstruction, we'll never put this country back on track," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) wrote to DSCC donors recently.

Neither party has held 60 seats in the chamber since 1977 and 1978, when Democrats controlled 61 seats. Republicans still reject the idea that Democrats can win in conservative states such as Texas, Mississippi or Kentucky, some of which would need to fall to Democrats for them to reach 60. There are currently 49 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them in the chamber, facing off against 49 Republicans.

Stuart Rothenberg, an independent election analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report, estimated that if the elections were held today, Democrats would pick up at least five Republican-held seats. He cited Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, where veteran GOP lawmakers are retiring, and New Hampshire and Alaska, where polling shows Republican incumbents trailing.

Schumer pointed to six other races in which Democratic candidates are either tied or not far behind, including North Carolina. An independent poll this week put state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), 42 percent to 39 percent.

The DSCC has an $18 million edge over its GOP counterpart, but Republicans have been buoyed in recent weeks by the work of several conservative outside groups that have aired ads accusing the Democratic candidates of doing the bidding of labor unions and opposing offshore oil drilling.

Here in Colorado, television viewers have been treated to more than $6.8 million worth of ads attacking Rep. Mark Udall (D), according to Udall campaign estimates.

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