The race between Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and his GOP challenger, Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss, has tightened, prompting both parties to turn to their heavy hitters as they scramble for an edge in the campaign's final days.
President Bush has scheduled campaign stops Saturday in Georgia on Chambliss's behalf, and Democrats are running a new TV ad featuring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) defending Cleland against claims that Chambliss has more in common with Miller than Cleland does.
Miller is more conservative than Cleland but strongly supports him, despite GOP efforts to drive a wedge between the two.
A recent independent poll showed Cleland's lead, once double digits, down to about 6 percentage points. Democrats say this is in line with their private polling, while Republicans say the gap is about half that.
Democrats say they always thought the race would narrow. "Statewide contests in Georgia are always close, and this is no exception," said Cleland campaign spokesman Jamal Simmons. But Republicans say it represents a significant shift toward Chambliss that is moving the race toward the tossup category.
Democrats say Chambliss's negative ads have taken a toll. Under fire for questioning the patriotism of Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, Chambliss eliminated pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein from an ad criticizing his opponent. But he continued to run the ad without the pictures.
When former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) accused former vice president Walter F. Mondale a few days ago of supporting Social Security privatization and a higher retirement eligibility age, Republicans believed they had found a way to undercut the presumed Minnesota Senate candidate in Tuesday's election against GOP nominee Norm Coleman. But there was a little problem: Gingrich apparently had his facts wrong.
Gingrich, a Washington-based consultant, made the comments Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Democrats expect Mondale to take the ballot spot of Paul D. Wellstone, the Democratic senator who died in a plane crash Friday.
Gingrich said Republicans should tell voters, "if you want to raise your retirement age dramatically and privatize Social Security, Walter Mondale is a terrifically courageous guy to say that."
He apparently was referring to a commission Mondale chaired for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It recommended a switch to "market-based financing" in public pension systems in major developed countries around the world. But Mondale led a group that dissented from that recommendation, as well as another that called for an increase in retirement eligibility ages.
"Although we support the commission's role in providing leadership in the global aging debate, we are strongly opposed to some of the commission's findings and recommendations," Mondale wrote as a dissenting group member. "Some of the commission's findings and recommendations could be interpreted as mandates to fundamentally change Social Security and Medicare."
Safest Bet Tuesday: Sun Rises
Pundits are nearly unanimous in predicting the GOP will retain control of the House in Tuesday's elections, but some Democrats refuse to abandon hope. The irrepressible Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) sent colleagues a memo reminding them that Democrats did better than the conventional wisdom in 1998, and Republicans surprised the forecasters in 1994.
"Pundits, it turns out, are actually a contrarian indicator," Waxman wrote. "Based on recent history, the smart bet is that the 2002 elections will again confound their prediction."
Well, maybe so. But handicappers of House races haven't been as off-target as Waxman suggests. Consider this record posted by Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report:
Rothenberg's prediction for next Tuesday? Anything from a one-seat Democratic gain to a two-seat GOP pickup.
Staff writer Dana Milbank and washingtonpost.com staff writer Terry M. Neal contributed to this report.