G.O.P. Facing Tougher Battle for Congress
WASHINGTON — The economic upheaval is threatening to topple Republican Congressional candidates, putting more Senate and House seats within Democratic reach less than a month before the elections, lawmakers and campaign strategists say.
KENTUCKY Senator Mitch McConnell, right, with his Democratic challenger, Bruce Lunsford. Mr. Lunsford has gained ground in some polls, but Republicans believe they will hold on to the seat. Top campaign officials for both parties, pollsters and independent experts say the intense focus on the economic turmoil and last week’s bailout vote have combined to rapidly expand a Democratic advantage in Congressional contests. Analysts now predict a Democratic surge on a scale that seemed unlikely just weeks ago, with even some Republicans in traditional strongholds fighting for their political careers, and Democratic leaders dreaming of ironclad majorities.
In North Carolina, Senator Elizabeth Dole, a former Republican presidential contender and cabinet member, is teetering. In Kentucky, the opponent of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has drawn even in some polls, though Republicans say they believe he will win.
Democrats say they feel confidently ahead in five Senate races where they hope to pick up Republican seats, and they believe their candidates are running competitively in seven more.
In the House, Democrats say they could capture a dozen of the 26 Republican seats left open by retirements, and challengers are closing in on Republican incumbents in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New York and elsewhere.
“The last week has severely damaged Republican candidates,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan analyst who predicts that Democrats could gain as many as six to nine Senate seats and 25 to 30 House seats. “Everything points to warning signals for Republicans.”
If such projections by Mr. Rothenberg and others are realized, it would push Senate Democrats tantalizingly close to the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority that has eluded Senate leaders since the late 1970s. While the environment could change again in the remaining weeks, recent polling suggests a fundamental shift, with Republicans absorbing more of the blame for the economic uncertainty.