Democrats’ hopes for control of Senate fading

By LARRY MARGASAK

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Middle East politics in New York, race issues in Virginia and a Missouri widow’s extraordinary appeal for support of her dead husband have injected election-eve drama into three critical Senate campaigns.

But Democrats still face daunting odds Tuesday in capturing control from Republicans, who now hold a 54-46 majority in the Senate and have 35 of the 66 holdovers not up for election this year.

If Democrat Al Gore wins the White House, the odds become even longer. A re-election victory by Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate race would be wiped out when he becomes vice president and the state’s Republican governor appoints a Republican to the Senate.

Republicans have virtual locks on 12 of the 19 seats they are defending and are expected take away a seat from Democrats in Nevada. Democrats are safe in only 10 of their 15 seats at stake.

That leaves Democrats with the Herculean task of having to win 10 of the 11 still-contested races to wrest away control of the Senate. Republicans have to win only three of those races to keep it.

“You can make the case we can win each one, but know from history that you don’t win every close race,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for the Senate GOP campaign organization. “But we hold the upper hand in Nevada and Virginia and we have an opportunity for a trifecta election” – winning the White House, House and Senate.

A half-dozen Republican incumbents are locked in close races: John Ashcroft in Missouri, William Roth in Delaware, Spencer Abraham in Michigan, Slade Gorton in Washington, Conrad Burns in Montana and Rod Grams in Minnesota.

Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia is the only incumbent Democrat in a possible cliffhanger.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota refused to concede anything. “We’ve got momentum,” he said, joking to reporters last week that “this may be the last time you have to address me as minority leader.”

With each passing hour, the Missouri race is reserving additional pages in political science textbooks. Ashcroft is in danger of losing to the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed in an Oct. 16 plane crash but still on the ballot because it was too late to remove his name.

His widow, Jean, who has accepted her governor’s offer to take the seat by appointment if her husband wins, has broadcast an emotional appeal for “the values and beliefs that Mel Carnahan wanted to take to the United States Senate.”

In Virginia, Robb, the son-in-law of President Lyndon B. Johnson, has spent the last days of the campaign courting black voters, accusing his opponent of opposing a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. The attacks have forced Republican rival George Allen, a former governor, to respond with ads on black-oriented radio stations defending his record.

Against a backdrop of violence in the Middle East, New York’s Republican candidate, Rep. Rick Lazio, unleashed a late barrage of ads accusing his Democratic opponent, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, of accepting contributions from Arab-Americans with ties to Palestinian groups linked to terrorism.

Last week, Clinton returned $50,000 raised at an event attended by Boston-area Muslims. Some organizers of the event were quoted as defending violence against Israel.

In New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine has become the $60 million man, spending that much of his investment banking fortune for an open seat. A backlash has helped GOP Rep. Bob Franks keep the race close.

Maria Cantwell has spent more than $7.5 million of her personal funds trying to unseat Gorton in Washington state.

In Minnesota, another multimillionaire, Democrat Mark Dayton, has consistently polled ahead of Grams, who has been beset by personal and family problems. The race has tightened after ads on behalf of Grams accused Dayton of waffling over whether the government should require licensing and registration of firearms.

Roth, whose name is on IRAs that have become the retirement vehicles for millions of Americans, must convince Delaware voters that he’s physically fit at 79 to serve a sixth term. He has taken falls in public twice in the last several weeks from what doctors diagnosed as an inner-ear problem. His Democratic opponent, Gov. Tom Carper, has equal name recognition in the small state.

Abraham is trying to stave off a late, strong challenge in Michigan from Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow, who three weeks ago trailed by 17 points in some polls. United Auto Workers union members have the day off under their new contract and could help Stabenow.

In Montana, rancher Brian Schweitzer is the Democrats’ challenger to two-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns.

Other races for open seats are still tight in Florida and Nebraska. Democratic Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson held a narrowing lead in the polls over GOP Rep. Bill McCollum in Florida and former Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson had a slight edge over Republican Attorney General Don Stenberg in Nebraska.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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