The Battle for the Senate: Eight Key Races

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As all eyes focus on the race for the White House, we take a look at some of the Senate races across the country that will determine which party controls the next Senate on November 2nd. We speak with Ron Faucheux of Campaigns & Elections magazine’s Political Oddsmaker, an online elections handicapping service. [includes rush transcript]

With just five days to go before the November 2nd election, President Bush and John Kerry are focusing their campaign efforts only on states designated as key battleground states in their bid for the presidency. While the race for the White House appears too close to call, the battle for the Senate is even more uncertain.

Republicans currently rule the 100-member Senate over Democrats by 51 to 48, with one independent who usually votes Democratic. Heading into the homestretch of the 2004 election, the two-party tug-of-war over the Senate essentially comes down to eight key races seats.

Five of the eight are currently held by Democrats: South Dakota, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The GOP holds the other three: Alaska, Colorado and Oklahoma.

Today we take a look at some of those closely fought Senate races that will determine which party controls the Senate majority on November 2nd.

  • Ron Faucheux, contributor Campaigns & Elections magazine and producer of the Political Oddsmaker, an online elections handicapping service. He teaches at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Faucheux is our guest, contributor to Campaigns and Elections magazine, and producer of the Political Oddsmaker, an online elections handicapping service. He teaches at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RON FAUCHEUX: Thank you. Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Why don’t you run through the key races?

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, basically, you have six democratic seats that are highly vulnerable and at risk right now: the Georgia seat, which will probably go republican; then you have five seats — Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, South Dakota and South Carolina — that could go either way. Those are all democratic seats. The problem for democrats is all five of those races are in what you would call Bush red states, states that President Bush carried four years ago, which means they’re not in particularly favorable territory for the democrats, although they have a shot to hold some of them, perhaps even most of them. Then you have five republican seats that are in trouble. The top one, of course, is Illinois, and that one is gone. The democrats should easily pick that up. Then you have four seats now that are republican and are very much at risk. One is Alaska. The other is Colorado. Then you have Oklahoma, and in recent weeks, Kentucky has been put on that list because of the behavior of the republican incumbent.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to focus on South Dakota, what’s being called the most important race outside the president’s race that involves the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle.

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, you have Tom Daschle, who is the minority leader. He is a target for republicans all over the country. He is a very powerful, smart politician, who has been able to get elected and re-elected in a conservative republican state. He is being challenged by John Thune, who is a former member of the House, elected at large. John Thune ran a very strong losing race for the U.S. Senate two years ago. He only lost it by about 500 votes. So it’s a very tight race. On the polls that came out in the last few days, one shows Daschle ahead by two points, one shows Thune ahead by four points, so this is a very close election that could go either way. President Bush would do very well in the state, which might provide some wind behind Thune’s back. But if Daschle is defeated, and it is possible that he could lose this one, it probably would be the big Senate story of the night.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Indian vote is considered absolutely key. Tim Johnson, that 500 votes he won by in the last election for Senate, coming from Native Americans, particularly from the Pine Ridge Reservation, and then they passed in South Dakota, the republicans, the bill that required I.D., but because you cannot require I.D. for voting they have a kind of amendment to it that says, well, then they would have to sign an affidavit if they didn’t have I.D., so there’s a lot of concern about challenging of votes in this election.

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, there was a lot of controversy about those votes when they were cast last time and how they were cast, and whether proper identifications were there, so this has been a running controversy for a couple of years, and my guess is that this race is close. It’s going to be a running controversy that goes well beyond November 2.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about Kentucky? You have got the republican — the baseball icon there, Jim Bunning, and what’s the situation in Kentucky right now?

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, basically, the last non-partisan media poll showed Jim Bunning, the republican incumbent, with about a 6 point lead. The democrats put out a poll a couple of days ago that showed Bunning’s lead down to 1%. You know, here you have an incumbent who was avoiding debates, and made some unusual, really strange public statements over the last several weeks, and it kept — it kept going on and on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that? It’s more than strange. When you say avoiding debates. He didn’t show up at the debate that he was there for. The previous debate he apparently didn’t allow anyone in, and it turned out he was doing it from a remote location with the teleprompter.


AMY GOODMAN: There’s a lot of questions about his mental stability right now.

RON FAUCHEUX: Right. Doing it from a remote location with a teleprompter was a clear violation of the rules of the debate, and there was a big dispute over that within the state. And a number of newspaper editorials have questioned the senator’s both physical and mental fitness to be in public office, whether that’s true or not, I have no idea. But nevertheless, the way he has handled himself, handled this campaign, took a race that was basically a pretty easy republican win a couple of months ago and turned it into a very close election. Now, Bunning still has the lead, and he’s probably still the favorite, but any time a candidate sort of collapses a couple of weeks before an election the way his campaign seemed to, you know, it certainly has the opportunity to build back up in the strength and back up again to get him past the finish line, but I think it’s a big question mark, and it’s an important race because, you know, when one party only has a one-vote lead with the senate majority as the republicans do, it doesn’t take much to flip this thing, and we have right now —

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I could ask you, what about his opponent, Bunning’s opponent?

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, Bunning’s opponent, I think, you know, I mean, largely he was an unknown figure in state politics up until this point. So, he hasn’t really been that big of a factor in terms of whether people are voting for him or not. At this stage of the game, the attention is really on Bunning right now.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And that’s state senator Daniel Mongiardo. He was considered as much as 20 percentage points behind Bunning…

RON FAUCHEUX: Right. Exactly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: …at the beginning of the campaign, so this has been a really dramatic change, hasn’t it?

RON FAUCHEUX: It’s been the biggest turn-around in any senate race we have seen this year.

AMY GOODMAN: It may not help that he’s saying — Bunning is saying that he thinks he’s being pursued by al-Qaeda and he accused his opponent of looking like the son of Saddam Hussein. Finally, Colorado, just a brief hit on Colorado. Description.

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, Colorado’s an open senate seat. The incumbent, republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell is not running for re-election. The democratic candidate, Attorney General Salazar, has a lead in the recent polls that have come out in the last few days. He is running against Pete Coors, the republican candidate, who is known for his affiliation with the Coors Beer Company. It’s a very close election. Colorado generally leans republican, in these kinds of races. They had a big republican win two years ago when the incumbent, who looked like he was going to be defeated, pulled out an election day surprise victory, so you never know what’s going to happen there. But as it stands now, Salazar has a small lead in this race.

AMY GOODMAN: Salazar would stand to be the first Hispanic in the Senate since Montoya in New Mexico in the 1960s. I would assume that this will turn out a large Hispanic vote at the polls in Colorado, won’t it?

RON FAUCHEUX: I would think it would, and last polls in the presidential race are showing it very, very close. Colorado is a state that President Bush carried with some points to spare four years ago, and John Kerry is doing well in Colorado now, as is the democratic candidate for the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Faucheux, in 2000, you predicted every single race right, except Oregon, which was about a 1 percentage point off, went to the democrat, Ron Wyden, but right now, your prediction for the Senate, and then for the president?

RON FAUCHEUX: Well, right now, I’m still predicting that the republicans will maintain control of the Senate, hold the 51 seats they have. It’s possible they could go up to 52. It’s possible they could go down to 50, assuming that the president’s re-elected. As it stands now, we still have President Bush as a very, very, very slight favorite in the presidential race. That has slipped some in recent days. And I think this presidential race is unsettled, and I don’t think it’s won or lost yet by either side. I think it’s still going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us. Ron Faucheux, contributor to Campaigns and Elections magazine, producer of Political Oddsmaker, an online elections handicapping service.

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