It was the perfect storm. Already
trailing, the Democratic Party would have to safeguard 19 Senate
seats (four more than their Republican counterparts), six of which
reside below the Mason Dixon Line, and five of the six which were
to be fought without the weapon of incumbency. No more than six
months ago, November’s Senate elections were a foregone
conclusion — an early Christmas celebration for the GOP.

Sam Singer

For the Democrats’ part, the ‘duck and cover’
strategy seemed most sensible. If they picked their battles
carefully, the analysts held, the Dems could count their losses and
limp away only slightly wounded.

But to the disbelief of forecasters, the Democrats have launched
an electoral blitzkrieg over the last half-year, saturating
presumed Republican districts with a flood of candid and
hard-hitting competitors. With the help of some record-shattering
fundraising, gigantic pre-primary consolidation efforts, and an
extremely feeble President, the Democratic Senatorial campaign has
evolved into a well-oiled political machine. The notion of a power
shift in the Senate, once out of reach and impractical, has now
found a grounding in reality.

Not counting in their rank-and-file Jim Jeffords, the
left-leaning independent Senator from Vermont, the Democrats face a
thin 51-48 GOP majority. And assuming nature doesn’t deviate
from its constant state of equilibrium and no incumbents are upset
in the 21 or so “safe races,” the Democrats have
approximately 13 competitive contests to mount their coup

Most of the heavy combat will occur in the south, where the
simultaneous retirement of five prominent Southern Democrats has
left the party dangerously susceptible to Republican encroachment.
In South Carolina for example, the departure of seven-term legend
Ernest Hollings was generally accepted as the end of the Democratic
dynasty in the Palmetto State. Recognizing this, party leadership
preemptively vacated the primary — mobilizing early behind
state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum. With a head start,
the self-acclaimed social conservative had time to strap on her
body armor while U.S. Rep. Jim Demint, the Republican contestant,
was still sparring for the nomination. Given her constituency,
Tenenbaum’s polling numbers have been tremendous, and the
formerly locked up district is now too close to call.

Just due north, Democrats have unearthed a treasure trove to
fill the void left by the exiting John Edwards. Former White House
Deputy Chief of Staff Erksine Bowles, an admired warrior of the
Clinton Administration and one of the masterminds behind the
balanced budget of the mid-’90s, now holds a 10-point margin
over U.S. Rep. Richard Burr.

In Georgia, House freshman Denise Majette’s lofty bid to
replace Zell Miller has become a political Cinderella story, and
the spiritually inspired millionaire’s effort has made a big
splash. And though the Bayou state is tilting right, a fierce
Republican primary in Louisiana has GOP leadership anticipating a
Democratic move to unite behind U.S. Rep. Chris Johns. Bob
Graham’s seat is still up for grabs in Florida, but expect to
see former University of Southern Florida President Betty Castor on
the Democratic ticket.

To the west, the campaign takes on a more offensive tinge as the
Dems advance to fill GOP vacancies across the country. In Oklahoma,
another crowded Republican primary has put retiring Republican Don
Nickles’ seat in jeopardy, and after a Republican implosion
in the Land of Lincoln, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama has all
but sealed the deal.

The Colorado race is my favorite. In the GOP corner is beer
magnate Pete Coors, a fringe-libertarian whose platform includes a
lower drinking age. His opponent (and you have to admire the
Democrats’ boldness): the Colorado Attorney General Ken
Salazar. Unless University of Colorado, Boulder students are alone
at the polls this November, Salazar will probably ride this one
out. Then there’s Alaska, where GOP incumbent Lisa Murkowski,
having been appointed by her father in 2002 when he abdicated his
seat for a gubernatorial bid, is scrambling to deflect allegations
of nepotism.

A dark-horse story from the beginning, the Democrats are closing
ranks, and as the GOP continues to lose traction, anticipate an
exciting November.

Singer can be reached at

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