Washington Prowler

The Senate in Jeopardy

It's not Republicans who are worried, but the DNC's Terry McAuliffe -- who thinks he'll find other consolations.

By 6.17.02

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Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe isn't sure his colleagues in the Senate can hang on in the upcoming mid-term elections. He's telling friends that while he's hopeful that Democrats can pick up seats in Arkansas (where former Sen. David Pryor's son is challenging Tim Hutchinson), New Hampshire and possibly in South Carolina, he doubts Dems will hold seats in South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri (even though, although polling numbers indicate all three are still too close to call).

"It looks like at best we come out where we start, with barely a majority. Maybe we're back to 50-50," says a DNC analyst. "But the big one for us on a bunch of levels is South Dakota."

That's where current Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is being challenged by Republican Rep. John Thune. "Given that it's Tom Daschle's home state, we can't afford to lose it. That would be embarrassing," says the DNC-er. "If we have to put a Democratic operative on every street corner of whatever city is actually in South Dakota to drum up votes, we'll do it. South Dakota is not loseable."

Already, according to other DNC sources, McAuliffe and his cohorts have committed close to $1 million of DNC money to make sure Thune doesn't win. But that million probably doesn't trump the many millions the Bush Administration sent South Dakota's way in the recent agriculture bill, nor will it trump the many trips George W. Bush and Dick Cheney plan to make over the next five months to stump for Thune.

Where McAuliffe is crowing, and where Republicans may regret their seeming lack of interest, is over the gubernatorial races around the country. Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Mexico are expected to fall into Democratic hands, ensuring that a majority of state governorships will be controlled by Democrats for the first time in almost a decade.

"Governorships used to be a big deal for Republicans, because if you controlled the governorship, your state party had a leg up for federal or national elections," says a Democratic political consultant in Chicago. "But when the dust clears, the Republicans will probably have Florida and New York, and in terms of big real estate, that's about it."

Despite the crowing of McAuliffe and the Democrats about their gubernatorial coups, these may not be as great as they think. Recall that the Bush 2000 team thought it had an advantage with all those Republican governors in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. "And couldn't to squat with them," says an RNC advance staffer.

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