Polling remains tight in a number of critical Senate races, but that doesn’t mean some national party types aren’t already pulling their chips off the table to fight another day.
In North Carolina, where Republican Rep. Richard Burr has been showing slight momentum gains over the past three weeks, word out of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is that it is pulling its resources in the Tar Heel state for its nominee, Erskine Bowles.
Those DSCC resources are said to be headed to Florida where Dem Betty Castor remains neck and neck with Republican Mel Martinez.
“We probably do more good for the party in Florida than we do in North Carolina,” says a Democratic Senate staffer. “A Castor win, or a Kerry win in Florida, is way more important in the national scheme of things.”
Still, a Bowles loss in North Carolina would be a huge blow to a state party that thought they had a candidate who was running well and much improved since his loss to Elizabeth Dole two years ago. In fact, Bowles until recently appeared to have bested Burr in the opinion polls.
Elsewhere, in Oklahoma, another toss-up state, Republican Tom Coburn appears to have righted his listing ship and is pulling away from Democratic challenger, Brad Carson. Coburn’s situation had appeared precarious, with Coburn never having more than a point or two lead in a state that was thought to be a Republican slam dunk. But according to Senate sources, Coburn’s strengthened position is the result of Sen. Bill Frist making a trip to the Sooner state and offering assistance to the Coburn camp, including additional resources for advertising and voter outreach.
“[Frist] and [National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman George] Allen did what had to be done,” says an RNC staffer. “This wasn’t a seat we could afford to lose.”
With a week to go, Republicans in the Senate find themselves in a considerably stronger position than they appeared to be in just a few weeks ago, with questions in Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alaska, and even some doubts about Kentucky when rumors about Sen. Jim Bunning‘s health reared their head.
Today, only Colorado and Alaska appear to be unstable, but in a way that gives some Republicans hope. In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has shown surprising strength in a race many Republicans had given up when former Gov. Tony Knowles entered the race. And in Colorado, Pete Coors‘ situation remains uncertain, with some polls showing him within the margin of error, and others showing him slightly further back.
The biggest surprise could come out of Louisiana, where Republican David Vitter appears will almost certainly make the cut in the open election there for that open Senate seat. However, polls indicate that Vitter will almost certainly have to face a runoff election against a Democratic opponent. Vitter has placed far ahead of his main Democratic competition, Rep. Chris John and state Treasurer John Kennedy. Polls consistently give him the support of more than 40 percent of the voters polled. The challenge for Vitter will be to up that 40% to a clear majority in his runoff.
“We at least pick up two or three seats,” says a Republican Senate staffer. “A few months ago, I’m not sure we could be so certain about that. Wins by Vitter and Martinez will just be icing on the cake.”