Campaign '06 Heads For Home

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaks with former President Bill Clinton at a rally Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006 in Upper Marlboro, Md. Clinton was in attendance to endorse Sen. Cardin for the Senate and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley for governor. O'Malley will be competing for the governor's seat currently held by Robert Ehrlich and Sen. Cardin will be up against republican nominee Michael Steele. (AP Photo/Matt Houston) AP Photo/Matt Houston

The battle for control of Congress is in its final hours — and both sides are pulling out all the stops, putting their most visible party members on the campaign trail, reports CBS News correspondent Aleen Sirgany.

President Bush is rallying for Republicans in three states Monday — Florida, Arkansas and Texas. But in Florida, GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist skipped a scheduled appearance with the president to campaign elsewhere in the state. He insisted it had nothing to do with Mr. Bush's approval ratings.

The Democrats are counting on star power from big names such as former President Bill Clinton and his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. They campaigned in Virginia for Senate challenger Jim Webb and Rhode Island for Senate candidate Sheldon Whitehouse.

Republicans and Democrats sent thousands of volunteers to states with the most contested races to work phone banks and canvass neighborhoods to turn out voters.

Up for grabs are 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, governorships in 36 states, and thousands of state legislative and local races. In 37 states, voters also will determine the fate of ballot initiatives, including whether to ban gay marriage, raise the minimum wage, endorse expanded embryonic stem cell research and — in South Dakota — impose the country's most stringent abortion restrictions.

A CBS News analysis shows 52 competitive House races, nearly all of them involving Republican seats. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to take control of Congress.

"The question now is whether it's going to be a good or a great night for the Democrats," said CBS News political consultant Stu Rothenberg.

Democrats have had a double-digit advantage in recent weeks, but according to at least one poll, it looks like Republicans are staging a comeback. The Pew Research Center poll shows the Democrats hold a 47-43 percent lead for the House among likely voters; that's down from 50-39 percent just two weeks ago.

Most polls show the Democrats are likely to take over the House; the Senate is a much more difficult proposition.

Among the key Senate races to watch:

  • In Rhode Island, Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who had been written off by some observers, has narrowed the gap with Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse to 3 points in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll.
  • In the battle for Maryland's open Senate seat, Democrat Ben Cardin, who had held a comfortable lead over Republican Michael Steele, now leads by just 3 points in the latest Mason Dixon poll, while a SurveyUSA poll shows the race even.
  • In Montana, where Republican Sen. Conrad Burns had been struggling, polls are inconclusive, either showing Burns and Democrat Jim Tester tied (Mason-Dixon), or Tester with a 9-point lead (USA Today/Gallup).
  • In Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker may be pulling away from Democratic Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., in the race to replace retiring GOP Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Corker leads by 12 points in the latest poll from the Chattanooga Times Free Press & Memphis Commercial Appeal.

    Two other Republican senators, George Allen of Virginia and Jim Talent of Missouri, are locked in dead heats with their Democratic opponents, while GOP Sens. Rick Santorum and Sen. Mike DeWine of Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively, trail their Democratic challengers and are considered in serious trouble.

    Among Democratic incumbents, only Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey was considered in any danger. He held a 48-43 percent edge over Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. in a new Quinnipiac University poll. Other recent polls have given the Democrat as much as a 10-point lead.

    Republicans are hoping their acclaimed get-out-the-vote operation will ensure majority control. But some say privately they have a slim chance of retaining the House after a grueling campaign centered on turmoil in Iraq, President Bush's sagging approval numbers, political scandals and corruption investigations.

    "It's hard to see a scenario where the Democrats don't pick up the House," Joe Lockhart, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, told Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Monday. "I think Democrats are privately worried that their supporters have seen this lead for so long now — weeks and weeks — and the people are going to become complacent."

    Republican political consultant Nicole Wallace told The Early Show that despite the Republicans' problems with political scandals and the Iraq war's growing unpopularity, the GOP is "privately a little excited" that the midterm elections are so tight.

    Republicans repeated their assertion that Democrats would raise taxes and prematurely pull out of Iraq if they controlled Congress. Democrats pressed their case for change, arguing that Republicans on Capitol Hill blindly have followed President Bush's "failed policy."

    Iraq has dominated the campaign season, and Republicans and Democrats sparred over the war again Sunday following Saddam Hussein's conviction on crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to die by hanging; an appeal is planned.

    "I think there is a lot of energy on the Democratic side. It was inevitable that the Republicans on their side would start to come back a little. But from early indications from our side, our field operation, I feel good about it," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic effort, told reporters in a conference call today.

    Said Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman in a memo: "New polls say our party is heading into Election Day with strong momentum."
    • Christine Lagorio

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