Democrats say they "absolutely" will keep Senate

(CBS News) Despite what appears to be an uphill battle, Democrats are confident they will retain control of the Senate in this fall's election.

"We walked into this cycle with 23 seats to defend, the Republicans only had 10 seats to defend, and despite that fact, I think most pundits today would say that the Republicans have really hit a stumbling block in terms of recruitment, in terms of fundraising," Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told CBS News' Nancy Cordes on Wednesday.

The DSCC is the arm of the Democratic Party tasked with building a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Cecil cites his side's strong fundraising and candidate recruiting, including a record number of women candidates, as the reasons for his optimism.

"The reality is that we have put five Republican seats on the map out of 10," he said, referring to Republican-held seats in Massachusetts, Maine, Indiana, Nevada and Arizona. "And obviously, the more seats we pick up on their side, the more difficult a challenge it is for them to take back the majority."

Additionally, Republican primary battles have helped make the field stronger for Democrats, including Tuesday's GOP primary upset in Nebraska that could help the Democrats' chances of keeping that seat, held by retiring Sen. Ben Nelson.

In Nebraska's Republican Senate primary, State Sen. Deb Fischer beat out two top Republican candidates to win the nomination and will face former Sen. Bob Kerrey in the fall. Cecil says there's a lot to learn about Fischer, and Democrats will make the issue a choice between the two. "Fischer is an untested candidate. And there are a lot of questions that need to be asked about her business, about her service in the legislature, and we want to make sure that we ask those questions," he said.

More broadly though, the upset of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana, coupled with the Nebraska results, show a Republican party pushed far to the right. "Republicans have divisive, nasty, angry primaries happening all across the country. Obviously a lot of attention was paid in Indiana, but we're seeing this in a host of races, from Indiana to Nebraska to Missouri. And what it's doing is it's forcing Republican primary candidates farther and farther and farther to the right," Cecil said.

On another hot-button issue, Cecil says President Obama's recent announcement about his support for same-sex marriage won't hurt incumbent Democrats running in tough battles, like Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill or Montana's Jon Tester.

"A lot of our candidates, including Claire McCaskill, have already spoken on this issue," he said. "And our party, unlike the other side, is a party that is a big tent. And we're going to have different perspectives. The reality is that the majority of our caucus has come out in favor of marriage equality, and so I think in whole, it's not going to be much of an issue."

Overall, Cecil said the same-sex marriage issue -- coupled with a new ultimatum from House Republicans over cutting the nation's debt without raising taxes -- helps show voters that Democrats are the more sensible of the two parties.

"I think there are clear differences in the priorities between the two sides. Republicans want to balance the budget by eviscerating Medicare and Medicaid, by cutting Pell Grants, at the same time that they won't fight to reduce the interest rates on student loans by half," he said. "I don't think that's a message that the American people want to hear. And I think it's another proof point on how far right the Republican party has gone."

One strong headwind going against the Democrats are the hundreds of millions of dollars expected to be poured into this election by outside groups and super PACs that lean heavily toward Republicans. While Democratic candidates and the committee have outraised their Republican counterparts, those gains are erased by super PAC spending.

"There's no question that super PACs have changed the dynamic. We have already, as of today, had $35 million spent against Senate Democrats by super PACs and by the Chamber of Congress," said Cecil. "Democrats want to change campaign finance, not just because it's right for us but because it's what's right for the country. We're going to do everything we can to compete. We don't believe we can match them dollar for dollar, but we do think in our races across the country we can be competitive."

  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

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