Eyes On The Prize: Fight For The Senate

Claire McCaskill, Missouri candidate for senator, gets a show of hands as she speaks at the Jasper County Democratic headquarters in Joplin, Mo., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006. (AP Photo/The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown)
AP Photo/The Joplin Globe
President Bush headed west Thursday to begin a six-day blitz of campaign appearances, predicting once again that the GOP would retain control of the House and Senate in next week's midterm elections.

Mr. Bush fired up a friendly Republican crowd in Billings, Mont., during a stop meant to give a boost to Sen. Conrad Burns' re-election hopes.

"We will win these elections because we understand the values and priorities of the American people," Mr. Bush said. "We are going to win because we have an optimistic and hopeful agenda."

Burns is struggling to win re-election to a fourth term, facing attacks for accepting contributions from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Unlike some other GOP incumbents who are decidedly distancing themselves from the president, his low approval ratings and his Iraq policy, Burns asked for Mr. Bush's help in getting out the vote in this state that twice helped put him in the White House.

But with Bush's approval rating so low — the latest CBS News/New York Times poll has Mr. Bush at 34 percent, 28 points lower than on the eve of the last midterms — his visit might not help, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Asked about the House of Representatives, 52 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democrat running in their district and 34 percent said the Republican.

Forty percent of those polled said they were voting against President Bush, while just 14 percent said they were voting to support the president.

Read the complete CBS News poll results.
The poll showed nearly seven in 10 voters saying Mr. Bush does not have a plan for Iraq. The president's job approval rating remains at 34 percent.

If George Bush had a 55, 60 percent job approval rating, I think he could help carry Conrad Burns to another term. But as it is now, Burns is on his own and that's a problem," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

Despite Bush's low approval, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports the president is giving no ground on Iraq. He told The Associated Press Wednesday that he wants Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to stay on the job for the rest of his term.

Republicans handed out about 5,000 free tickets to the event at MetraPark Arena, aimed at rallying Burns supporters in the final days of his tough campaign against Democratic challenger Jon Tester.

Mr. Bush was scheduled to campaign in Nevada later in the day after delivering his late morning comments. His visit comes one day after Vice President Dick Cheney visited Montana's Flathead Valley to stump for Burns and other Republican candidates.

Mr. Bush said Republicans are "sprinting to the finish line" in the final days before Election Day and joked that Democrats are "already measuring the drapes for their new offices" in Washington.

"They think this election is already over," he said. "They don't understand that the people of Montana haven't voted yet."

But the Democrats have one thing this year that they haven't had in years past — plenty of money. So much so that they're almost at parity with the Republicans, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.

They also have the support of many independent voters, reports CBS News Face The Nation anchor Bob Schieffer. "We're seeing something we haven't seen in a long, long time. We have half the people who have identified themselves as independents saying they intend to vote for the Democrats. We haven't had independents break towards the Democrats since 1986."

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, Mr. Bush's opponent in the 2004 race for the White House, was regrouping a day after apologizing to service members for remarks that many interpreted as an insult to U.S. forces in Iraq — and which knocked him off the campaign trail, at least temporarily.

Kerry had been campaigning actively for Democratic candidates from coast to coast, but canceled appearances in three states after a furor generated by his remarks Monday evening at a California college.

The Massachusetts senator's future role in the run-up to next Tuesday's election was uncertain as Democratic Senate candidates from Montana to New York distanced themselves from his remark.

Rep. Harold Ford, seeking to win a Senate seat for Democrats in Tennessee, was among those calling for Kerry to apologize to the troops Wednesday, a few hours before he did so.

Kerry apologized to "any service member, family member or American" offended by remarks deemed by Republicans and some Democrats alike to be insulting to U.S. forces in Iraq. Kerry has characterized the remarks as the result of a botched joke.

But six days before the election, he said, he wanted to avoid becoming a distraction in the final days of the battle for control of Congress. He added he sincerely regretted that his words were "misinterpreted to imply anything negative about those in uniform."

In a brief statement, Kerry attacked the president for a "failed security policy." Yet his apology, issued after prominent Democrats had urged him to cancel public appearances, was designed to quell a controversy that party leaders feared would stall their drive for big gains on Nov. 7.