In the Senate, hope for the Democrats after all

A new round of polls shows Democrats with a shot at taking control in November.

Published October 2, 2006 2:21PM (EDT)

Rep. Mark Foley has just checked himself into alcohol rehab, but it's the Republicans he left behind who could probably use a drink just now. Foley's resignation from the House puts one more Republican seat in play in November, and a new round of polling suggests that Democrats' hopes of winning the Senate may not be as slim as we've been predicting. Democrats need a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate in November, and new MSNBC/McClatchy Newspapers polls indicate that the magic number isn't an impossible one if a lot of close races break the Democrats' way.

The first two pickups should be relatively easy ones. Montana Republican Conrad Burns and Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum continue to trail their Democratic opponents by substantial margins. A Lee Newspapers poll has Burns trailing Jon Tester by seven points, and MSNBC/McClatchy has Santorum trailing Bob Casey Jr. by nine points. If those polls hold through Election Day, Democrats pick up two seats right there.

So where do Democrats get four more seats? By MSNBC's accounting, five other races for seats currently held by the GOP are pretty much tied right now. George Allen and Jim Webb are tied in Virginia; Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown are tied in Ohio; Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill are tied in Missouri; Lincoln Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse are a point apart in Rhode Island; and Bob Corker and Harold Ford Jr. are a point apart in Tennessee.

Now, a tie in October doesn't translate automatically to a win in November, and Democrats need to win four of these five races -- and hold on to Bob Menendez's seat in New Jersey -- to take control of the Senate in November. That's a lot to expect. But it's probably safe to say that incumbent Republicans like George Allen never expected to be running neck-and-neck with Democratic challengers with just a month to go before the voting starts. Mason-Dixon pollster Bob Coker tells McClatchy Newspapers: "These numbers look very encouraging for the Democrats to take control of the Senate."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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