"Financial woes boost Democrats in Congress races
"By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS – 3 hours ago
"WASHINGTON (AP) — The financial turmoil that has devastated the stock market is also battering Republicans in congressional races, giving Democrats a chance to topple GOP incumbents once considered safe and wrest seats in pivotal districts and states.
"Voters' deepening anxiety about the economy following the enactment of a $700 billion financial industry bailout has created the conditions, just over three weeks from the Nov. 4 election, for an anti-Republican tide that could hand Democrats insurmountable majorities on both sides of the Capitol, according to lawmakers and strategists in both parties.
"It is hurting every Republican across the board. This environment has just become very toxic for us," said Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio. "It could very easily be a wave" in Democrats' favor.
"Majority Democrats who hold a 51-49 Senate majority now have solid leads in five races, realistic chances of picking up as many as nine seats and believe they are within reach of their longer-shot goal of capturing 60 seats.
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"Even the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has lost ground against Democrat Bruce Lunsford, although both Chambliss and McConnell still lead in most public polls. McConnell wrote constituents a lengthy letter this past week defending his vote for the government rescue plan.
"It's not the bailout itself. It's the conditions leading up to needing the bailout and the difficulty in the economy that is sending voters in our direction," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., his party's Senate campaign committee chief.
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"Deepening economic worries have cost Republican presidential nominee John McCain ground at a crucial point in the race, and had the same impact on GOP candidates, said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the GOP's House campaign chief.
"If anybody thinks this issue has hit each side equally just look at (McCain's) numbers," Cole said. "It's made a difficult situation much more challenging" for congressional Republicans.
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"Republicans already were facing an uphill battle in congressional races this year. They started out at a numerical disadvantage, having to defend many more seats than Democrats because more of them were retiring. In the Senate, a quirk of the political calendar added to their challenge: Republicans are defending 23 seats this year and Democrats' 12. All 435 House seats — including one vacancy — are up for grabs.
"Democrats have solid chances to win five Senate seats by unseating incumbent Sens. Ted Stevens in Alaska and John E. Sununu in New Hampshire, and capturing up-for-grabs seats in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. Polls indicate they have realistic shots at Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Dole in North Carolina and Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, and in a special election against Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi to serve out the remainder of retired Sen. Trent Lott's term.
"Chambliss and McConnell would be icing on the cake.
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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.