Sixty In His Sights

With GOP candidates warning about the consequences of Democrats controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Sen. Chuck Schumer challenged the Republican Party's commitment to divided government on Wednesday.

"They're not for checks and balances," said Schumer. "They're for blocking change and backing Bush."

Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Schumer argued that pleas for divided government work when times are good but predicted that current GOP efforts to scare voters about the unchecked influence of Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would fall on deaf ears because the public's appetite for change is "at least" as big as it has been since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was first elected.

Schumer, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), made his comments six days before an election in which his party is poised to make significant gains including the possibility of winning a filibuster-proof 60 seat majority.

Schumer said Democrats, who currently have effective control on 51 seats, are significantly ahead in five pick-up opportunities (Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Alaska). He said Democrats find themselves "a little bit ahead" or roughly even in an additional six pick-up opportunities (North Carolina, Oregon, Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi, and Kentucky).

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is the lone Democratic incumbent to have faced any significant competition this year but she now finds herself comfortably ahead, according to Schumer.

On what he called the "$64,000 question" of whether Democrats would reach 60 Senate seats, Schumer once again called it possible without guaranteeing it.

"It's hard to get to that 60 and I don't want to oversell it," said Schumer. "It's hard because it's lots of very Red States."

The 60-seat question may not be settled until Dec. 2, according to Schumer.

That's the date when Georgia would hold a run-off between incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. A Senate run-off is triggered in the Peach State if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. A run-off in Georgia is possible because of the closeness of the contest between the two major-party candidates and the presence in the race of Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley.

Schumer said he has not seen polling in Alaska since a Washington, DC, jury convicted Republican Sen. Alaska Ted Stevens on seven counts of failing to report gifts.

The DSCC chair expressed confidence, however, that Democrats would win the Alaska Senate seat, adding that Anchorage Democratic Mayor Mark Begich would be helped by calls for Stevens to resign from Republicans John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Mitch McConnell.

On the topic of Democratic turnout efforts, Schumer said the DSCC learned from GOP successes in 2004 and have, over the last two cycles, made a major investment in the party's "ground game." Schumer estimated that the DSCC is spending one dollar on turnout for every two and a half dollars that it is spending to air television ads.

On the policy front, Schumer said Democrats are not going to rubber-stamp Obama's health-care plan.

He expressed confidence, however, that a health-care overhaul would be enacted in the next two years and praised Obama as someone who would work closely with Congress on the specifics of any legislation.

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