Democrats Aim for Super Majority in Congress as Economic Crisis Hits Home

Veteran Republicans fight for survival as economic crisis hits home.

ByABC News
October 13, 2008, 4:35 PM

Oct. 14, 2008 — -- An increasingly hostile national climate for Republicans has shaken up Senate races across the nation, giving Democrats a plausible shot at achieving 60 seats -- a filibuster-proof majority that would embolden policy ambitions in Congress.

The shifting landscape -- driven in large part by economic unease -- leaves Democrats almost certain to dramatically expand their 51-49 majority in the Senate, according to independent analysts and political strategists in both parties.

But whether Democrats can reach the 60-vote threshold depends on the outcome of races like the one in North Carolina, where Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole is seeking a second term in a race that was never supposed to be close.

Dole is a party stalwart who represents a historically "red" state.

She served in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet, led the GOP's Senate campaign efforts in 2006, and is married to the longtime Senate Republican leader, former Kansas senator Bob Dole, the GOP's 1996 presidential nominee.

Yet Dole is caught in dangerous political crosscurrents this year. An unpopular war, a battered economy, and a tattered Republican brand leaves North Carolina voters -- like those in states across the nation -- particularly hostile to Republicans this year.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is pumping get-out-the-vote resources into the Tar Heel State, in its efforts to expand the presidential map. And Democrats are engaging in an aggressive effort to paint Dole as a political insider who has lost touch with her constituents.

"She is going against a headwind," said ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts.

The case against Dole is similar to that used against many incumbents: That she has let her ties to her home state atrophy.

Dole's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Kay Hagan, has pounced on a recent media report that found Dole having spent as few as 13 days in North Carolina in all of 2006.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running a provocative series of ads against Dole, meant to portray her as ineffective and out-of-touch. In one, two elderly men sit on a porch, commenting on Dole's "40 years in Washington" and arguing over whether Dole is 93 or 92.