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Senate Hopes Hang on Debate

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(For more on the Connecticut Senate race, watch Special Report at 6pm ET and watch the debate streaming on Fox News.com at 7pm ET)

"Special Report" anchor Bret Baier will moderate tonight what could be one of the most decisive Senate debates of the year. 

Republicans are playing offense on a dozen Democratic Senate seats this year, including several thought out of reach just six months ago.

Winning the 10 seats needed to take the Senate majority looks like a bit of a reach, especially with so many deep blue states on the list. But Republicans know that the closer they get to a divided chamber, the more likely they will be to pick up converts from the majority - either on individual votes or for switching parties entirely.

On the list of potential Republican pickups -- AR, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, ND, NV, PA, WA, WI, and WV - Connecticut stands out.

A year ago, it was considered a likely pickup for the GOP, but Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd bowed out owing to the near unanimity with which voters expressed their disdain for his candidacy.

Dodd's designated replacement was Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, who is of the Spitzer model (the suing companies part, not the call girls part). Blumenthal, with high name identification, immediately surged in the polls and gave Republicans little hope of a pickup.

Republican strategists in Washington groaned more deeply when party favorite, former Rep. Rob Simmons, lost the party's Senate primary to Linda McMahon, who is stinking rich from her and her husband's work, as the New York Times likes to sniff, as "wrestling impresarios."

But aside from having bundles of dollars from the pay-per-viewing of World Wrestling Entertainment, McMahon has turned out to be a pretty good retail politician. She seems at ease with voters - a rich but not snobbish or aloof candidate is a rare thing.

Blumenthal, on the other hand, has disappointed Democrats. First, there was the revelation that Blumenthal for years had claimed to have served "in" Vietnam when really he was part of a Marine reserve unit in Washington while he clerked at the Supreme Court "during" Vietnam.

Blumenthal's stock dropped when the truth came out in May, but then rebounded in the polls, prompting national Democrats to go looking for other fires to put out.

But over the summer, McMahon gained ground on Blumenthal and did what most thought impossible: redefine a candidate with high name identification. It turns out that Blumenthal, who has a stiff affect with voters, was known of from 20 years in public office, but not much considered. Voters knew the name, but not necessarily the man.

The Vietnam character issue hung around like the scent of burnt hamburgers in a stuffy house and McMahon poured millions into television ads introducing herself and talking about changing Washington.

Polls now show the race in low single digits - the Real Clear Politics average puts Blumenthal up 4.4 points in a race he once led by more than 30 points.

National Democrats have shifted their focus back to Connecticut in a big hurry, bringing money from their fading hope for a GOP pickup in Kentucky to help try to shore up Blumenthal.

The main effort has been to link McMahon with the most outrageous moments from the wrestling business that made all that money for the McMahons.

On the eve of the debate, Democratic operatives were pushing hard on the 2003, pay-per-view joint venture between World Wrestling Entertainment and the now-infamous "Girls Gone Wild" brand of pornography, which took place as Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon was leading the wrestling outfit.

Politico and other outlets have run with the story. The McMahon campaign isn't commenting but instead referring reporters to the wrestling firm, which expressed regret about the one-time deal.Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping that Blumenthal's record of suing corporations will be front and center tonight. Blumenthal's record in court includes suing lots of Connecticut employers for even small offenses. The GOP is also talking up Blumenthal's record as a state legislator in the 1980s when he voted for lots of taxes and spending.

McMahon has benefitted to this point from campaigning like a woman with nothing to lose. Blumenthal has, by contrast, seemed brittle and unwilling to engage.

If they stay in those roles tonight, this race could remain one for Democrats to worry over until Election Day.

The debate will air live from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on FOX CT for local viewers in Connecticut and on FOXNEWS.COM.

Thanks to Today's Power Play Crew Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, L.A. Holmes, Gretchen Gailey, Lee Ross, Whitney Ksiazek, Heidi Noonan, Jason Donner and Molly Mathews

The Day in Quotes

"Now our challenge is to tattoo the practices of big insurance, big oil, big banks and the rest [onto Republicans]. And our members feel very good about doing that."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quoted by the New York Times, encouraging embattled members to close their campaigns on the negative.

"For some reason, everyone is scared of them."-- Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), who is not seeking reelection, on "Face the Nation" discussing the Tea Party movement.

"I do think that you can get expectations really high, and I hope that those expectations can be met. I think it's a longer shot in the Senate." -- Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on C-SPAN talking about hopes for Republican majority in the House."We're waiting for him to catch up a little bit in the polls and then we may refer to him more."-- Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul when asked by Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" why he didn't talk about opponent Jack Conway more often.

"I'm not saying Dr. Paul is crazy. I think some of his ideas are out of the mainstream and they're out of touch with the values of normal Kentuckians."-- Jack Conway on "Fox News Sunday."

"[W]e have to ask where does the money come from. Jack acts like the money's for free -- just go and get it from Santa Claus in Washington. The money's not for free. The money has to be borrowed."-- Rand Paul on "Fox News Sunday.""Dr. Paul talks a lot about having a federal budget balanced all the way next year. He's just not going to tell anybody how he's going to do it this year."-- Jack Conway on "Fox News Sunday.""We have a very serious situation and I think there's a concern that the president hasn't seen that urgency... and stood up for the American people the way we would like him to."

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-described "Democratic socialist," discussing President Obama on "Face the Nation."

"We just don't have it in our make-up, in our DNA, to mislead the public."

-- Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) on "Face the Nation" explaining why Democrats are losing the message wars of 2010.

"No one apparently told the president that Cedric Richmond had his law license suspended for lying to the voters; that he has been the subject of two ethics violations while a legislator."

-- Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) expressing what seemed like sincere surprise that President Obama, whom Cao has said he loved and respected, would endorse the Democrat in his race.

"Look at how the 111th Congress is not so much concluding as much as it has collapsed."

-- House Minority Leader John Boehner.

"If you want a Republican, Dan Maes is your man."

-- Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, quoted by the Denver Post, looking for something nice to say about his party's struggling nominee for governor.

"They're not going to win any of that Triple Crown."

-- Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Democratic National Senatorial Committee, predicting on "State of the Union" that Republicans would fail to win even one of the big three symbolic Senate seats: President Obama's former seat in Illinois and Vice President Biden's former seat in Delaware and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's perch in Nevada.

"If you like the way the country's going now, if you like -- if you live in Nevada, you like 14.4 percent unemployment, where 70 percent of the home mortgages are under water, then I guess the message from Majority Leader Reid and from Senator Menendez is stay the course."

-- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee on "State of the Union."

"In 2006, Democrats had 3 million more primary voters than Republicans. In 2010, that number has turned on its head, with more than 3 million more Republicans voting in primaries than Democrats. So what we see isn't so much an enthusiasm gap than a turnout gap."

-- Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

"I, frankly, haven't seen any recommendations from (Republicans) that would have significantly helped. They're all in favor of cutting taxes, not cutting spending, and balancing the budget by, I guess, Hogwarts Economics."

-- David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's, quoted by the Associated Press, after a long lamentation about Democratic economic policies.

Follow the Money - Outside Cash Zooms; Murkowski Helps Dem; Brown Raises Cash and Eyebrows

Big Dough From Outside

Outside groups have already spent $80 million this year, up from $16 million in the 2006 midterms, according to a review by the Washington Post. The Post claims it favors conservatives by sevenfold.

Murkowski Helps Democrat's Fundraising

Scott McAdams, the Democratic Senate nominee from Alaska, reported $650,000 in fundraising following the state's primary and the decision by Lisa Murkowski to launch a write-in bid after losing the Republican nomination.

Prior to Murkowski's move, McAdams had raised just $17,000.

McAdams is up on the air with two television ads, including one in which he pays homage to the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens for fighting to bring home the state's "fair share" and for his famous Incredible Hulk necktie.

Hispanic Lawmakers Eschew DCCC Dues

The 23 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are a combined $3 million behind in their dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a report by Roll Call.

Individual dues begin a $125,000 for Democratic members and are much higher for party leaders. The money goes into the DCCC's fund, mostly used this year to defend vulnerable members.

Members cited frustration over immigration policy, concerns about their own contests and a tough fundraising climate as their reasons for holding back.

Follow The Money... Or 2012 Watch?

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) is making his first trip to New Hampshire as a senator on Friday to raise money for gubernatorial candidate John Stephen.

Trail Riders - Obama Huddles; Portman's Cleveland Surprise; Bubba to the Rescue; Trump on the Stump?

Obama's Day

President Obama will hold a meeting with the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board today, which includes some of Obama's key allies for the fall campaign push, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Obama's longtime political benefactor, Hyatt hotel heiress Penny Pritzker.

Vice President Biden heads to Ohio where he will hold a campaign event and a fundraiser for vulnerable Gov. Ted Strickland in Youngstown.

Portman Scores Key Endorsement

In a decision that shocked Ohio political observers, Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman won the endorsement of the Cleveland Plain Dealer over Democrat Lee Fisher.

Fisher, who has hammered Portman for his support of free-trade policies so often disparaged in the paper's editorial pages, has staked his come-from-behind strategy on squeezing as many votes as possible from Democrat-rich Northeastern Ohio.

The paper credited Portman with listening to his prospective constituents and having a "senatorial" approach to problem solving.

Power Play has learned that the Tea Party Express will begin airing ads in Alaska taking Sen. Lisa Murkowski to task for having failed the state's bar exam four times before eventually being admitted to the practice of law. An insider casts the attack as a rebuke for Murkowski, a write-in candidate, questioning the qualifications of Republican nominee Joe Miller.

Poll Check

A Denver Post poll released found Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) trailing Republican challenger Ken Buck by 5 points, 43 percent to 48 percent.A Survey USA poll in the Ohio rematch between former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) and Rep. Steve Driehaus (D), Chabot is looking likely to return to Washington. Chabot led Driehaus 53 percent to 41 percent in the district that includes Cincinnati.

Clinton on Rescue Mission for Sanchez

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) will get some help from former President Bill Clinton next week. The longtime incumbent was thought a shoo-in, but her race-based plea to Hispanics to stop Republican Van Tran and "the Vietnamese" from taking "our seat" away and her excited tweet about going to a lunch at the Playboy Mansion have put her in some peril.

2012 Watch - At Least He Already Has the Tag Line for an Obama Debate

Real estate mogul/"The Apprentice" star Donald Trump was the focus of a lengthy poll taken among New Hampshire Republicans, Time magazine reports.

Send tips and feedback to POWERPLAY@FOXNEWS.COM

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

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