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GOP Looks to Increase Senate Majority

Republicans say open races in states where a Democrat is retiring offer them the best chance to increase their Senate majority.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, offered an upbeat perspective on the 2006 races Monday. The GOP holds a 55-44 advantage in the chamber, with one Democratic-leaning independent.

Dole cited Minnesota, where the party has a single candidate, Rep. Mark Kennedy, running against a number of Democrats hoping to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton. The same is true in Maryland, where the GOP is backing Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, while several Democrats battle for the nomination. Five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes is retiring.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, dismissed Dole's assessment, arguing that polls show Democrats prevailing in Minnesota and Maryland. "More to the point, Maryland is a solidly blue state," Singer said.

Dole brushed aside questions about several problems dogging the GOP. She said:

—She was certain moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee would turn aside a conservative challenger in the Republican primary in Rhode Island.

—Republicans were not actively recruiting a new challenger to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida despite GOP grousing about Rep. Katherine Harris.

—GOP Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania would win re-election despite trailing in the polls to Democrat Bob Casey Jr.

Asked about the New York GOP's inability to recruit a top-tier candidate against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dole said, "We'll let them sort that out."

One concern among Republicans is the Bush administration's Medicare prescription drug program that has angered and frustrated many elderly, a critical voting bloc.

Dole initially said that whenever a national program is overhauled, "There are going to be a few hiccups." Asked if that was an accurate description, she said, "There are going to be some problems — I'll use a different word than hiccups."

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that more than half of those surveyed said the program is tough to navigate. Two-thirds of older people surveyed and two-thirds of those who have signed up said they were confused by the program, which began enrolling people Jan. 1.

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It may not be a presidential election cycle, but the Republican National Committee still raked in the cash. The RNC raised $101.5 million last year and has close to $34 million cash on hand. The Democratic National Committee has reported raising $51 million in 2005.

The RNC also announced that Jo Ann Davidson, a longtime party official and former speaker of the Ohio House, would chair the committee that will recommend a site for the 2008 Republican Convention. The 2004 convention was in New York.

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An aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., resigned effective Monday and said she is considering challenging Republican Rep. Jon Porter of Nevada.

"I'm a third-generation Southern Nevadan and I've long wanted to run for elected office. Everything now is lining up to be a good opportunity to represent the community I've always called home," said Tessa Hafen, 29, a native of Henderson, Nev., and press secretary to Reid.

No well-known Democratic candidate has announced plans to challenge Porter, a Republican in his second term who won re-election last year with 54 percent of the vote. His district is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Reid said Hafen is "extremely talented, very intelligent and devoted to her home state of Nevada. I know she's destined for great things."