What Dems Must Do If They Want to Hold the Senate

With just a month left before the midterm elections, and with the Republicans leading by six points in Rasmussen Reports’ Generic Congressional Ballot, it has become increasingly clear that dissatisfaction with the Democrats is going to result in a swing to the Republicans this fall.

While it seems almost certain that the Republicans will take control of the House, the Democrats can still hold the Senate.

The GOP needs ten seats to take control of the Senate, and they are likely to pick up seven or eight seats at this point. Thus, it appears that control of the Senate will come down to three or four races in the blue states of California, Washington, Connecticut and to a lesser extent, New York. To maintain control of the Senate, the Party must put all of its resources in these races.

In Washington State, Democrat Patty Murray’s advantage over Republican Dino Rossi is that she’s running in a state that has consistently gone Democratic in statewide elections thanks to Seattle’s liberal-leaning King County.

However, while Murray has about a five-point lead over Rossi according to the Real Clear Politics Average, Rasmussen Reports’ most recent poll has Murray trailing by one point, 47% to 48%.

To win, Murray must steer away from her liberal voting record and emphasize the need for fiscal restraint, balancing the budget and reducing spending. Murray has criticized Rossi for saying he opposed the new Wall Street regulations; she should continue to do so, and emphasize his strong ties to corporate lobbyists and special interests, and his very conservative positions on gay rights, the environment and women’s rights.

California has also been a traditionally Democratic state, with even more Democrats than usual winning in 2006 and 2008 as the subprime mortgage crisis battered the state. Senator Barbara Boxer’s strong win in 2004 and Obama’s 61% to 37% win in California in 2008 led most to assume she would be relatively safe in 2010.

However, the bad economy has caused the state’s voters to turn on the Democrats. Boxer’s weakest support is in the Inland Empire and Central Valley, the areas hit hardest by the subprime meltdown. Further, Boxer’s liberal voting record puts her at odds with the current sentiments of the voters. As of July, her favorability had dropped to 42%, with 48% unfavorable.

Just recently as mid-September, the Real Clear Politics Average had Boxer in a dead heat with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. However, Boxer’s lead has grown in the past few weeks to about seven points ahead of Fiorina.

While Boxer may be more liberal than voters in California, Fiorina is much farther to the right than the state’s political mainstream. Boxer needs to emphasize Fiorina’s extremely conservative positions on abortion, oil drilling, immigration and guns, and argue that she is too extreme for California, particularly for women.

Boxer particularly needs to continue to call out Fiorina’s opposition to abortion rights – not only has Boxer made this issue central to her career, but no anti-abortion candidate has won high statewide office in California in over 20 years.

Further, Boxer must tell Fiorina’s story as the failed CEO of Hewlett-Packard: she fired over 30,000 workers as CEO and shipped jobs overseas, while making $100 million and taking a $21 million severance package when she left. Fiorina’s failed business experience gives voters no reason to think she would be a good Senator.

Chris Dodd’s retirement in Connecticut has left his seat open for the first time since 1974. The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, has had relatively solid polling numbers, but his opponent, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, won a well-run primary campaign that emphasized her experience as a woman turning a small enterprise into a multi-billion dollar business.

As a moderate Republican running during a time of anti-Democratic sentiments, McMahon turned this into a close race. Rasmussen Reports has Blumenthal leading by five points, 50% to 45%, and the Quinnipiac poll has Blumenthal’s lead at three points, 49% to 46%.

Blumenthal needs to make the case that McMahon’s business is built on human suffering and failings. McMahon did not provide health care for the wrestlers. Hundreds died of steroid abuse and there has been widespread drug addiction. Her story is not the American dream, but one of horror and failure..

Finally, in New York, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has held onto a lead over Republican Joe DioGuardi, although a smaller lead than what is typical from a Democrat in a New York Senate race. The Real Clear Politics Average has her leading by almost 11 points, but the latest poll from SurveyUSA shows her ahead by just one point, 45% to 44%.

Gillibrand was able to avoid any serious primary challengers, thanks to her backing by the Democratic establishment, but her candidacy is not particularly strong and she has vulnerabilities. To make sure she wins, she will need the continued support of the Party.

Mostly, however, what the Party needs to win is a national message of fiscal prudence and discipline to help give these four key Democrats the cover necessary to win their races. The Party must advocate a bold, centrist agenda that focuses on fiscal discipline and fiscal stimulus initiatives that target the private sector and encourage entrepreneurship and job creation. They must be responsive to voters’ desires to curb spending and taxation, and reduce the deficit and the debt. If not, the Senate could fall to the Republicans too.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor and author of the new book "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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