Repub­li­cans op­ti­mistic on chances of tak­ing Obama, Bi­den seats

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

Pres­i­dent Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. won’t be on the midterm bal­lot next year, but their for­mer Se­nate seats will be, and both races are now ei­ther tossups or lean­ing Repub­li­can in high-vis­i­bil­ity con­tests.

Mr. Obama, who was a fresh­man se­na­tor from Illi­nois when he was elected pres­i­dent, and Mr. Bi­den, who was in his sixth term as a se­na­tor from Delaware, come from states that have been run­ning strongly Demo­cratic in past elec­tions. No one doubts that Mr. Obama would have been a re-elec­tion shoo-in had he re­mained in the Se­nate and that Mr. Bi­den had his seat for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

But in an­other sign of po­lit­i­cal winds that ap­pear to be blow­ing against the Democrats in the 2010 cy­cle, Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say the chances are at least even that their seats could be taken over by two strong Repub­li­can candidates next Novem­ber, when the GOP is ex­pected to make gains in Congress and in the state gov­er­nor­ships.

“Not to steal one of Pres­i­dent Obama’s fa­vorite words, but in Illi­nois and Delaware, Repub­li­cans have a truly his­toric op­por­tu­nity to win both the pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent’s Se­nate seats, and we’re for­tu­nate to have the strong­est pos­si­ble candidates al­ready in the race,” said Brian Walsh, chief spokesman for the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee.

“There is still a long way to go un­til the elec­tion, and we cer­tainly ex­pect polls will fluc­tu­ate, but it’s clear that even in tra­di­tion­ally blue states, vot­ers are de­mand­ing ac­count­abil­ity and want to re­store checks and bal­ances in Wash­ing­ton,” Mr. Walsh said.

In Illi­nois, where Democrats are still reel­ing from an ex­plo­sive “pay to play” cor­rup­tion scan­dal that led to the ar­rest and im­peach­ment of Gov. Rod R. Blago­je­vich, five-term Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, the ex­pected Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, is run­ning for Mr. Obama’s seat. The Demo­cratic front-run­ner is state Trea­surer Alexi Gian­nou­lias, whom an op­pos­ing Demo­cratic cam­paign ad­viser calls a “deeply flawed” can­di­date.

Illi­nois Repub­li­can leaders have been pound­ing Democrats for wide­spread cor­rup­tion in the state’s gov­ern­ment, not­ing Mr. Gian­nou­lias’ ties to real es­tate de­vel­oper and Demo­cratic fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was con­victed last year of fraud and money laun­der­ing.

“His fam­ily bank, where Alexi served as an of­fi­cer, made loans to Tony Rezko, who is now sit­ting in a pen­i­ten­tiary,” Repub­li­can state chair­man Pat Brady said.

But Demo­cratic cam­paign strate­gists have been among Mr. Gian­nou­lias’ crit­ics, too.

“Alexi Gian­nou­lias’ own vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties are so sig­nif­i­cant, and far more damn­ing than Kirk’s among the elec­torate. [. . . ] His nom­i­na­tion would put Barack Obama’s for­mer Se­nate seat in ex­treme jeop­ardy for the Democrats,” poll­ster Ge­off Garin said last month in a widely dis­trib­uted polling memo for Se­nate can­di­date David Hoff­man, who is op­pos­ing Mr. Gian­nou­lias for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Bi­den’s seat in Delaware also ap­pears vul­ner­a­ble. Rep. Michael N. Cas­tle, a Repub­li­can who has won nine statewide elec­tions as the state’s only House mem­ber, has been lead­ing state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Beau Bi­den in polls. Mr. Bi­den has de­layed say­ing whether he will be a can­di­date for the re­main­ing four years of his fa­ther’s term.

Mr. Cas­tle, a 70-year-old for­mer gov­er­nor, is a moderate whose cross-party ap­peal has drawn sup­port from Democrats and in­de­pen­dents over a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer that spans more than 40 years. A re­cent head-to-head voter sur­vey by Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling, a Demo­cratic polling firm, showed Mr. Cas­tle lead­ing the younger Mr. Bi­den by 45 per­cent to 39 per­cent.

A Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling anal­y­sis of its find­ings pointed to two strong trends in Mr. Cas­tle’s fa­vor: a 52 per­cent to 23 per­cent lead among in­de­pen­dent vot­ers, and the fact that he draws far more sup­port from Democrats than Mr. Bi­den does from Repub­li­cans. The anal­y­sis found that 48 per­cent of Democrats view the Repub­li­can law­maker fa­vor­ably, while 15 per­cent of Repub­li­cans have a pos­i­tive view of the 40year-old Mr. Bi­den.

In­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts still think the vice pres­i­dent’s son will en­ter the race, but there has been grow­ing spec­u­la­tion about why he has not re­vealed his in­ten­tions more than two months af­ter Mr. Cas­tle an­nounced his can­di­dacy. He re­turned home in Oc­to­ber af­ter a year’s tour of duty in Iraq and has been spending more time with his fam­ily while he con­sid­ers his op­tions.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­cans have high hopes that Rep. Mark Steven Kirk of Illi­nois will be able to cap­ture the Se­nate seat next year that had been held by Pres­i­dent Obama.

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