Democrats can keep control of the Senate by playing offense in GOP-held seats and by localizing races, a top Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee official predicted on Thursday.
DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the centrist group Third Way that Democrats believe they can pick up what are now Republican-controlled Senate seats in Massachusetts, Nevada, Indiana, and Arizona. Democrats argue they can defeat Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., if he survives a primary. They also believe they can win a seat opened when Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., decided not to seek reelection.
Cecil said that Democrats can distance themselves from President Obama, who is unpopular in many states with closely contested Senate races. A key is to “not allow this to be a national election,” he said.
Twenty-three seats held by Senate Democratic Conference members are on the ballot next year, versus 10 GOP-held seats. With an unemployment rate lodged above 9 percent and little expectation it will drop much, Obama is widely considered more of a detriment than a benefit to most Senate Democrats on the ballot, and Republicans and many independent analysts predict the GOP will win Senate control next year.
Cecil argued that Democrats can hold every seat they now have and win GOP seats by tying incumbents to the tea party and to congressional Republican opposition to Democrats’ proposals to boost the economy.
Democrats will work to frame races as contests between two candidates, rather than a referendum on Democrats’ management of the economy, Cecil said. More than House candidates, he maintained, Senate hopefuls can afford the advertising that allow them to frame elections as a two-way contest.
Republicans will work to nationalize races and link Democratic candidates to Obama.
“The notion that this will not be a national election or that the president’s numbers aren’t relevant to Senate candidates might be believable if the elections were being held in fantasyland next year,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. “But the reality is that they are being held in states which have borne the brunt of the Democrats’ failed economic policies, and every Democrat Senate candidate will have to defend their support for the Obama agenda.”
Cecil countered that Republicans will suffer as much from the deep unpopularity of Congress as Democrats, because many of their candidates--for example in Montana, North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Nevada--are incumbents House or Senate members.
Cecil and other senior Democratic aides say that former North Dakota state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who is weighing a bid, can defeat Republican freshman Rep. Rick Berg in that race, which analysts uniformly predict Republicans will pick up following the retirement of Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad.
Cecil declined to predict that Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who has said he will decide next month whether he will continue a difficult reelection effort, will stay in the race. DSCC is already spending money on advertising in the state, and Nelson’s campaign operation is up and running. Nelson’s retirement would make the state a likely GOP pickup. Discussing the Arizona race, Cecil ripped Rep. Jeff Flake, the expected GOP candidate to replace Kyl, and praised former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who Democrats are recruiting for the race. He did not tout Democrats already seeking the seat.