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GOP Scrambles to Save Congressional Majority

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So that's the view from one congressional district. Let's get the national picture, as we've been doing each week from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and our political editor Ken Rudin. They're both in our studios.

And, Ken, does an FBI investigation of Congressman Weldon have effects beyond his district?

KEN RUDIN: Well, not per se. I mean, you still have the sense of Iraq hovering over the entire national landscape. You have a general anti-Republican feeling. But again this is one more seat that the Republican didn't want to have to work hard to defend. Yesterday, President Bush was in another Pennsylvania district with Don Sherwood. He's a Republican member who's gone on TV apologizing for having a five-year affair with another woman. I mean this is - two years ago, Don Sherwood won with 97 percent of the vote.

You don't want this kind of anguish with two weeks to go in the election, another seat that the Republicans would not have had to defend.

INSKEEP: One drift after another.

RUDIN: Well, don't call Don Sherwood a drip. But absolutely, I mean it keeps happening. With Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney and Tom DeLay you have that culture of corruption, but then you have the individual scandals that's hurting the party as well.

WERTHEIMER: Mara, what is the Republicans strategy for the next couple of weeks?

LIASSON: Well, they make sure that their base is fired up. Their base is demoralized. They want to get it energized. And Republicans say they want people to know what the stakes are. The Republican Party is actually starting an ad on Sunday with a picture of Osama bin Laden, quotes from his threats against America, and then the tagline: These are the stakes, vote November 7th. That's a pretty clear message. The problem is that Republicans are now playing defense in a much bigger pool.

About 50 seats are now considered competitive, many more than a month ago. And the question now is do Democrats actually have the resources to take advantage of all of those potential new opportunities. Today is the day that the campaign committees file their financial reports with the FEC. And what we are finding is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - the Senate and House committees - have actually out-raised their Republican counterparts, although the RNC has raised much more money than the DNC, the Democratic National Committee.

But the Republicans have a lot more cash on hand to spend in these last crucial two weeks on TV ads and Get Out the Vote efforts.

INSKEEP: Mara, let me come back to that ad again, the Osama Bin Laden ad. Republicans have said several elections now, couple of elections anyway, that Democrats cannot protect you and that message has worked. Can it work this time?

LIASSON: Well, and the president is out everyday saying that the Democrats are the cut-and-run party. It's worked before. Republicans think it can work again, at least to limit their losses.

WERTHEIMER: What about, can incumbents in trouble, are there House seats that Republicans have just folded on?

RUDIN: Well, Linda, there's a whole bunch of Democratic seats that the Republicans would have loved to gone after: John Spratt in South Carolina, Jim Marshall in Georgia. For the longest time they were talking about taking these Democratic seats away from them. But given the fact that more and more Republicans seats have been, you know, now seen as vulnerable, they've been actually pushed back on a defensive and they're just try to limit their losses rather than try to take Democratic gains.

INSKEEP: Can we move back to the Senate? We've been checking both of these houses. What's happening there? Each time you've talked to us over the last couple of weeks things have been slightly different?

LIASSON: Well, they still need - Democrats still need that net 6 seats pick-up to take control. Republicans that I've talked to are pretty pessimistic about hanging on to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana and Ohio.

INSKEEP: Four.

LIASSON: So that's four potential pickups for the Democrats. So that firewall that the Republican Party has been talking about building, that is spending tens of millions of dollars, pouring them into just a few states to kind of maintain control of the Senate, that really now comes down to three states: Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

Missouri is a dead heat. Republicans feel their numbers are getting a little better in Tennessee and Virginia. The president was in the red state of Virginia yesterday campaigning for George Allen. But as soon as he was off the stage, George Allen said well, on Iraq, the president has his ideas and I have mine. He was distancing himself.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, very briefly. If you're a national Republican, do you reach a point sometime soon where you might say the House is gone, save the Senate?

RUDIN: Every Republican I've spoken to acknowledges that the House is gone. Mara is exactly right. If the Republicans can hold on to two of the three -Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee - then they retain control of the Senate with two weeks to go.

INSKEEP: Mara?

LIASSON: Yeah, I think that's right. I think it's hard to find a Republican that thinks that they're going to keep the House. That I agree with Ken. But I think they're very, very confident they will have the majority in the Senate after November 7th.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. Ken Rudin tracks key races that could swing control of the House in Political Junkie at npr.org. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Mara Liasson is our national political correspondent. Mara, thanks for coming in once again.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.