Obama’s call for real change adds spice to race for senate
Published 24/10/2008 | 11:00
If Barack Obama’s lead holds, on November 4 he’ll become the first African-American to earn the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, it could be a major shake-up in the domed building at Pennsylvania Avenue’s other end that gives Obama his best shot of delivering the ‘real change’ he’s vowed to bring to Washington.
While most of the US and world media has been glued to the Obama-McCain slugfest, several Democrats who are hoping to steal Senate seats from Republicans have seen their prospects surge with the plummeting US economy.
All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives are at stake this year.
Democrats now hold a 236 to 199 edge over Republicans, and polls suggest they could boost that by eight seats.
The Senate's Democratic Caucus — which includes two independents — has a 51 to 49 advantage over Republicans.
Democrats are hoping for enough gains to become the first party to reach the 60-seat threshold since 1976.
If they do, Republicans won’t be able to filibuster and delay legislation that they don’t have the votes to block.
Of the Senate’s 100 seats, 23 Republican slots are up for grabs, including five where no incumbent is running.
Only 12 Democrats are seeking re-election — all incumbents.
In some of these states — such as Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia — Obama himself has little chance of winning.
But his decision to spend millions in these states on political ads slamming past Republican economic policies at a time when Americans of all stripes are smouldering about the economy, has certainly bolstered the Democratic senatorial candidates.
Republicans have held some of these seats for decades.
For example, in North Carolina, incumbent Elizabeth Dole is trailing Democratic foe Kay Hagan, a state Senator.
It is a seat Dole inherited from arch-conservative Republican icon Jessie Helms in 2003.
He had held the seat for 30 years.
In Mississippi, which has had Republican Senators since 1988, incumbent Republican Roger Wicker, who took over from Trent Lott when he retired last December, holds a razor-thin one point lead over former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove.
In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss is neck-and-neck with former Democratic state representative Jim Martin, a candidate who had little campaign cash and a virtually non-existent statewide profile before the race began.
In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who has served four six-year terms already, is in a dead-heat with Democrat challenger Bruce Lunsford — despite the fact that McCain holds a double-digit lead over Obama in the state.
And then there is Oregon, where two-term incumbent Republican Gordon H Smith is so worried about his prospects against state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, that he’s running TV ads distancing himself from George Bush and emphasizing his similarities with Obama and Ted Kennedy.
There are other toss-up Senate races that could also see Republicans booted, namely in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, and Alaska.
Of course, with two weeks to go, anything can happen in all of these races, as well as the main event.
But if current trends continue, Obama could enter office with a powerful Democratically-controlled Congress at his side.
The question then will be: Will he use that muscle to fulfil his promise of bringing ‘change you can believe in’ to Washington beltway politics?
Or will he join the long list of politicians who have promised the moon to get elected, but delivered only clouds in the end?