Democrats, buoyed by Senator Barack Obama’s lead in the presidential race, expect to expand their hold on the US Senate this year, and some are hoping for such a strong showing that it will be nearly impossible for the opposition Republicans to challenge their agenda.
If the Democrats can pick up nine seats in voting on election day on Tuesday — a possibility, though not a sure thing — it will strengthen their majority from a slim 51 to 49 to an nearly unbeatable 60 to 40.
The Democratic candidates have a lot going for them — a faltering economy, the lingering Iraq War and a widely unpopular president.
Discontent with the administration of US President George W. Bush has been increasingly evident in the polls, which show a majority of voters favoring Obama over Republican challenger Senator John McCain, who has tried in vain to distance himself from Bush.
Scandals also have hurt the Republicans, including Republic Senator Ted Stevens’ conviction this week on charges he lied about free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.
To reach 60 seats, Democrats will have to take some traditionally Republican seats in the South. The fact that Obama has supported voter registration efforts nationwide and has campaigned rigorously on Republican turf could benefit his party’s Senate candidates.
“Overall, I think Obama will help us in the South because, first, his economic message resonates with southerners, both white and black, and obviously there will be an increased African-American turnout,” said New York Senator Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
If Obama wins and finds himself with a strong majority in both the Senate and the House, where Democrats also are expected to make significant gains, it will be much easier for him to put his policies in place, said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science and executive director of the University of California’s study center in Washington.
“It would give Obama some historic opportunities to move forward on health care reform, energy policy and other social programs that he might not have been able to do if margins were narrower, or if he was facing a Republican Congress,” Cain said.
Winning 60 seats or more in the 10-seat Senate would be a major boon to the Democrats because it would make it nearly impossible for the opposition Republicans to use a filibuster to kill legislation.
A filibuster, a procedural way to extend debate indefinitely and keep a proposal from coming to a vote, can be cut off in the Senate with a “supermajority” of 60 votes.
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