GOP Senate campaign head: '08 toughest election since '74

Goal is to limit losses to three Senate seats, says Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

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Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, paints a grim picture of his party's chances in the 2008 election.

At a Monitor-sponsored lunch with reporters Thursday, Senator Ensign said Republican candidates were facing the worst election climate since 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned as president. He volunteered that having Republicans reclaim the Senate would take a miracle and outlined a fundraising strategy based on frightening donors about what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might attempt without Senate Republicans to block her.

Ensign, a two-term senator from Nevada, quipped that, "there wasn't a long line of people who wanted this job this election cycle and for good reason. It is probably the toughest election cycle ... since 1974." Ensign added that, "The other problem has been the number of Republican seats that are up." In the current election cycle, Republicans have to defend 23 seats, the Democrats only 12.

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Given those numbers, "It would be fairly miraculous for us to get back in the majority. We are trying to be realistic on holding ... as close to where we are today as possible," Ensign said.

One reason for the grim outlook, Ensign noted, is that, "of the competitive races in the country, really seriously competitive races in the country, nine of the 10 of them currently are held by Republicans. So that basically means we are playing defense."

Independent political forecasters put likely Republican losses in the Senate at anywhere from three to seven Senate seats. Ensign said losing three seats "would be a great night ... it would be a terrific night for us absolutely." He said losing four seats "is kind of where we have set our absolute worst goal."

Minimizing losses is essential, he said, since losing more seats would make it impossible for Republicans to block Senate action by threatening a filibuster. In the current Senate, Democrats and Republicans each have 49 seats with the two independents often voting Democrat. "You have got to have the 41 seats ... to effectuate a filibuster and to get 41 seats you probably need 45 on a consistent basis, because you are always going to lose a few Republicans" on any given issue, Ensign said.

The ability to block Democratic action is key to the pitch Ensign said he is making to Republican donors. "The critical part and one of the things we are talking [about] to a lot of folks around the country is that if Barack Obama becomes president, Nancy Pelosi looks like she will be at least where she is today if not in a stronger position in a majority in the House. And that means Senate Republicans really will be the fire wall to (1) stopping bad legislation or (2) at least making the majority come to us and moderate their positions."

Ensign said the most 10 most competitive Senate races are in: Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia.

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