By Michael O'Brien - 10/05/10 12:40 AM EDT
Senate Republicans expressed confidence Monday they’d pick up at least six seats this fall, but were more careful in predicting results for seven other races that will determine the Senate majority.
A gain of six seats would be a nice boost for the Senate GOP, but would fall short of expectations for even greater gains. Republicans are competitive in another seven states where Senate seats are now held by Democrats, and Democrats would retain a 53-47 advantage if the GOP gains only six seats.
The cautious signals from Republicans come as Democrats argue they are closing a perceived “enthusiasm” gap between voters for the parties. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Monday boasted that it had raised more money in September than any previous month in the 2009-2010 cycle.
The White House also expressed optimism and argued Democrats are closing the enthusiasm gap with Republicans, partly because of the efforts of President Obama.
But there were also signs for Republicans to be optimistic on Monday. Gallup’s first generic ballot poll of likely voters showed Republicans with a double-digit lead.
Both parties are working hard to set expectations for the election. Neither wants its voters to stay home — Republicans because their supporters believe they will win, Democrats because they believe their votes will not make a difference.
In a memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Executive Director Rob Jesmer predicted outright victories for Gov. John Hoeven in North Dakota, former Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana and Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas.
Jesmer also predicted Rep. Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey “will win” in Illinois and Pennsylvania (respectively), and that Ken Buck is “poised to win” in Colorado.
Jesmer was more muted in his confidence of winning seven other states.
Polls suggest Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is in deep trouble in Wisconsin, but Jesmer did not predict victory. He did write that the NRSC would provide Republican Ron Johnson with “whatever help he needs to maintain his lead” over Feingold.
Jesmer also wouldn’t make any predictions about the fate of Republican candidates John Raese in West Virginia, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Carly Fiorina in California, Dino Rossi in Washington state or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.
In the battle for the Senate, Republicans have long hoped to knock off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, and polls continue to show Angle and Reid in a close race.
Democrats have felt good about their chances in West Virginia and Connecticut, but polls suggest tightening races in both states.
Three other races appear to be tougher pickups for Republicans. Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) appear to be pulling ahead, while Democrat Chris Coons enjoys a 15.7-point lead over O’Donnell in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
Democrats pointed to polls in Delaware, California, Kentucky, Missouri, Washington and Pennsylvania as evidence that their candidates are becoming more competitive — if not running ahead — of GOP candidates.
“We assume their ability to predict outcomes in the general election will be as accurate as it was in the primaries,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
In Kentucky and Missouri, the GOP is trying to hold on to seats being vacated by retiring senators.
Jesmer predicted that all incumbent Republican senators would win reelection, and that GOP candidates would likely hold on to open seats previously held by Republicans.
Republicans are seen as having a better chance of winning the Senate than the House, but Cantor warned Monday that efforts by Democrats to bring out their own base may be having an impact.
“I think that it’s been predicted at this point that the poll numbers will tighten up,” he said during an appearance on CNBC.
“I do think that they’re pivoting now to send a signal to the Democratic, left-wing base,” Cantor said, pointing to the increased money that’s been spent in competitive House and Senate races.
Democrats touted the September fundraising as an example of political momentum shifting in their direction with just over four weeks left to go before the election.
The DNC will report over $16 million in revenues from last month when it files its required monthly report with the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 20, according to DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse.
“We’ve found that our supporters are now focused on the election, are responding to the president’s message laying out the choice and understand the stakes,” Woodhouse said.
The DNC has donated $20 million so far to the party’s House and Senate campaign committees, and will look to pour cash into competitive campaigns over the next month to stave off Republican victories and hold control of the House and Senate.
This story was originally posted at 11:23 a.m. and updated at 1:11 p.m. and 8:40 p.m.