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Republicans Face Uphill Battle To Take Over Senate


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. In addition to the White House, another huge prize in the November election is control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans only need a few seats to gain the majority, and it appeared to be an uphill battle for Democrats who are defending twice as many seats as the GOP is. But as NPR's David Welna reports, Democrats are growing increasingly confident.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: In the GOP's quest to retake the Senate, things started heading south even before Mitt Romney's latest setbacks. Republican Olympia Snowe decided at the 11th hour not to seek re-election in Maine. GOP candidate Todd Akin may have cost his party an almost certain pickup in Missouri with his remarks about rape. An unexpectedly strong Democratic contender in North Dakota has made that race for an open seat a toss-up.

Add to that, says New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, the Mitt Romney effect.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: His flailing campaign is now having a drag effect for Republican Senate candidates across the country and this has them a little cranky.

WELNA: Indeed, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell seemed more than a little annoyed today when Democrats insisted on bringing up a popular sportsmen bill sponsored by Montana Democrat Jon Tester, who's in a tight race for his own seat. McConnell said the Senate should instead be voting on the six-month stopgap funding bill known as the continuing resolution or CR.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Now they're holding the CR hostage for no other reason than to help one of their incumbents on the campaign trail.

WELNA: Meanwhile, some GOP Senate contenders are running away from Romney's recently surfaced remarks about the 47 percent who don't pay federal income taxes. At a candidate debate last night in Virginia, Republican Senate contender George Allen had this to say about those remarks.

GEORGE ALLEN: I have my own point of view, and my point of view is the people of America still believe in the American dream.

WELNA: Recent polls show Allen trailing Democratic rival Tim Kaine in a race that had been dead even. Massachusetts Republican incumbent Scott Brown has also seen his lead over Democrat Elizabeth Warren disappear. This is what Brown had to say this week about Romney's 47 percent remarks.

SENATOR SCOTT BROWN: The bottom line is that I know it's not how I think. I think that people who are in those situations aren't there by choice. They want to work.

WELNA: Another GOP Senate contender no longer ahead in the polls is Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson. He's running against Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin for the seat held by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. On local TV station WKOW, Thompson on Wednesday seemed to blame his slippage in the polls on Romney.

TOMMY THOMPSON: If your standard-bearer for the presidency is not doing well, it's going to reflect on the down ballot.

WELNA: None of this comes as a surprise to Jennifer Duffy, who sizes up Senate races for the Cook Political Report.

JENNIFER DUFFY: It makes sense for some of these candidates to distance themselves from Romney. But as candidates in more swing states or even some red states start to distance themselves, then it tells us a lot about whether Romney's starting to hurt candidates down the ballot.

WELNA: Democrats believe they've gained the upper hand in the fight for the Senate. Last night, majority leader Harry Reid would not agree to a series of votes proposed by Republicans that would have kept Scott Brown away from a debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren.

SENATOR HARRY REID: I want to make sure that one of the senators who wanted to go to a debate would be able to do that tonight. So he can go now.

WELNA: Texas Senator John Cornyn is the Republican in charge of winning control of the Senate. He admits his job's gotten harder.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: Well, it's proved a little more challenging than we thought, but we know that there's a lot of unexpected things and some expected things that occur in campaigns.

WELNA: Still, Cornyn insists Republicans will take the Senate. Handicapper Duffy won't rule that out either.

DUFFY: There is still a path. It's much more difficult than it was in, say, early August.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.