Dems, GOP squeeze last drops from campaign messages

On the eve of the 2006 midterm elections, top Democratic strategists Monday afternoon hammered away at President Bush over the Iraq war, while Republican rivals said their party's turnout machine and a tightening in many contests could save at least one congressional majority.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York said Democrats, if they win the majority, would insist on a new Iraq policy. "Every vote cast tomorrow for a Democrat is a vote for a new, smarter Iraq policy," he said.

Contrary to public polls that show many races tightening, Schumer said DSCC polling shows Democratic candidates still leading in key states such as Rhode Island and Montana. "In our own individual polls, we don't see it all," he said. "We don't see any change or diminution."

While Republicans privately acknowledge that holding the House will be extremely difficult, Senate Republicans pointed to a slew of recent polls that give them optimism heading into Tuesday's election. "There are literally eight extremely competitive races around the country," a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman said.

In addition to the widely acknowledged Senate battlegrounds of Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, the NRSC spokesman said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., remains more competitive than polls have suggested, and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., has fought his way back into contention. He also said Republicans are still competitive in Democratic-held seats in Michigan, Maryland and New Jersey.

"The more they look at these races as a choice between two individuals is good for us," the NRSC spokesman said.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois has framed the 2006 elections as a national election. In a conference call Monday afternoon, he said voter anger over how Republicans have run the Iraq war is the central argument as to why Democrats should run the House.

"There is no doubt Iraq is a big piece of why people want change. It's evidence one," Emanuel said. "People want change and the Republicans are the status quo."

Democrats need to win 15 net seats to claim the House majority. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas Reynolds of New York said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the election will be decided by "three-dozen" House races. "They're in the margin of error, and right now, the 72-hour efforts by the Republicans to turn their vote out will make the difference," Reynolds said.

One aide who traveled with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman to turnout rallies in five states this weekend said the RNC's "72-hour program" can turn close races for the GOP. "In races decided by 3 points or less the GOTV program makes a huge difference," he said, adding that GOP volunteers contacted 5.1 million voters over the weekend. That program will be tested in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania's 6th District.

Aides for GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach and Democrat Lois Murphy said this contest, a rematch of 2004, would be determined by the effectiveness of aggressive voter turnout drives each campaign waged this past weekend.

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