Politicians hit the home stretch
Bush rallies GOP in close Senate races
ST. CHARLES, Missouri (CNN) -- Exhorting their respective supporters not to sit on the sidelines this Election Day, Democratic and Republican leaders canvassed the country Monday, stumping for candidates in close races and hoping to sway prospective voters.
President Bush spent a fifth day of nearly non-stop campaigning Monday in 11th-hour visits to states with tight Senate races, urging the GOP faithful to get out and vote Tuesday.
Bush stumped in the St. Louis suburbs Monday afternoon for Senate candidate Jim Talent, who Republicans hope will unseat incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan.
"For the good of Missouri and for the good of America, Jim Talent is the man for Senate," he said.
With the Senate currently split 49-49 between Democrats and Republicans, with one independent and one vacant seat, a handful of close races could determine the balance of power in that chamber.
Carnahan's seat is considered one of the Democrats' most vulnerable in Tuesday's midterm races. Because she was appointed to fill the seat her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, won posthumously in 2000, the winner will assume the seat immediately.
The Republicans have a six-seat majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats hold a one-seat advantage in the Senate, because the independent senator caucuses with them. Bush says a Republican Senate would allow him to make permanent last year's tax cuts, gain approval for his judicial nominees and create a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department.
Democrats had their own stars on the campaign trail. For example, former Vice President Al Gore was in Florida Monday, stumping for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, who is trying to unseat Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother. And former President Bill Clinton was in Connecticut on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial challenger Bill Curry, who is running against GOP Gov. John Rowland.
Democrats are trying to focus on the slumping economy in order to retain their grip on the Senate and regain the House.
"When you look at your exit polls tomorrow, you will find Democrats did very well because the economy is not going in the right direction," John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to Clinton, told CNN.
But polls indicate Bush's last-minute sprint may be paying off. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday night, Republican voters said they were more enthusiastic about voting Tuesday than their Democratic counterparts. And more likely voters polled said they would vote for Republicans than Democrats by a 51-to-45 margin.
Bush's approval rating in the CNN/USA Today Gallup poll is 63 percent.
In a key Senate race, in Minnesota, former Vice President Walter Mondale and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman held a heated debate in a race turned upside-down by the October 25 death of incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone.
It was the sole scheduled encounter between Mondale, Wellstone's replacement as the Democratic nominee, and the Republican Coleman. The two candidates clashed over abortion rights, judicial nominations and each others' ties to special interests.
Just before the debate began, outgoing Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Independent Dean Barkley as interim senator to fill Wellstone's seat until the winner of Tuesday's race takes office, a period of two weeks.
Ventura was angered at the exclusion of an independent from Monday's debate and by Wellstone's memorial service, which he said "turned into nothing more than a political rally," said Ventura.
Bush's top advisers played down the prospect of large gains Tuesday, but predicted the president will buck a historic trend -- that the president's party typically loses ground in midterm races.
"The average House loss in the mid-term for the president's party is 30 seats, and the president's party on average has lost Senate seats in the last two-thirds of 22 elections," Mary Matalin, White House adviser, told CNN Sunday. "So that we're not getting creamed right now might be a referendum on how the country feels about George Bush."
After stops in Iowa and Missouri, Bush was scheduled to campaign in Arkansas for Sen. Tim Hutchinson, considered one of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents; and in Texas, where Republican Attorney General John Cornyn is running against former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a Democrat, for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.
If Republicans gain seats in the House of Representatives, it would be the first time the president's party gained in the first off-year election of a president's term since 1932, according to a senior administration official. If Republicans win back control of the Senate, the official added, it would be the first time that happened during a president's first off-year election.