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Senate Democrat: Battleground states 'very winnable'

From Emily McCulloch
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The New York Democrat leading the party's campaign efforts in the Senate said Monday he considers the key battleground states in the midterm election "very winnable."

But a day before the midterm elections, the Republican National Committee chairman cited momentum from new polls and predicted the GOP would retain its majority in the Senate, where it holds 55 seats. Democrats would need to pick up six seats to take control of the chamber.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said if Democrats gain control in the House or Senate, they would have more clout in Washington and that 2007 would be a year of transitioning to a new Iraq policy.

Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said a Democratic Congress would seek to redeploy many troops out of harm's way in Iraq and focus on "four missions" there: counterterrorism, force protection, logistics and training.

"Every vote cast for a Democrat on Tuesday is for a new, smarter Iraq policy. Every vote cast for a Republican is staying the course, whether the president wants to call it that or not," Schumer said at a press conference in Washington.

He said much of the battleground in this year's election lies in Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee, and he considers all three "very winnable" for Democrats.

The latest polls give a slight edge to the Democratic candidate in Missouri, a bigger edge to the Republican candidate in Tennessee and a mixed outlook for Virginia.

Schumer told CNN that picking up six seats is "a tough battle."

"It is like pulling a straight flush. But we're right on the edge," he said. In what he cited as two blue states with competitive races, he said Democrats were "doing well" in Maryland and New Jersey.

He said Democratic candidates "are significantly ahead" in two red states, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"We're a little bit ahead in four more, which is Montana, Missouri, Virginia and Rhode Island. In Tennessee, we're a little bit behind, but that's within reach, and the same with Arizona."

GOP has hope

The GOP focused Monday on building momentum, telling its base and undecided voters that any rumors of the party's demise in Congress have been greatly exaggerated.

"My prediction is we will maintain our majorities in the House and Senate. ... I think there's momentum," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman told CNN.

He also released an open memo headlined, "New polls say our party is heading into Election Day with strong momentum."

But Schumer said that Democrats are "getting support in places we never expected."

"You're getting a large number of voters, independents, Republicans who are voting for us because either they're fed up with the war and George Bush's inability," he said.

"Or there are some even real conservative people who think you need some checks and balances in this government," he said.

Schumer credited some of his optimism to his party's altered get-out-the-vote effort. Schumer said that where once Democrats used a more traditional "one size fits all" approach to get voters to the polls, this year they are using more personal and up-to-date techniques to bolster Democratic voter turnout.

He accused Republicans of "attempts at voter intimidation" ahead of Tuesday's voting.

"We have more calls than they do, but our calls are going straight at them, instead of doing this underhanded stuff. We try to say here's why you should vote for our candidate; here's what our candidate stands for, here's what that candidate stands for," Schumer said.

"We are way ahead of our targets everywhere. And from the preliminary reports we've gotten, we have outdone the Republicans in get-out-the-vote in Rhode Island, Maryland, Missouri and Montana."

Schumer said that the Democratic Party will be armed with thousands of lawyers prepared to red-flag any voting irregularities on Tuesday. He said Democratic voters should not be intimidated to go to the polls.

"For Americans who want a change in course in Iraq, there's only one answer, whether you're a Democrat, independent or Republican. It's to vote for Democratic candidates in the Senate and in the House," Schumer said.

Bush cites 'plan for victory'

Brian Nick, communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, dismissed Democratic efforts to nationalize the campaign and capitalize on President Bush's low approval rating.

"Senate races throughout the country will be decided based on a choice between two candidates, not a referendum," he said in a written statement.

"Sen. Schumer and the Democrats have no plan on how to win the war in Iraq and are content to lose and leave behind a breeding ground for terrorist attacks against America."

Campaigning in Florida on Monday, Bush repeated his warnings that Democrats would raise taxes and that Republicans are more serious about protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism. On issue after issue, he urged voters to ask Democrats, "What's your plan?"

"Harsh criticism is not a plan for victory. Second-guessing is not a strategy," he said. "We have a plan for victory, and part of that plan is to make sure that Republicans control the House and Senate."

Sens. Chuck Schumer, right, and Harry Reid campaign with Virginia candidate Jim Webb.

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