Parties Deal With a Shifting Election

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Overnight, then Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker once said, can be a lifetime in politics. And we have seen that this election cycle already–with the Mark Foley scandal affecting House races around the country. Put that on top of the war in Iraq, questions about the economy, and an unpopular president, and come up with an obvious conclusion: This is not a great time for any Republican to be running for re-election.

Party leaders in both parties have become like real-time field commanders–scrutinizing daily tracking polls, then mobilizing troops and money in real time to figure out where they need to go next. There was a big brouhaha yesterday, when the New York Times reported that the Republican National Committee was pulling resources out of Ohio because it was betting that GOP incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine would lose. RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman hosted a conference call to deny the report, saying he would be spending millions more in Ohio. But the dust-up points to at least one truth: The parties have to decide where to put their resources with only three weeks to go before the election.

The GOP problem is that seats that were once thought to be safe in the Senate–like George Allen's in Virginia–are now being closely contested. And they're defending incumbent Jim Talent in Missouri and trying to make sure a Democrat like Rep. Harold Ford doesn't get the seat being vacated by Sen. Bill Frist. They're plugging holes in the proverbial dike and keeping their fingers crossed that there isn't a flood in the next three weeks.