GOP leaders concede Senate may be out of reach

By Steven Thomma

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Sunday, Oct. 31 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON (MCT) — Top Republicans conceded Sunday that they could fall short of winning control of the Senate in Tuesday's congressional elections.

Tension rose over a faltering tea-party-backed Republican candidate in Alaska.

One top Senate Republican declined to say whether he thought his party's candidate, Joe Miller, could still win, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Plain lashed out at Republicans, Democrats and the media for Miller's problems.

Overall, Republicans predicted sweeping wins on Tuesday, including a takeover of the House of Representatives, enough wins to control a majority of the nation's governorships, and substantial gains in the Senate. They need to win a net of 10 seats to take control of the Senate.

"It's harder in the Senate," said Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We'll make a lot of headway. I'm not predicting that we will get the majority this cycle. I think it probably is going to take two cycles," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, on ABC's "This Week" program.

"But there is certainly a potential there, depending on just how high and how broad this wave election is."

Democrats insisted that they will retain control of both the House and Senate.

"It's not a lost cause," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen ( D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "Democrats are going to hold onto the House."

He said Democrats are turning out in early voting in many states, more than expected and enough to counter any Republican wave. Van Hollen also said that undecided voters remain up for grabs.

"What they're now doing is taking a very close look at these Republican candidates, recognizing that they're way off on the right extreme," Van Hollen said. "Many of them are these candidates that have been recruited and blessed by Sarah Palin. And they're saying, 'We don't want someone way off on the right.''"

Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on ABC that Democrats know they will lose seats, but that they were better prepared this year than they were in 1994, when they last lost control of the House and Senate.

"This is not 1994," Menendez said. "No. 1, in 1994, the Republican brand, its image was much better than it is today. In every poll, Democrats as a brand fare much better. And, secondly, in 1994, it was a surge at the end. We've known that this midterm election is going to be challenging, and so our candidates for the U.S. Senate have been ready for this."

Complicating Republican hopes to take the Senate: two tea party candidates who seized Republican nominations away from more moderate and established candidates in Alaska and Delaware.

In Alaska, Cornyn conceded that he's concerned about Miller, the party's nominee.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski had seemed all but certain to hold the seat. But she was defeated in a primary by tea party candidate Miller, with strong backing from Palin, who's had a long-running feud with the Murkowski family.

Now Miller is bogged down by his admission that he lied about his use of government computers for political work, and by his use of private guards to handcuff a reporter who tried to ask Miller a question.

He's in a close three-way race with Murkowski, who's making an independent write-in bid, with Democrat Scott McAdams trailing.

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