Presidential race buffets fight for control of the Senate, toss-up states play a role

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 12:24 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The party that runs the Senate next year may be decided by how well President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do in toss-up states like Nevada, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, where ballots feature parallel Senate races about as tight as the presidential contest.

The mammoth campaign organizations built by Obama and Romney, his Republican challenger, are focusing their voter registration and turnout efforts in those four states and a handful of other presidential battlegrounds. Congressional candidates there are latching onto the help that can come from the larger, better-funded presidential campaigns.

In Nevada, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley is hoping to buttress her challenge to Republican Sen. Dean Heller with the Obama campaign's efforts to register Hispanic voters. In Virginia, the GOP has operated 29 offices across the state combining the operations of Romney, Senate candidate George Allen and House candidates.

Democrats control the Senate 53-47, including two independents who vote with them. Of the 33 seats up for grabs on Election Day, a dozen are considered competitive, largely in the West and Midwest. Republicans need a net pickup of four seats to take control if Obama is re-elected, three if Romney wins.

Both sides are measuring the impact of the presidential race at a time when spending on congressional races — especially by outside groups — is mushrooming.

In the House, Democrats have been hoping that a strong Election Day performance by Obama could lift their candidates, especially in states he is expected to win easily like New York, Illinois and California. They may make some gains but seem unlikely to pick up 25 seats they need to wrest House control from the GOP. Only about 60 seats are considered competitive in the 435-member House.

"There's no question we pick up seats in direct correlation to the president's coattails," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who heads the House Democratic campaign organization.

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