GOP leaders concede Senate may be out of reach

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.

Cornyn disputed reports that the national party was abandoning Miller in favor of Murkowski, but offered a tepid endorsement of Miller and declined to say whether he thought Miller could win.

"We are supporting the nominee of our party, which is Mr. Miller . . . but are concerned," Cornyn said.

Asked if Miller could win, he said, "Well, I think that polls are very close now between Senator Murkowski and Joe Miller, and what we want to make sure of is that the Democrat doesn't win."

Palin, appearing on Fox News Sunday where she is a paid contributor, blamed "the GOP machine and the Democrats and the liberal media" for Miler's problems.

She lashed out at a TV station in Alaska, saying they conspired with Murkowski to find a child molester in a Miller rally. "Those are corrupt bastards," Palin said.

Menendez suggested that the race is down to Murkowski vs. McAdams, and that McAdams "actually has a real chance of winning this race."

In Delaware, Republican insiders once thought they had a slam dunk to take the Democratic seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden when it appeared that popular Rep. Mike Castle would win the nomination.

But he was upset in August by tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell. She's now handicapped both by her staunch conservatism in a more liberal state and by controversial statements such as believing that scientists are developing mice with human brains and that she had classified information about a secret Chinese plan to take over America.

She trails in polls by double digits.

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