RPT-Obama, Democrats count on U.S. Senate wins out West

* California and Washington could be Senate keys

* Obama heads west to drum up campaign support

* West Coast could defy national trend toward Republicans

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (BestGrowthStock) – With Republicans headed to
big election gains on Nov. 2, Democrats are counting on the
liberal-leaning West Coast to counter the national trend and
help them preserve their fragile U.S. Senate majority.

President Barack Obama heads to California and Washington
state this week to drum up support for endangered incumbents
Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray in the last days of a campaign
that finds his Democrats playing defense around the country.

Wins in those two Democratic-leaning states — most polls
show Boxer and Murray with slight leads — likely would be
enough to ensure Democrats retain narrow control of the Senate
even if Republicans sweep the other competitive races.

“Right now, Democrats have their best chances on the West
Coast. They are in relatively good shape out there compared
with the rest of the country,” said Steven Schier, a political
scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota.

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FACTBOX-Twelve U.S. Senate races to watch [ID:nN19248556]

FACTBOX-Twelve U.S. House races to watch [ID:nN19253986]

TAKE A LOOK on elections [ID:nUSVOTE]

Take a Look at the election [ID:nUSVOTE]

Key risks in the United States [ID:nRISKUS]

Top News on the elections http://link.reuters.com/fyq86p

Graphic-Obama’s challenges http://link.reuters.com/tem72p

Reuters/Ipsos polls http://link.reuters.com/vyr86n

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Public discontent with Obama and the economy has sparked
widespread predictions of a Democratic election defeat, with
Republicans favored to gain more than the 39 seats they need to
seize control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even
the 10 seats needed for a Senate majority.

Republicans, who have 41 seats in the 100-member Senate,
already hold commanding leads in races for Democratic seats in
North Dakota, Arkansas and Indiana.

That leaves them needing wins in seven of eight toss-up
Senate races in Democratic-held states — California,
Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois
and West Virginia — to regain Senate control.

“The odds are against the Republicans taking the Senate,
but the odds are in favor of them getting very close,” said
Peter Brown, a Quinnipiac University pollster.

“It’s going to come down to three or four seats that all
have to go the Republicans’ way,” he said.

A narrow one- or two-seat Democratic majority in the Senate
would almost certainly ensure partisan gridlock on Obama’s
legislative initiatives like climate change and immigration
unless he is willing to make significant concessions.

It also would probably prompt Republicans to try to entice
conservatives like Ben Nelson of Nebraska and independents like
Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to join their party as they try
to repeal Obama’s healthcare overhaul and cut federal
spending.

OBAMA TO HELP REID

Obama also will campaign this week for threatened Senate
Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is in a tight battle for
re-election in Nevada against a Tea Party favorite.

Incumbent Democrats Reid, Boxer and Murray, along with
Michael Bennet in Colorado, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and
Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, are in danger of falling victim to
the foul public mood over the economy and government in
Washington.

Boxer and Murray have solidified small leads in California
and Washington in recent weeks as Democratic voters become more
engaged. Democratic Senate candidates in Democratic-leaning
states in the East like Connecticut and New York also have seen
their leads widen.

“Democrats are starting to wake up a bit in these blue
states,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the
nonpartisan Cook Political Report, using the color designation
for Democratic states used on network election maps.

“Is that enough? It’s hard to know,” she said. “There are
seven or eight races that, if you believe the polling, are
within the margin of error at this point.”

Obama has hit the campaign trail in recent weeks to pump up
Democratic turnout, drawing sharper distinctions with
Republicans and cranking up his criticism of their economic
policies.

He could find fertile territory for those arguments in
California, where he beat Republican presidential candidate
John McCain by 14 percentage points in 2008, and in Washington,
where he beat McCain by a whopping 18 points.

In California, Boxer has criticized her Republican
challenger, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, for
shipping jobs overseas while she headed the company. But Boxer,
like Murray in Washington state, has been hurt by the economy
and voter anger at Congress and government. [ID:nN15234068]

In Nevada, where an influx of new residents from the Snow
Belt and a growing Hispanic population have bolstered Democrats
in recent years, Reid has struggled against Republican Tea
Party favorite Sharron Angle in a race that appears to be a
dead heat.

“It’s going to be a very late night before we know which
party controls the Senate, it probably will come down to those
races out West and maybe Colorado, which are tight,” Schier
said.

For Republicans, the hope is that a swelling landslide
propelled by voter unhappiness with Obama, persistent
unemployment and high government spending enables them to run
the table on all the competitive races.

“The law of averages rarely applies in political
landslides,” Brown said. “All the close ones go the same way.”

RPT-Obama, Democrats count on U.S. Senate wins out West