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Dem Goal: Net Gain of 7 Senate Seats in '06

It's a long way to November '06, and a lot can happen between now and then to make predictions look silly. But if Democrats are serious about regaining control of congress, it's time to focus energies on the strategy that can win and the work that needs to be done to make it happen.

For an expert analysis of the struggle to win control of the House of Representatives, no better place to begin than Alan Abramowitz's EDM post "Seven Potentially Vulnerable GOP Incumbents." WaPo columnist Terry Neal has a pretty good wrap-up of the challenges Dems face in winning back congress in "Political Horse Race Season Opens." Neal transposed his numbers in counting the respective Senate seats defended by the Dems and Republicans. The correct figures are 17 Senate seats being defended by Democrats and 15 being defended by the GOP, according to the Senate's webpage list. As a practical matter, Dems also must defend the Senate seat of retiring Independent Jim Jeffords, who votes with Dems.

An 18-15 Democratic disadvantage in seats to defend could spread Dem resources a little thin, and regaining control of the Senate will be a tough challenge. Yet historically, the party of the sitting President has lost an average of 6 Senate seats in off-year elections, and Dems have increasing grounds for optimism. As Neal quotes Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Phil Singer:

"I'm not going to say we're going to win back the Senate but we feel pretty confident about picking up seats," Singer said. "With [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay's issues, and [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff, and Social Security, there's a general discontent about the way Republicans are running Congress, and we're waiting for a wave to emerge."

Republicans, who enjoy a 55-44-1 majority, are already talking up their prospects for a net gain in the '06 Senate races. For a look at the conservative take on the '06 Senate races, read John J. Miller's round-up "Springtime for Senators" in the National Review. Miller's article has some interesting inside details about 25 of the 33 Senate races. As might be expected, however, Miller is a smidge over-optimistic about GOP prospects, particularly in Rhode Island, Maryland and Ohio, where Dems will run strong.

There's no denying the GOP has a formidable advantage in 3 fewer seats to defend in '06, and a net gain of 7 seats to regain control of the Senate is an ambitious goal for Dems. But polls are tilting nicely in the Dems' favor, issues are breaking our way and the downside of one-party rule is becomming more painfully obvious every day.