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Democrat says Wellstone among most vulnerable

By Angela Greiling Keane

agreiling@postbulletin.com

WASHINGTON -- The top Democratic fund-raiser said Wednesday that Sen. Paul Wellstone is one of the three most vulnerable Democrats in this fall's election.

Wellstone is seeking his third Senate term in a tight race against former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

"In Minnesota, Paul Wellstone is within the margin of error," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters.

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But Murray said she is optimistic about the chances of Wellstone and of the two other senators -- Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D. -- she listed as the most vulnerable.

"(Wellstone) is the best grass-roots campaigner," Murray said, noting she was in Minnesota last month to help on the campaign trail.

For his part, Murray's Republican counterpart, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, listed incumbents in Arkansas and Colorado as the most vulnerable. He also labeled New Hampshire, where incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Smith lost in the primary, as a state where Republicans are concerned about losing a seat.

Thirty-four of the Senate's 100 seats are up for election this year.

Control of the Senate will pivot on the results of the Nov. 5 election, with Democrats holding a one-vote majority in the chamber. Democrats took control of the Senate last year when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent. The Senate had been split 50-50 before Jeffords' defection, but Republicans had control then because, in times of a tie, the vice president is considered a member of the Senate.

Mid-term elections typically draw lower voter turnout than presidential election years, but leaders in both parties hope this year's bevy of close contests will draw more people to the polls.

Murray and Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot said that the party of the president has a poor track record in mid-term elections. In five of the eight mid-term elections since 1970, the president's party has lost seats.

"We know, of course, that we would have to stem the tide of history to retain control of the United States House, regain control of the Senate and retain control of a majority of state governorships," Racicot said.

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This year, Frist said he considers 16 of the 34 races to be in play, with the other ones safe seats for Republican or Democratic incumbents.

The Minnesota race is on the top of the list for all involved in politics, with Democrats and Republicans alike predicting it will come down to the wire.

Congress is still in session, giving incumbents less time to campaign, as it struggles to pass spending bills for next year and to debate a resolution giving President Bush power to use military force against Iraq.

Despite the fact that the situation with Iraq is a hot topic among voters across the country and is the topic du jour in Washington, Frist and Murray said they don't expect votes on a resolution to play a significant role in Senate races.

"I frankly don't see Iraq playing into the elections," Murray said. "It is a policy question, not a political question." Frist concurred, saying, "The goal is to put together a resolution we can all rally behind." He, however, was quoted the same day in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, saying that Republicans planned to use an anticipated Wellstone vote against a resolution to their political advantage.

"Of all the states, the issue of following the president's leadership in the Iraq resolution of using force against Iraq, the state of Minnesota is where it is playing the most directly," Frist said in Roll Call.

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