Originally created 10/31/04

Candidates grapple for open seats



WASHINGTON - Republicans are poised to renew their grip on the House on Tuesday, and Democrats' faint hopes of a Senate takeover hinge on close races in a string of Southern and Western states that favor President Bush.

In the marquee congressional campaign of the year, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle is in a close, costly struggle for a new term in South Dakota.

Texas, where a Republican redistricting plan placed five Democratic congressmen in political jeopardy, will have an influence in determining which party gains seats in the House.

In all, 34 Senate races mark the ballot, as do all 435 House seats. Democrats must gain two seats to capture a 51-vote majority in the Senate. They need to pick up 12 in the House.

Overall, according to an Associated Press analysis and interviews with political strategists, the number of competitive races is small - nine in the Senate, 30 or fewer in the House.

In competitive races in several states, Republicans sought to tie their opponents to Mr. Kerry.

"Against tax cuts, a liberal record, a negative campaign. No wonder he supports John Kerry," said challenger Louis Gohmert's ad against four-term Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin, of Texas.

But presidential politics aid Democrats elsewhere. In Connecticut, for example, GOP Reps. Chris Shays and Rob Simmons are struggling for new terms in a state that is safe for Mr. Kerry.

In a late-campaign bid for gains, Democratic House candidates and the party's campaign committee aired commercials attacking Republicans for supporting a national sales tax in place of the current income tax system.

"A new sales tax on milk, gas, new homes and a car, even a haircut" on top of the state levy, says one commercial, aimed at Republican Cathy McMorris in Washington.

Officials in both parties agree that Rep. Johnny Isaakson, heavily favored in Georgia, is the Republicans' best chance to capture a Democratic seat.

The Democrats' surest new winner is Barack Obama, a state senator running nearly 50 points ahead in Illinois.