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The danger signs for Republicans show up across the electoral map but nowhere more clearly than in the swing state of Pennsylvania, where the hottest Senate race in the country is being fought and where Republican strategists say as many as five G.O.P. congressional seats are in play, out of a total 19. The President is still beloved by the state's Republican faithful, as evidenced by the fact that 500 of them showed up to see him at a $1,000-a-plate private fund raiser for Senator Rick Santorum last week in Sewickley Heights, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Santorum posed for photos with the President at the airport and leaned into a smiling handshake with political guru Karl Rove. But it was telling that Santorum, who is trailing state treasurer Bob Casey by 10 points in the latest polls, scheduled no public appearances with Bush. When Cheney flew to Newark, N.J., earlier in the week to raise nearly $400,000 that state senator Tom Kean Jr. badly needs in his bid for the U.S. Senate, the candidate didn't show up until 15 minutes after the Vice President's motorcade had left. Kean blamed the state's notorious traffic for his tardiness. Local papers confirmed that there hadn't been much congestion at the time.
On the fund-raising front, Democrats have been surprisingly competitive with the Republicans. In a rare feat for the party, the Democratic senatorial campaign committee has outraised its Republican counterpart. Last year "our bottom-line goal was not to lose any seats," says Charles Schumer, the New York Senator who heads the committee. "Now, if things fall in line, we might even pick up the Senate." Republicans could even lose the Tennessee seat of retiring majority leader Bill Frist to Representative Harold Ford, a Democrat.
Few strategists in either party think a Democratic takeover of the Senate is likely, but many agree that the party's playing offense rather than defense is a remarkable turnaround, given that Democrats have more incumbents (18) fighting to keep their seats than Republicans do (15). But the G.O.P. failed to recruit strong challengers for the North Dakota, Nebraska and Florida seats that had been considered their best opportunities. "There was a chance for us to get damn close to [a filibuster-proof] 60 votes," says G.O.P. activist Grover Norquist. "We gave away three sure things."
If there's any good news for Republicans, it's that the elections are still seven months off. There is time in which any number of possible events--the capture of Osama bin Laden, for instance, or positive developments out of Iraq--could sweeten the nation's mood. Gingrich says Republicans badly need accomplishments to tell voters about. "The country actually expects the majority to implement," he says. "They hire you to govern, not just to tell them why you are right."
Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, chairman of the G.O.P. House campaign committee, said the picture is more promising race by race than it is nationally. He told TIME only 36 to 40 races will be in play, meaning Democrats would have to keep all their competitive seats and knock off three-quarters of the Republicans. "We have more money, and their only message is slash and burn," Reynolds said.