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Analysts: Democrats Expected to Gain Senate Seats in November Elections

Americans will be voting for members of the U.S. Congress as well as the president when they go to the polls November 4. With Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama leading in national opinion polls, congressional Democrats hope political momentum for their nominee will help boost their majorities in the House of Representatives and particularly in the Senate, where key races could give Democrats enough seats to overcome Republican efforts to block legislation. VOA's Deborah Tate has a look at what is at stake in the Senate campaign.

At a Washington news conference Tuesday, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, said he expects his party to increase its current 51-49 majority in the Senate. "We feel very good that we are going to pick up a successful amount of the larger number of seats and have a successful election."

Thirty-five of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for election. Of those, 12 are held by Democrats.

The question is, can Democrats hold those dozen seats and win nine more, giving them a 60 vote majority that would allow them to overcome Republican procedural hurdles, or filibusters.

A so-called filibuster-proof majority would allow Democrats to pass nearly any measure without seeking compromise with Republicans.

Since taking control of the Senate in the 2006 elections, Senate Democrats have had key initiatives repeatedly blocked by Republicans.

But prior to their becoming the majority party, Democrats did their share of blocking Republican measures.

Senator Schumer says it will be difficult for Democrats to win a 60 seat majority.

But the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, told the same news conference that it could happen. "To say whether they are going to end up with 60 votes in the U.S. Senate is unpredictable. Is it possible? It is possible."

Ensign says the political climate does not favor Republicans this year. "In this tough election cycle, with an unpopular president, it makes it a very difficult time for them," he said.

Among those Republican incumbents facing tough reelection bids are Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who is on trial on corruption charges, may lose his bid for another term if he is found guilty in a trial now underway in Washington.

The only incumbent Democrat facing a difficult race for another term is Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Democrats are favored to win seats being vacated by retiring Republicans in Virginia and New Mexico.