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Democrats Expected to Gain Seats in US Congress


Americans go to the polls Tuesday to vote for members of the U.S. Congress as well as the president. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for election, along with will more than one-third of the 100-member Senate. Democrats are hoping to pick up enough Senate seats so they can deprive the Republican minority of their ability to block legislation. VOA's Deborah Tate has this report on how the battle is shaping up.

Most of the attention on the congressional races is focused on the Senate, where Democrats, who now hold a narrow majority, hope to win an additional nine seats to give them an influential 60-vote majority.

That would be an important victory for Democrats, according to Alan Lichtman, political science professor at American University.

"A 60-seat majority is of enormous significance because that is a filibuster-proof majority. Republicans could not block legislation by in effect talking it to death, delaying it," he said.

Lichtman believes Democrats will increase their ranks, but fall a few seats short of the critical 60-vote majority. He argues that Democrats could win over enough moderate Republicans on individual issues to overcome any efforts to block their legislation.

Democrats are also expected to expand their 36-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

Analysts predict Democrats could win between 20 and 35 additional seats.

Congressional Republicans acknowledge they face a tough election battle. Among incumbents facing close reelection bids in the Senate are Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who was found guilty of corruption charges last month.

A number of Republican House members also are waging tough reelection campaigns, including Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut - a political moderate who has often been at odds with President Bush, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who made a controversial call for investigations of U.S. lawmakers whom she had suggested hold "anti-American views".

If Democrat Barack Obama becomes president, larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate could be key to swiftly implementing his legislative agenda, including withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq and implementing health care reform.

"Democrats have been out of power for some time. They have not controlled the presidency and the Congress since the early 1990s under Bill Clinton. Democrats are going to be hungry for real accomplishment," added Professor Lichtman.

But Steven Hess of the Brookings Institution says a Democratic Congress will not necessarily be in lock step with a Democratic president.

"Neither party is monolithic. Both parties in a sense have regional interests that differ as well as conservative and liberal wings of the party," said Hess.

If Republican John McCain is elected president, Alan Lichtman says the veteran senator's record of bipartisanship could help in moving legislation through congress, although he says the partisan nature of his presidential campaign would make relations with Democrats more difficult.

"He has run a very relentless-negative campaign, and a campaign decried by even some Republicans. He would have a lot of mending to do in order to bring around Democrats who are very bitter about the negative campaign that he has run," said Lichtman.

The presidential candidate who loses the election will return to Capitol Hill as a U.S. senator, but likely with a higher profile than before his White House campaign.