WASHINGTON (AFP) — Republicans always feared a pounding in this year's congressional elections, but the shockwaves of the Wall Street crisis may inflict a bloodbath on President George W. Bush's demoralized party.
Still reeling from 2006 mid-term polls which saw Democrats wrench away their control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republicans look set to take further losses in a toxic political climate.
Reverberations from the economic crisis look set to help Democrats widen majorities in both chambers, and the party is envisioning years of dominance in Congress and has high hopes of grabbing the White House.
Just over two weeks from election day, November 4, Democratic congressional candidates are also basking in the current momentum of their presidential standard bearer Barack Obama , and his pied piper hordes of new voters.
They are banking on big gains in the Senate, where even conservative estimates say four or five seats in the 100 strong-chamber could change hands, with several more likely to topple on a really bad night for Republicans.
Current polls suggest that Democrats can expect to add at least 20 seats to their current majority of 36 when all 435 House perches come up for reelection.
"Clearly the big issue here is the state of the economy," said Professor Steven Smith, a specialist in congressional politics at the University of Washington in St. Louis.
"The crisis is blamed on Republicans ... we are seeing an across the board shift in the good fortunes of the Democrats."
Though Democrats have been on top for two years and Congress is held in contempt -- its approval ratings hit a historic low of 15 percent in a recent CBS poll -- Republicans, as holders of the White House are carrying the can for the crisis.
The 2008 congressional battlefield was always tilted towards Democrats, as by a quirk of the political schedule, 22 Republican seats are up for reelection in the Senate compared to just 12 held by Democrats.
Fearing a Democratic tide, some Republicans in the 100-seat chamber retired, and only one Democratic seat, that of Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, is seen as marginally competitive.
Democrats currently enjoy a 51-49 edge in the Senate, with the help of two independents, but it would take a political earthquake for them to hit the magic 60 seats barrier and the power to break Republican filibusters.
"It is hard to get beyond 58 seats for the Democrats, it really is very hard to see how they get to 60," said Smith.
Democrats seem a lock to grab seats held by retiring Republicans in Virginia and New Mexico. In Minnesota, comedian Al Franken has moved ahead of current Republican Senator Norm Coleman by a few points.
New Hampshire political icon Jeanne Shaheen was favored by up to nine points in recent polling to avenge her 2002 defeat at the hands of incumbent John Sununu.
Fierce combat is raging in far western Oregon, where Republican Gordon Smith is trying to turn back the Democratic tide but was down five points in a Survey USA poll last week. Republican Bob Schaffer is also behind in Colorado.
Incredibly, Elizabeth Dole, who never expected a fight, looks in trouble in in North Carolina against local lawmaker Kay Hagan, with the wife of former Senate old bull Bob Dole being slammed for spending little time in the state.
Revenge is in the air in Georgia, with Republican Saxby Chambliss, who ousted Democrat Max Cleland six years ago, only a couple of points up.
"I have never forgotten Saxby Chambliss' revolting and repulsive hit piece equating Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and triple-amputee war hero Max Cleland in 2002," said J.B. Poersch, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in a fundraising appeal on Saturday.
Democrats are also seeking an unlikely scalp in Kentucky, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is in an unexpectedly close race.
Most experts believe McConnell will pull through, but his tight race is cheering Democrats still smarting over the defeat of former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota in 2004.
Another Republican seat, Alaska, may depend on whether veteran Senator Ted Stevens beats corruption charges in a colorful trial now racing towards a climax in Washington.
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