U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who leads the Democratic Senate campaign, said his party will do better than expected next week and predicted an upset win in the Illinois race for President Barack Obama’s old seat.
“We will, number one, be in the majority in the Senate as Democrats after Nov. 2,” Menendez of New Jersey said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
Menendez, 56, said surprises will continue in the elections, similar to the losses in primaries by some Republican incumbents, and he dismissed a forecast his party will lose eight seats in the Senate.
“We may very well do better than that,” he said. Democrats control the Senate 59-41, and Republicans need a net gain of 10 seats to take the majority. Menendez predicted that Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulias will win his race against Republican Representative Mark Kirk to keep Obama’s former Senate seat in Democratic control.
He also said Democrats have a good chance of picking up a seat in Alaska, where Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is seeking re-election as a write-in candidate after her upset loss in the primary to Tea Party-backed candidate Joe Miller.
Miller’s campaign is struggling, creating an opportunity for Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, mayor of Sitka, Alaska, in the three-way contest.
“He has a real shot of winning,” Menendez said. “Every poll shows that he has risen dramatically.”
Improvements in Economy
Menendez said many people don’t understand “the realities” about improvements in the U.S. economy during the Obama administration.
A Bloomberg National Poll this week shows that by a two-to-one margin likely voters think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be paid back.
In fact, the Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, the economy has grown for five straight quarters and the government expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on TARP.
“We had an incredibly aggressive agenda for the first two years of this administration,” Menendez said. “Before anything could sink in about what was being accomplished, we were on to the next issue.”
Menendez said Democratic leaders missed an opportunity by not holding a vote before the elections on whether to extend Bush-era income-tax cuts. Instead, they put it off until lawmakers return for a lame-duck session next month.
Set to Expire
Democrats and Republicans are locked in a dispute over who should be covered by an extension of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 that are set to expire at the end of this year.
Democrats want to continue the lower rates for families earning up to $250,000 a year, while Republicans insist on keeping the cuts for higher-income Americans as well.
“I was one of those who advocated having a vote, because I wanted to show that Democrats stood on the side of middle-class taxpayers, working people in our country, and overwhelmingly want to make those tax cuts permanent,” Menendez said.
How much Congress can accomplish after the elections will be largely up to Republicans, he said.
“The lame-duck session is either going to be rather lame or it’s going to be a pretty strong one, depending upon how Republicans view it,” the senator said. “If they win seats and think they’ll be in a better position in January of next year, they may very well not want to get anything done.”