TELEPHONE lines are humming between the White House and at least five states with sizzling Senate races - Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. President Bush and his political staff detect an opportunity to pick off several United States Senate seats this fall - enough to put the GOP within striking distance of majority control for the first time since 1986.
Near the top of the White House list is Nebraska, where Democratic Sen. Jim Exon is battling one of the most aggressive Republican challengers in his 20-year elective career. His opponent: Hal Daub, a popular former congressman and trumpet-playing attorney from Omaha.
``Daub is one of the most tenacious campaigners around, a real dawn-to-dusk type,'' says a White House aide. ``Daub's campaign is a real sleeper in this group.''
Aware of the president's interest, the White House staff is monitoring Senate campaigns in all the pivotal states on a weekly basis to get updates on polls, strategy, and issues.
The president also is joining the fray. Here in Nebraska, Bush has already helped with fundraising, as has Vice President Dan Quayle and Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas.
Nebraska's race promises to be close and hard fought. Senator Exon, who narrowly escaped defeat six years ago at the hands of a less-experienced Republican foe, says he expects a particularly negative campaign from the GOP.
``I know what kind of an operator [Daub] is,'' Exon says. ``We've tried to anticipate what trickery'' might be pulled. Exon charges that Daub was ``hand-picked'' for this race by Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater, who has a reputation among Democrats for bareknuckled politicking.
Daub denies that he plans a negative race, calling that Exon's forte, but he promises to put a bright spotlight on Exon's record.