Congressional hopefuls grasp for Mondale-Ferraro coattails
As the Democratic convention focuses on retaking the White House, some Democrats here are making San Francisco a rallying point for recapturing the United States Senate.
While only a handful of senators came to the national convention four years ago, 28 are official delegates this year, and most of the major Democratic candidates have made the trek to San Francisco, gaining visibility and raising money.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, quipped that he got 17 senators to come to a fund-raising dinner, more than he could gather in Washington.
But the clear picture as the Democrats were on the verge of nominating Walter F. Mondale and Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro for the top of their ticket Wednesday is that they will have a difficult time wresting the Senate from GOP hands in 1984.
Except in Mr. Mondale's home state of Minnesota, Democrats see the ticket as having little drawing power for senatorial candidates.
''I don't think it'll affect my race much at all,'' says Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is running for reelection in Delaware. He adds that the top of the ticket will influence the races of Democratic challengers, and that so far the Mondale-Ferraro ticket would not help incumbents. ''I think Reagan's a winner right now,'' he says, adding that he expects the race to become close by November.
Some Democrats see a boost from the Ferraro candidacy, especially in the six states where women Democrats are running.
''I think it's a plus,'' says Elizabeth H. Mitchell, majority floor leader in the Maine House of Representatives, who is challenging GOP Sen. William S. Cohen. ''It will add a great deal of excitement to women's races around the country.''
Mrs. Mitchell concedes that she has no tangible proof yet, but she says that talks with Maine residents indicate that some nonvoters ''who have been disenchanted with the process'' will come to the polls because of Representative Ferraro.
''I think you're going to see a lot more women involved'' in the campaign because of the Ferraro candidacy, Senator Bentsen told reporters at a breakfast.
However, the campaign chairman is apparently taking more solace in what he sees as short coattails for President Reagan. ''I don't think Mr. Reagan's personal popularity is going to spill over,'' Bentsen said.
Four years ago the Reagan electoral landslide was credited for pulling several Republicans over the top and giving the GOP the Senate majority.
Bentsen consistently holds out hope for winning the six seats his party needs to take the Senate. He told reporters this week that he saw gains in the Illinois race, where he said Democrat Rep. Paul Simon is now even with Republican Sen. Charles H. Percy. Bentsen said that the movement was in Mr. Simon's favor.
The campaign chairman also took an optimistic view of Iowa and Texas races, while saying he believes his party has won the open seat of Tennessee, now held by Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr.
But the way to a Democratic takeover is hardly smooth, as analyses on both sides make clear. In Illinois, for example, the National Republican Senatorial Committee discounts the Bentsen view.
''Percy is on something of a new offensive,'' says Ceci Cole, spokesman for the GOP committee. She says that GOP numbers show him ''substantially ahead'' and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is ''in good shape.''
Iowa, a state that Democrats have all but written into their column, is still close, according to the GOP. Reports that Sen. Roger W. Jepsen, who has used his fundamentalist Christian faith in campaigns, joined a sex club have damaged him.But the GOP points to a sympathy backlash since the news was published.
North Carolina has such a tight and bitter race that neither side is making predictions.
''I think that Jesse Helms has burned a lot of rubber with his attacks,'' said Bentsen of the incumbent Republican.
But his challenger, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., has been no slouch in his attacks.The two are now embroiled in charges over whose attacks are meaner.
In Texas, the Republicans are counting on coattails from Mr. Reagan, who is highly popular in that state. Bentsen, on the other hand, is counting on the fact that his state is heavily Democratic. The race pits a conservative, GOP Rep. Phil Gramm, against liberal state Sen. Lloyd Doggett.
Bentsen also voices uncertainty in Massachusetts, where the seat is now Democratic. Two candidates in each party are still fighting over who will run in November.
And he concedes that former Gov. William Winter of Mississippi, one of the top Democratic hopefuls, is off to a slow start against Sen. Thad Cochran.
One deciding issue could be money. The Republicans have plenty to spread around - $8 million - to all of their candidates.
The Democratic campaign committee will have to pick and choose among likely candidates, since they will have only about $4 million to spend.