Ensign says Democrats will take U.S. ‘way left’

WASHINGTON — Seeking the last word before Election Day, Sen. John Ensign charged Sunday that federal spending and taxes will go up if Democrats win big in Senate races on Tuesday.

“This is the most liberal, left-wing radical group of candidates that Democrats have ever put up,” said Ensign, the Nevadan who is the Republicans’ chief strategist in Senate elections this year.

“If they get in, they are going to take this country way left,” Ensign said. “They are going to increase taxes, they are going to increase spending, they are going to make us more dependent on foreign sources of oil.”

But Ensign’s assessment was dismissed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., as the two appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program.

Democratic candidates “are thoughtful, they’re moderate, they’re nonideological,” said Schumer, who runs the party’s Senate political organization.

“These are people aimed at the middle class, not too far right, not too far left,” Schumer said. He said some may be elected from Republican red states, but “unlike the Republican incumbents they’re running against, they do want change, they don’t believe in (President) Bush’s policies.”

Ensign and Schumer squared off for perhaps the final time before Election Day, after strategizing against each other for two years. In the current Senate, Democrats control 51 seats with help from independents Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, and most analysts believe that majority will increase by a substantial number after Tuesday.

Schumer talked down the possibility Democrats could get a filibuster-proof 60 seats.

“We are going to have a pretty good night,” Schumer said. Sixty seats “is possible but unlikely.”

But, he added, “with 56, 57, 58 seats we will be able to get a lot done for the country.”

Tuesday will feature Senate elections in 35 states. Only one Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, is considered threatened while close to a dozen Republican seats are being contested. As big Republican losses seem likely, Ensign’s strategy in the final days of the campaign has been to warn voters against giving Democrats strong control.

Ensign said his party’s candidates have been hampered by an unpopular president and the unpopular Iraq war.

On top of that, the financial crisis “has been almost a body blow to Republicans,” he said.

“No question we are facing a fairly strong political headwind at this point,” Ensign said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault or 202-783-1760.

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