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US Republican chair admits tough 'political times'

Top U.S. Republicans, stung by election defeats last week, acknowledged political problems on Sunday but rejected predictions that Democrats would win back control of the U.S. Congress next year.
/ Source: Reuters

Top U.S. Republicans, stung by election defeats last week, acknowledged political problems on Sunday but rejected predictions that Democrats would win back control of the U.S. Congress next year.

"There is no question we're in difficult political times," Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman told NBC's "Meet the Press."

But Mehlman said Congress and the nation would make progress in coming months on a host of fronts -- from the Iraq war to energy independence to reducing the federal deficit -- that should put them in a better position in 2006 when all 435 House of Representative seats and 33 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for election, as well as 36 governorships.

"All of these are priorities, all of these are reforms," Mehlman said. "And I'm confident that next year, we're going to maintain our majorities in the House and Senate."

In elections that focused state and local offices, Democrats won governor races in Virginia and New Jersey last week. The results raised their hopes that they will regain control of Congress in the 2006 elections largely because of public discontent with President George W. Bush and his increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

This uneasiness has also been seen in Congress where Bush's fellow Republicans have challenged him in recent weeks on matters from proposed tax cuts to his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who withdraw in face of a conservative rebellion.

REPUBLICAN COURSE CORRECTION?

Members of both political parties sparred on television talk shows over their predictions for the U.S. political future.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, told CBS's "Face the Nation," "The good news is this is a mid-term election and we've got next year to make some course corrections."

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is a potential 2008 presidential candidate, told CBS that Republicans had to get back on track with an agenda.

"We've got to get back on an energy policy, immigration reform, we've got to make progress on the war in Iraq," he said."

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean was optimistic on his party's chances to win back Congress in 2006. "Yes, we can and we will," he said on "Meet the Press."

"The truth is when the American people want real change they'll have it. And this time they are going to get real change," he said.

Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina mocked talk that Democrats would win back Congress in 2006. She noted that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid admitted just months ago it would take "a miracle" for his part to regain control of the the Senate.

Appearing with Dole on ABC's "This Week," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York fired back: "George Bush has given us that miracle."

"I think if the election of 2006 were held last Tuesday, you'd be talking about Majority Leader Harry Reid," Schumer said.

"We're ahead by a lot," Schumer said. "The American people feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction. And George Bush just continues to head in that wrong direction."

Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, chairman of the House Republican campaign committee, said he sees no need for "a course correction" within his party.

"I think we're having a policy debate inside the House Republican majority that will get completed," Reynolds told ABC's "This Week."