POLITICS
11/21/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Schumer And Ensign Spar On Palin, Robocalls, Senate Races

The respective leaders of the Republican and Democrat Senatorial campaign committees clashed on a wide variety of topics Tuesday morning, but perhaps most noticeably on the current state of the presidential race.

Senator Chuck Schumer, following an open press session at the National Press Club, denounced the massive anti-Obama robocalls being launched by the McCain campaign, seeking to tie the Illinois Democrat to 60s radical Bill Ayers, saying "they are almost set up to misinform and frighten."

"I don't know what first amendment limitations there are on [robocalls]," he added. "But there ought to be some kind of restriction."

Jon Ensign, his counterpart on the Republican side of the aisle, said -- after some hesitation -- that it was important for a presidential candidate to have his associations vetted. "And I think that questions of judgment are legitimate in a presidential election."

Pressed as to why some Republican Senators, including incumbent candidates Norm Coleman and Susan Collins, have come out against the robocall effort, Ensign said: "I will let them speak for themselves."

Another topic of disagreement between the two figures was the effect that Sarah Palin had had on both the presidential race and down the ticket. While Ensign insisted that the Alaska Governor had rallied the conservative base and, in the process, boosted the hopes of embattled Senate candidates, Schumer was a bit more critical.

"She served the Republican ticket very well in that she sort of changed the battleship around," he said. "They went from an 'experience' campaign to a 'change' campaign. But as people thought about it longer and harder, they said I'm really not sure she is up to be vice president. That not only hurt Palin but it hurt McCain in terms of his judgment. Overall, now, I would say that except with the Republican base she has been a net negative."

The primary focus of the morning event, however, was on the state of the Senate races, which both Ensign and Schumer acknowledged could very well end up with Democrats holding a filibuster-proof majority.

"I think if the Democrats get to 57 or 58 seats [as opposed to 60] on a lot of issues they will be able to override a Senate filibuster," said Ensign.

"This is a tectonic race," added Schumer. "This will change things not just for an election cycle but a generation."

The two would not specifically list races where they thought their respective parties could pull upsets. But Schumer was smitten with the fact that his Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was putting money into races in the Deep South, including Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky. And he couldn't help but boast that much of his good fortune came at the expense of the incumbent president.

"You will never hear a certain word from [Republican candidates]: 'Bush.' You much less frequently hear another word, though you hear it: 'Republican.' You wont hear Republican senators talk about the last eight years when they run," he said. "Six years ago they rolled out the red carpet for [George Bush]... but today as these senators go before the electorate again, Bush is nowhere to be found."

Ensign dismissed recent news that his National Republican Senatorial Committee was pulling its resources out of Colorado and Louisiana, saying that he and his staff were merely reassessing the field. And he tried to wax optimistically about the current movement of local polls.

"Our incumbents or candidates are running ahead of John McCain in almost every place I've mentioned," he said. "Georgia has come on everybody's radar screen. But I expect Saxby [Chambliss] to win that race by 8-10 points... In Kentucky, that race closed up a little bit but has since widened."

As he spoke, SurveyUSA - one of the more respected polling firms in the country - released a new study of public opinion in Kentucky. The race between Democratic candidate Bruce Lunsford and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was tied at 48 percent.