A Republican Senate in '02

Ever since renegade Republican Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) left the GOP last year, Majority Leader Tom Daschle has used the Democrats’ one-seat edge to frustrate many of President Bush’s major initiatives: killing the death tax, a ban on partial-birth abortions, a meaningful energy bill and permanent tax cuts. In many eyes, however, most significant is the fate of Bush appointees, especially high-profile U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominees such as Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen, who have been rejected by Senate Democrats determined to stop any conservatives from being named to that bench. Hence the strong push by the President and his Republican allies for that critical net gain of one that would give Republicans and Democrats 50 seats each and allow Vice President Cheney to cast the tie-breaking vote for GOP organization of the Senate. Of the 34 Senate seats up for election, 14 are now held by Democrats, 20 by Republicans. Eight are hotly competitive: Republican-held seats in Arkansas and Colorado and Democratic-held seats in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. Five of the 34 seats are open seats because the incumbents chose not to run for re-election. The four being vacated by Republicans Bob Smith (N.H.), Jesse Helms (N.C.), Strom Thurmond (S.C.), and Phil Gramm (Tex.) seemed likely to remain in GOP hands. One Democratic seat became newly open when disgraced Sen. Robert Torricelli (N.J.) suddenly decided not to seek re-election. A look, then, at all 34 Senate contests. . . . ALABAMA—Six years after winning his first term in a tight race, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions* has emerged as a key conservative point man on the Senate Judiciary Committee and should have no difficulty securing a second term over Democratic State Auditor Susan Parker. (Safe Republican) ALASKA—Republican Sen. Ted Stevens,* appointed by fellow Republican and friend Gov. Walter Hickel to replace deceased Democratic Sen. Bob Bartlett in 1968, is now considered a treasure in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Should his certain re-election be accompanied by a GOP recapture of the Senate, the 78-year-old Stevens will become chairman of the Appropriations Committee as well as president pro tem of the Senate. (Safe Republican) ARKANSAS—Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson* has two problems: He divorced his wife of 29 years and remarried a former staffer and he is facing state Atty. Gen. Mark Pryor, son of the state’s most popular political figure. The TV spots for opponent Pryor, 39-year-old son of former governor and senator David Pryor, play to both of these weaknesses, reminding viewers who his father is and, not too subtly, bringing up Hutchinson’s divorce by featuring Pryor being hailed by his wife. As of August, an Arkansas News Bureau-Stephens Media Group poll showed Hutchinson trailing Pryor 51% to 41%. But this was before the GOP hopeful went on the attack, underscoring Pryor’s vague statements about abortion and his comment that he didn’t think terrorism should have a role in the campaign. Since then, the margin has narrowed. Nonetheless, the incumbent is still the underdog. (Leaning Democratic Takeover) COLORADO—Of the 16 Republican senators running for re-election, Hutchinson and Colorado freshman Wayne Allard* are the only two considered in serious trouble. Six years ago, campaigning proudly as “a veterinarian against a millionaire lawyer-lobbyist,” then-Rep. Allard won the seat over liberal Democrat Tom Strickland by a slim 51%-to-46% margin. Now, following a stint as Bill Clinton’s U.S. attorney, Strickland is back and “Allard-Strickland, II” is far more hard-fought than the previous race. Allard, for example, hammers his opponent as soft on defense, charging in TV spots that Strickland “wanted to slash the military budget” six years ago and has major financial backing from the anti-military Council for a Livable World. Better funded than his first time out, Strickland is also being helped by an independent expenditure from the Sierra Club, whose hard-hitting commercials say, “In Wayne’s World, corporations make the mess, but you pay to clean it up.” One of the most solidly conservative senators, Allard (lifetime ACU rating: 96%) is nonetheless considered a less-than-forceful campaigner. However, his popularity among the right-of-center grass roots and a crack organization under the aegis of Dick Wadhams give him the edge. (Leaning Republican) DELAWARE—Thirty years after he got elected to the Senate at the minimum constitutional age (30), Democrat Joe Biden* is an institution in the First State. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have no trouble winning a sixth term over retired military officer and 1996 GOP opponent Ray Clatworthy. (Safe Democratic) GEORGIA—Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, long thought a cinch for re-election, now finds himself in a closer-than-anticipated contest with Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss*. Under hard-hitting campaign consultant Tom Perdue, the Chambliss camp points out how Cleland (lifetime ACU rating: 14%) cancels out his more conservative and more popular Democratic colleague, Zell Miller (lifetime ACU rating: 60%), on at least half of the votes they cast in the Senate. Miller, in turn, has countered with a televised endorsement of “my friend Max Cleland.” In the twilight days of the campaign, Chambliss (lifetime ACU rating: 93%) has been relentlessly on the attack, with fresh television commercials flashing pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein while reminding viewers that Cleland voted against a department of Homeland Security 11 times—placing his loyalty to “government unions” over national security. The latest Atlanta Journal Constitution poll shows Cleland with a lead of 9 points, even with his left-of-center voting record. He is best known by the voters as a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs and an arm in a grenade accident and that should be enough for him to secure re-election, albeit narrowly. (Leaning Democratic) IDAHO—Now that his opponent Alan Blinken’s background as a very liberal Democratic office-seeker in New York several years ago has been spread across the media, Sen. Larry Craig* (lifetime ACU rating: 93%) looks increasingly strong for a third term. (Safe Republican) ILLINOIS—Facing a Democratic avalanche in all statewide offices, Prairie State Republicans could not even come up with a well-known opponent to first-term Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin*. He should easily dispatch little-known GOP State Rep. Jim Durkin. (Safe Democratic) IOWA—Following an unimpressive Republican primary win over a political unknown, moderate four-term Rep. Greg Ganske* has run a lackluster fall race against left-wing Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin (lifetime ACU rating: 9%). Instead of the inventive, hard-charging campaign he ran in 1994 to unseat a 36-year incumbent House member, local activists complain, Ganske is running on the Republican prescription drug package and his own role in seeking a form of registering cigarettes as a narcotic. In addition, Ganske’s (lifetime ACU rating: 68%) own non-conservative votes on such issues as abortion and campaign finance reform were leading many Republicans to think that Harkin’s third straight re-election was inevitable. But less than a month before the balloting, the contest was rocked by revelations that the Harkin campaign had employed a spy within the Ganske camp. Although no criminal action was taken against the Harkin campaign, new life was unexpectedly breathed into the Ganske effort and he edged up in the polls. Still, it is considered highly unlikely that he will dislodge Harkin. (Leaning Democratic) KANSAS—Sunflower State Democrats could not even recruit an opponent to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. (Safe Republican) KENTUCKY—Democrats in Washington and Frankfort initially felt they had a thoroughbred candidate in businesswoman Lois Combs Weinberg, daughter of the late Democratic Gov. (1959-63) Bert T. Combs, to run against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell*. But Weinberg just didn’t sell that well among primary voters, she won the Democratic nomination by just over 1,000 votes and is now given no chance against McConnell. (Safe Republican) LOUISIANA—As the winner of the closest Senate race in the nation six years ago, Democrat Mary Landrieu* should have been one of the most obvious targets for the GOP. But it hasn’t turned out that way—due more to Republican stumbles than to leadership on any particular issue by Landrieu, who is often described as a conservative but actually has a lifetime ACU rating of 14%. GOP Rep. John Cooksey, who had been gearing up for the race for years, was pilloried by the media late last year when he denounced Muslim terrorists in the U.S. as “tentheads.” Since then has had difficulty raising money. As his campaign sputtered, two-other Republicans entered the race: State Commissioner of Elections Suzanne Terrell, who now has the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and conservative State Rep. Tony Perkins, the point man in the legislature on cultural issues. Under the Pelican State’s unique primary system, all candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot November 5 and, unless one of them wins a majority, a run-off between the two top vote-getters will be held in December. Most surveys show Landrieu within striking distance of 50% against the three Republicans but, if she is forced into a run-off, all bets are off. (Leaning Democratic) MAINE—Former State Sen. Chellie Pingree, leader of legislative fights on issues such as single-payer health care and minimum wage hikes, is far behind moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins*. (Safe Republican) MASSACHUSETTS—For the first time since popular elections of senators began in 1913, there is no Republican nominee for the Senate in Massachusetts. Democrat John Kerry* should win a fourth term hands down and begin planning a bid for president in ’04. (Safe Democratic) MICHIGAN—Having broken the record of Republican Arthur Vandenberg as Michigan’s longest-serving U.S. Senator (1928-51), Democrat Carl Levin*, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, seems headed for a fifth term by a record margin over one-term Republican State Rep. Rocky Raczkowski (Safe Democratic) MINNESOTA—At first, Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone seemed to have gotten away with breaking his pledge to retire after two terms, with voters apparently accepting his excuse that serving in the Senate majority justified his running again. Polls consistently showed Wellstone (lifetime ACU rating: 4%) leading his Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.* But no longer. Coleman has turned out to be a better campaigner than many thought and has gained strength by repeatedly contrasting his strong support for the President on Iraq with Wellstone’s long record of anti-defense votes. Underscoring the Coleman stance have been several fund-raising visits by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Although Minnesota’s same day registration favors the Democrats, Coleman now has the advantage. (Leaning Republican) MISSISSIPPI—Thad Cochran*, the Magnolia State’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, will coast to a fifth term, with the Democratic candidate having withdrawn from the race. (Safe Republican) MISSOURI—This is the only special election in the nation, the winner of which will serve out the remaining four years of the seat won in 2000 by deceased Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan over then-Sen. John Ashcroft. The Democratic governor of Missouri thereupon declared the seat vacant and appointed Carnahan’s widow Jean to fill it until a special election could be held. That time has now arrived and Jean Carnahan is less the grieving widow than another liberal Democrat (lifetime ACU rating: 28%) with a record. Perhaps most significantly, Carnahan aroused venom among Republican activists when, after Ashcroft graciously conceded defeat and discouraged a legal challenge to her bizarre selection, the Democratic senator opposed Ashcroft’s confirmation as attorney general. Facing Carnahan is former four-term Rep. Jim Talent*, who lost the governorship two years ago in a close and controversial race. Best known as the father of “tough love” welfare reform, Talent is popular among grass roots Republicans and, with the 2000 sympathy for Carnahan fading considerably, the latest John Zogby poll shows him leading her by 47% to 41%. (Leaning Republican Takeover) MONTANA—The last big surprise of the election year was the abrupt decision two weeks ago of GOP State Sen. Mike Taylor* to abandon his challenge to four-term Democratic Sen. Max Baucus after Democratic TV ads showed Taylor as a beauty school operator applying a facial to another man. (Sure Democratic) NEBRASKA—Easily the most popular politician in the Cornhusker State, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel* has had an easy race against Democrat unknown Charles Matulka. (Sure Republican) NEW HAMPSHIRE—There are always scars when a party dumps a sitting senator for another candidate, and so it is for Rep. John Sununu* (lifetime ACU rating: 94%), who unseated two-term Sen. Bob Smith (lifetime ACU rating: 92%). Smith isn’t helping Sununu and refuses to condemn a rump write-in campaign on his behalf. Nonetheless, almost all the polls show Sununu statistically tied with his Democratic opponent, three-term Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, and local politicos think that, in the end, Shaheen’s support of increased taxes while governor will allow Sununu to eke out a victory. (Leaning Republican) NEW JERSEY—What once seemed a likely Republican gain with businessman Doug Forrester* unseating disgraced Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli changed dramatically when Torricelli dropped out earlier this month. Although the law clearly forbid it, the state Supreme Court, one of the most liberal in the nation, allowed the Democratic Party to name 78-year-old former Sen. (1982-2000) Frank Lautenberg to replace Torricelli as the nominee. A recent Zogby survey gave Lautenberg a 48%-to-36% edge over Forrester, but several other polls show the race much closer. A New York Daily News poll even showed the two contenders tied with 44% of the vote each. Certainly in a state where unions are powerful and that has not elected a Republican senator in 30 years, the unusual circumstances of Lautenberg’s candidacy are not as debilitating as they would be in other states. But Forrester and the legions of radio talk show hosts are banking on Election Day voter disgust with the Democratic maneuvering to garner enough undecided votes to put their man over the top. (Leaning Republican Takeover) NEW MEXICO—Five-term Republican Sen. Pete Domenici* faces a stronger-than-usual Democratic challenge from former Federal Communications Commission member Gloria Tristani, granddaughter of the late Sen. (1935-62) Dennis Chavez (D.-N.M.). But he should still win handily. (Sure Republican) NORTH CAROLINA—Early Democratic hopes of picking up the seat Republican Sen. Jesse Helms is leaving after 30 years are fading. Former Reagan Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole* won the Republican primary with well over 80% of the vote and many conservatives appeared to swallow their own doubts about Dole’s seemingly evolving positions on gun control and abortion after Helms gave her a ringing endorsement earlier this year. Democrat Erskine Bowles, investment banker and son of the late 1972 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Hargrove (Skipper) Bowles, certainly has the resources but has been hampered by his best-known role as chief of staff to Bill Clinton. (Leaning Republican) OKLAHOMA—Stalwart conservative Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe* was never thought to be in trouble once Sooner State Democrats put up as his opponent former Gov. (1990-94) David Walters, who had to leave office following indictment and a plea of no contest on charges of accepting illegal campaign donations. (Sure Republican) OREGON—Although State Republican Chairman Perry Atkinson and like-minded conservatives are nervous about some of his stands, Sen. Gordon Smith* has apparently found the avenue to re-election in this liberal-leaning state. Facing a spirited challenge from State Labor Commissioner Bill Bradbury, Smith (lifetime ACU rating: 77%) has emphasized his role in crafting hate crimes legislation and fighting oil drilling in Alaska and polls now show him with a big lead. (Leaning Republican) RHODE ISLAND—Democratic Sen. Jack Reed should easily win re-election over Republican Bob Tingle. (Safe Democratic) SOUTH CAROLINA—For all the conservative anger over his support of John McCain for President and his vote for campaign finance “reform,” Rep. Lindsay Graham* remains the odds-on favorite to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond. Democratic hopes for state judge and former state legislator Alex Sanders have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. (Safe Republican) SOUTH DAKOTA— “[Democratic Sen.] Tim Johnson voted against a missile defense system 29 times,” says a stentorian voice in a TV spot being run by his Republican opponent, Rep. John Thune* (lifetime ACU rating: 83%). The ad, which also mentions al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein—has led Johnson (lifetime ACU rating: 21%) to protest that he supported the resolution giving President Bush the authority to attack Iraq and denounce Thune for “playing politics with our national security.” The Thune campaign counters that, while a House member in 1991, Johnson voted against Desert Storm. The latest John Zogby poll gives Thune a lead of 45% to 43%. Also working in Thune’s favor is some interesting history: Since 1948, every time a sitting House member has wrapped up his party’s Senate nomination without primary opposition, he has gone on to win in November, including four House members who deposed incumbent senators. (Leaning Republican Takeover) TENNESSEE—After leaving the governorship of Tennessee in 1990 and then failing in two bids for the Republican presidential nomination, Lamar Alexander* has demonstrated this year that there is still political life at 62. The onetime secretary of education easily won a hard-fought primary to succeed his close friend, retiring Sen. Fred Thompson (R.-Tenn.). Although Democratic Rep. Bob Clement began the general election campaign with more money than Alexander, the GOP nominee quickly caught up with him, and the latest Knoxville News-Sentinel poll showed Alexander defeating Clement by 45% to 27%. (Safe Republican) TEXAS—The Senate seat in the South that has been held longest by a Republican is now open again, thanks to the surprise decision of Phil Gramm to retire. Democrats had high hopes that big dollars from Dallas businessmen and his engaging personality could make their nominee, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, an upset winner. But Kirk stumbled badly when he recently suggested that Republican opponent John Cornyn* backed action in Iraq because a disproportionate number of casualties would be minorities. With strong campaign assistance from President Bush, his state’s most favorite son, former state Atty. Gen. Cornyn should now win comfortably. (Safe Republican) VIRGINIA—Republican Sen. John Warner is unopposed for a fifth term. (Safe Republican) WEST VIRGINIA—Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller* will have no trouble overcoming a spirited-but-underfunded challenge from Republican opponent Jay Wolfe. (Safe Democratic) WYOMING—Republican Sen. Mike Enzi is a shoo-in for a second term. (Safe Republican)