Conservative Issues Boosted GOP In Hard-Fought Senate Campaigns

A close examination of the issues featured in the nation’s most hard-fought Senate campaigns demonstrates that Republicans who ran on conservative issues helped the GOP regain control, 51 to 48, with one Democratic-leaning independent. Here is a survey of the issues that dominated state-by-state debate in the Senate races:

  • – Arkansas, Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R.) v. Mark Pryor (D.): This campaign, won by challenger Pryor, was marked by his run to the right and Hutchinson’s dented image as a pro-family conservative due to his divorce and remarriage to a staffer three years ago. Illegality: Just a few days before the election, accusations surfaced that Pryor had hired an illegal immigrant as a maid but not paid payroll taxes. Pryor said that she was legal but did not say that he paid payroll taxes for her. Abortion: Pryor ran away from the pro-choice label he had previously applied to himself and announced in a debate that he opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. He even rejected the endorsement of Gloria Steinem’s Voters for Choice. Hutchinson has always been pro-life. Gun rights: Pryor ran an ad in which he said, "Unlike some Democrats in Washington, I believe in strengthening the military, and I support the President in the War on Terrorism. I am a hunter and a gun-owner, and I’ll protect the 2nd Amendment rights of every American." Regardless, the NRA endorsed Hutchinson and Charlton Heston campaigned for him. Race card: Pryor campaign officials claimed that Hutchinson wanted to "disenfranchise" black voters, and Bill Clinton came to the state to say that Republicans "don’t have the interest of black voters at heart."
  • – Colorado, Sen. Wayne Allard (R.) v. Tom Strickland (D.): Allard won reelection in a tightly divided state. Environment: Strickland ran an ad saying, "Wayne Allard voted against tougher standards for arsenic in drinking water." As the campaign closed, Allard attacked Strickland, who was a U.S. attorney under Clinton, for not prosecuting the top executive of a gold mine that produced an environmental disaster. Water rights: Allard made hay out of Strickland’s past support for restricting water for Coloradoans and keeping it for federal land. National security: Allard trumpeted his seat on the Armed Services Committee and his support for war in Iraq and national missile defense. Strickland supports war in Iraq as well. Corporate fraud: Strickland used his position as U.S. attorney to emphasize his get-tough attitude toward corporate crooks. He said, "Allard is one of the largest recipients from big accounting firms of anyone in the Senate." Traditional values: Allard flip-flopped to agree with Strickland to support adoption by homosexuals. Abortion: Strickland highlighted his pro-choice position. Allard is pro-life. Social Security: As usual, the Democrat attacked the Republican for favoring privatization.
  • – Georgia, Sen. Max Cleland (D.) v. Saxby Chambliss (R.): Chambliss upset war veteran Cleland by painting him as a liberal. Homeland Security: Chambliss hammered on Cleland’s opposition to Bush’s Homeland Security plan, held up by Democrats who want union rules to apply to the proposed department. Military service: A triple amputee due to war wounds, Cleland tried to profit from Chambliss’ avoidance of Vietnam. Cleland staffer Jamal Simmons said Chambliss "has given up to ten different versions of why he did not serve in the military." Chambliss received five student deferments and a medical deferment. Social Security: In a debate, Cleland used Chambliss’ support of Social Security privatization against him. Taxes: Cleland touted his support for the Bush tax cuts but Chambliss said that the senator voted 22 times to "dilute" the cuts. Sen. Zell Miller (D.): Georgia’s most popular politician stumped for Cleland and made an ad for him, to no avail. Traditional values: A Chambliss ad said about Cleland, "In Georgia, he pretends to share our values, but he voted against the Boy Scouts and for partial-birth abortions." Abortion: After Chambliss added rape and incest exceptions to his pro-life position, Georgia Right to Life withdrew its endorsement of him, but his record was clearly superior to Cleland’s. A Chambliss ad said, "On June 30th, 2000, Max Cleland voted to make it legal to distribute the ‘morning-after’ abortion drug at all public schools."
  • – Minnesota, Norm Coleman (R.) v. Walter Mondale (D.): This race underwent a dramatic change when incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone (D.) died and was replaced on the ballot by 74-year-old former Vice President Mondale, who lost. Wellstone: Mondale’s supporters tried to appropriate the mourning over Wellstone’s death for his political advantage, asking Minnesotans to win one "for Paul Wellstone." Character: Mondale emphasized his greater experience and stature and pointed to his left-wing achievements while saying to Coleman, "You have a campaign that is the poster child for what is wrong with politics." When Democrats turned a memorial service for Wellstone into a political rally, harsh criticism from Republicans, independents, and the media followed. War: Mondale announced that like Wellstone, he opposed the resolution on war in Iraq. Traditional values: Mondale favored giving same-sex partners "benefits." Abortion: Planned Parenthood endorsed Mondale, and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life supported Coleman.
  • – Missouri, Sen. Jean Carnahan (D.) v. Jim Talent (R.): Talent won as the vacuous Carnahan failed to hold the seat she received by appointment. Education: Educrat lobbies attacked Talent for voting to abolish the Department of Education. Talent highlighted his support of education savings accounts. Environment: Talent supports drilling in ANWR while Carnahan opposed it. Competence: Talent and others cast doubts on Carnahan’s grasp of the issues and Senate procedures. Prescription drugs: Talent ran an ad saying, "Absolutely, we need to provide good quality prescription drugs for our seniors," but Carnahan’s forces had ads that mentioned his opposition to the high-dollar Democratic bill. Race card: Carnahan supporters raised the specter of Republicans intimidating and "disenfranchising" black voters on Election Day. Bush: Carnahan made a major gaffe on October 15 when she said, "I’m the No. 1 target of the White House. They can’t get Osama bin Laden. They’re going to get me." Ethics: Democrats filed ethics charges against Talent with the state over campaign financing, which attracted news attention but no punishment for the challenger. Social Security: Carnahan tried to paint Talent with the supposedly dreaded privatization label. Abortion: Missouri’s strong pro-life movement was attracted to Talent’s pro-life record. Carnahan is pro-abortion.
  • – New Hampshire, John Sununu (R.) v. Jeanne Shaheen (D.): This closely fought race, in which Sununu had upended incumbent Sen. Bob Smith (R.) in the primary, saw Shaheen tack right in a failed effort to win. Smith: Despite animosity generated by the primary fight and Smith’s refusal to campaign for Sununu or head off a write-in campaign for himself, conservatives’ desire to keep Shaheen out of the Senate prevailed. Israel: In a debate at a synagogue, Shaheen said of Sununu, "He is part of a small minority that has voted against Israel’s interests," a charge Sununu rejected though he voted against a pro-Israel resolution in 2000. Social Security & prescription drugs: Responding to Shaheen’s attacks on his support for Social Security privatization and the Republican version of a prescription drug benefit, a Sununu ad said, "I’ll always support a guaranteed Social Security benefit." Abortion: Sununu’s moderately pro-life stance prompted the National Right to Life Committee to run ads on his behalf though he refused to give an unambiguously pro-life position in a debate. Shaheen is pro-abortion. Taxes: Low-tax Sununu ran ads highlighting Shaheen’s pro-tax record-she proposed New Hampshire adopt a sales tax for the first time.
  • – South Dakota, Sen. Tim Johnson (D.) v. John Thune (R.): The apparent 530-vote victory of the incumbent, a moderate Democrat, against his conservative challenger was a relief for fellow South Dakotan Tom Daschle. Voter fraud: Republican used accusations of voter fraud on behalf of Democrats among American Indians to mobilize their base. Daschle: South Dakota’s political claim to fame is Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who would lose his position if Democrats lost the Senate. That helped prompt some South Dakotans to vote to keep another Democrat in office. Drought assistance: Bush’s refusal to countenance yet billions more in pork for farmers hurt Thune’s image among rural South Dakotans. Johnson’s supporters noted that as a member of the Appropriations Committee, Johnson had a lot of influence. Social Security: Johnson and Thune split over privatization. Environment: A Thune ad hit Johnson on the environmental angle, saying, "Tim Johnson sided with the environmentalists who threaten lawsuits to stop any timber clearing." But some sportsmen sided with Johnson for preserving hunting areas. Gun rights: NRA President Charlton Heston campaigned for Thune, but Johnson claimed to be a supporter of the 2nd Amendment as well. Iraq: Although Johnson voted for the Iraq resolution, he opposed the ’91 Gulf War. Thune accused Johnson of voting against missile defense 29 times, and Johnson said he voted for it 21 times. Abortion: In a poll, South Dakotans chose abortion as their third-most-important issue. Thune has a pro-life record while Johnson is pro-abortion.