Fight for control of Senate intensifies
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To varying degrees, Republicans enjoy better footing in crucial U.S. Senate races than they did two months ago, when Democrats seemed well poised to increase their one-seat majority.
Key developments have revived GOP campaigns in New Jersey -- where Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat, shocked the political world by withdrawing September 30 -- Iowa and Louisiana, while Republicans now appear better suited to hold seats in New Hampshire and Tennessee. Republican candidates also continue to hold Senate Democrats in statistical dead heats in Missouri and South Dakota.
ALABAMA (Likely Republican): State Auditor Susan Parker scored an upset in June when she beat wealthy attorney Julian McPhillips in a post-primary runoff, but she is unlikely to surprise anyone in the general-election against Sen. Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. attorney. While he narrowly won his first term in 1996, Sessions, a staunch conservative, is well positioned to prevail this year, due largely to Alabama's increasingly Republican tilt, Democratic disarray and the senator's lopsided fund raising advantage. A Democratic poll showed Parker trailing Sessions by just eight points, but it's unlikely the final margin will be any closer than that.
ALASKA (Safe Republican): Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, has helped cement his hold on the Senate seat by using his post as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee to bring federal dollars and projects back to Alaska. He is strongly favored for a sixth term over his whacky Democratic challenger, attorney Frank Vondersaar, who calls himself a "political prisoner" of Stevens and his "criminal co-conspirators" since 1986. Stevens has a history of oddball challengers. In her 1996 Senate bid, Democrat Theresa Obermeyer railed against a ''state conspiracy'' to prevent her husband from becoming a lawyer. (He failed the bar at least 20 times). She also claimed that Stevens "jailed me for 29 days" in 1996. She took 10 percent in that race, three points below the Green Party candidate. Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Scott Sterling has not disavowed Vondersaar, but he said the party is focused on the gubernatorial race, where Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the party's nominee, stands a much better chance of victory.
ARKANSAS (Toss-up): Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the first Republican elected to the senate from Arkansas since 1879, is perhaps the most vulnerable Senate Republican still seeking re-election this year (Following his primary loss, Sen. Bob Smith, R-New Hampshire, is no longer in the running).
Hutchinson's problems stem from a stormy personal life (he divorced his wife and married a Senate aide in 2000), a conservative voting record and the relative strength of his Democratic challenger, state Attorney General Mark Pryor, the son of ex-Sen. David Pryor, a Democrat. Hutchinson succeeded David Pryor in 1997. But Republicans, who appear to be on the rise here, are fighting back. President Bush has traveled to Arkansas twice to raise money for Hutchinson.
Meanwhile, Mark Pryor appears to be distancing himself from former President Clinton. Pryor claimed scheduling conflicts when he declined to attend a party fund raiser Clinton headlined for the state party in August. Instead, Pryor has been playing up ties to his dad, running a 30-second television ad in April that invokes his dad's name and image and describes the candidate as "my father's son." Polls vary, but most show a close race that appears likely to stay that way through the fall.
COLORADO (Toss-up): Democrat Tom Strickland started his Senate bid last year with roughly the same name ID level as his GOP target, Sen. Wayne Allard. Strickland's surprisingly widespread recognition stemmed from his 1996 race against Allard and two years he spent as U.S. attorney following the 1997 shooting at Columbine High School. But because he's so well known, Strickland has had trouble moving his poll numbers past the admittedly weak incumbent.
On the other hand, Allard has struggled for months to push his numbers past 45 percent, which has kept the race in play. Allard won their 1996 match up 51 to 46 percent, and he's done little since then to alienate voters. Conversely, he's done little since then to connect with voters. Consequently, he and Strickland face the same basic challenge -- appeal to swing voters and, more importantly, to introduce themselves to the state's new residents before their opponent does so.
Allard, a veterinarian, calls Strickland a "millionaire-lawyer-lobbyist" every chance he gets, while Strickland claims Allard votes outside the mainstream on key issues like the environment and health care.
DELAWARE (Safe Democratic): Running for a sixth term, Sen. Joe Biden faces a rematch with his 1996 challenger, Republican Ray Clatworthy, a Naval academy graduate and small business entrepreneur, who lost that race by 22 points. The 2002 matchup promises to end similarly, with Biden consistently holding commanding leads in all polls. Biden hasn't ruled out a 2004 presidential campaign, but he has not been making the rounds in the same way some of his Senate colleagues have.
GEORGIA (Leans Democratic): While he was recruited by the White House and endorsed by Senate Republicans, Rep. Saxby Chambliss has failed to establish the same footing as GOP candidates in Missouri, Minnesota and South Dakota, whom President Bush affectionately refers to as his "three amigos."
Chambliss says that's because those candidates (Jim Talent in Missouri, Norm Coleman in Minnesota and John Thune in South Dakota) have either run or served in statewide office, while he held one of Georgia's 11 House districts, one far outside of the Atlanta media market. Still, Chambliss faces other hurdles in what could still be a competitive challenge to first-term Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat.
For one, Cleland, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and triple amputee, is difficult to attack, especially on the military-related issues that have played heavily in the race so far. Secondly, Cleland has drawn strong and vocal support from his fellow Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, who has been lionized by Georgia Republicans for bucking his national party and supporting President Bush. "Miller's seal of approval is worth more than anything down here, even a visit from the president," said one Georgia Republican.
Chambliss caught some heat in mid-October when he ran a TV ad attacking Cleland's votes on the homeland security department that featured images of Osama bin Laden. Chambliss was forced to remove Osama's image from the spot, a tacit acknowledgement of a misstep. Chambliss also hasn't mended fences with state Rep. Bob Irvin, a conservative who took 26 percent in the GOP primary. Nonetheless, statewide races in Georgia tend to be close, so watch for this to go down to the wire.
IDAHO (Safe Republican): Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican, is running for a third term against Democrat Alan Blinken, a former Wall Street investment banker and ambassador to Belgium. Craig has said he considers Blinken the most serious challenger of his 22-year congressional career and has set a fund-raising goal of $4 million for the entire race. That might be a stretch; Blinken, who is Jewish, is a New York City transplant and former Clinton administration official who voted for the first time in Idaho in May and has received campaign donations from Vernon Jordan and Barbra Streisand. None of those facts makes him particularly appealing in conservative Idaho. Craig should win with ease.
ILLINOIS (Safe Democratic): Attorney Jim Durkin, a state Representative, scored an upset win in the three-way, GOP Senate primary, defeating two free-spending millionaires, including one (dairy magnate Jim Oberweis) who was endorsed by Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois. Still, most analysts attributed his victory to voters who thought they were voting for the incumbent senator, Democrat Richard Durbin. Durbin (the Democrat) has consistently led Durkin (the Republican) in polls and should sail to a second term this fall. Still, some GOP heavyweights have been to Illinois recently on Durkin's behalf, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who drew Durkin's support in 2000.
IOWA (Leans Democratic): Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin has twice faced strong re-election challenges from House Republicans. And, he likes to say, he has twice beaten them, if only by narrow margins. This year's race against GOP Rep. Greg Ganske was headed in much the same direction -- that is, until their race became the focus of the nation's latest political eavesdropping scandal.
Harkin was forced to fire his campaign manager and another aide after it was reported that a man had tape-recorded a closed Ganske fundraiser September 3 and then gave it to Harkin aides. Aides then tried to offer the tape to the news media. The man was later revealed as a former Harkin aide.
It's unclear what the ultimate fallout will be in Iowa, a state where voters love their incumbents but also despise ethical missteps. Unlike former congressmen Tom Tauke and Jim Ross Lightfoot, who both represented GOP strongholds before challenging Harkin, Ganske, a centrist maverick, hails from Des Moines, the most Democratic part of Iowa. Recently, polls had shown the race narrowing late this summer, with Ganske trailing Harkin by single digits.
An Iowa Poll conducted while the eavesdropping scandal was breaking showed Harkin holding onto a 20-point lead (54 to 34 percent). Both parties said that margin will narrow considerably, but so far Harkin continues to hold a high-single digit lead. Because Iowa's one of the country's least expensive media markets, Republicans can afford to influence the race heavily if Ganske appears competitive in October. If he does, look for this race, like Harkin's past two re-election battles, to turn negative quickly.
KANSAS (Safe Republican): Democrats briefly thought they could pose a strong threat to Sen. Pat Roberts, a first-term Republican who polled in the mid-40s late last year. That poll prompted Senate Democratic leaders to court former Wichita-area congressman Dan Glickman, who served as President Clinton's agriculture secretary. But once Glickman declined to run, the party settled in for another inevitable defeat in the solidly Republican state. Indeed, no Democrat ultimately stepped forward to run, making Roberts one of four Senators up in 2002 who faces no major-party challenger. (The others are Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, Republican John Warner of Virginia, Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi). Roberts did have a primary rival, though, who took a surprisingly large 16 percent of the vote. That Republican, retired Boeing employee Tom Oyler, looked to represent "smokers, fat folk, meat eaters, fur wearers, gun owners, farmers and any other bunch that has been marked by gangs of anti-freedom hucksters."
KENTUCKY (Safe Republican): Bluegrass State Democrats would love to oust Sen. Mitch McConnell. McConnell proudly led the fight against campaign-finance reform, chaired the GOP Senate re-election committee in 1998 and 2000 and has single-handedly driven the rebirth of the Kentucky GOP since he was first elected (narrowly) in 1990. Alas, this will not be the year. The Democratic nominee, Lois Combs Weinberg, the daughter of the late Gov. Bert Combs and husband of a former state legislator, limped out of her primary with ex-Rep. Tom Barlow (she beat him by roughly 1,000 votes after outspending him 100-to-1) and has trailed McConnell badly in polls and fund raising since then. Weinberg has a credible resume; she has served as a University of Kentucky trustee and on the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education.
But as Democrats learned the hard way this year, she has never run for office herself before. Weinberg also probably hoped to rely heavily on Gov. Paul Patton for support and fundraising assistance. But Patton, who was forced to reverse his denial of a two-year extramarital affair with a Kentucky woman in September, withdrew from political activity shortly thereafter, hoping to limit the fallout on himself and his party. (He also withdrew from a planned 2004 challenge to Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican whom McConnell worked hard to elect). A September poll conducted for McConnell showed him leading Weinberg by 30 points.
LOUISIANA (Leans Democratic): Republicans succeeded in fielding enough challengers to Sen. Mary Landrieu, a first-term Democrat, to virtually ensure that the two top vote getters will proceed to a December 7 runoff. (Under Louisiana's unique election law, the winner must receive more than 50 percent or proceed to a post-election runoff). That means that, assuming the Senate ends up as evenly divided as many expect on Election Night, the country may have to wait until December to learn which party controls the upper chamber.
While Landrieu is still favored, Republicans did a good job this summer of improving their situation here, recruiting state elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell to join state Rep. Tony Perkins and Rep. John Cooksey in the GOP race. (Perkins, a conservative, ran the 1996 Senate race of Woody Jenkins, who lost to Landrieu in 1996 by less than 6,000 votes.) The NRSC endorsed Terrell, while Gov. Mike Foster, a popular Republican who declined President Bush's pleas to run for Senate, has backed Cooksey.
The White House has remained neutral. While Landrieu currently outpolls all three Republicans by commanding margins, Republicans say they stand an even chance of ousting her if she runs in a low-turnout runoff.
MAINE (Likely Republican): Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, narrowly won her first term in 1996, but despite Democrats' best efforts, she is sailing to a second term over a credible challenger, state Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree. Democrats strongly touted Pingree earlier in the cycle. She was a small farmer and then founded North Island Designs, which markets knitting kits and pattern books. She served as chair of the local school board and on the North Island Planning Board. Pingree was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and became Majority Leader following the 1996 elections.
In the state Senate, Pingree is best known for her work to enact "Maine Rx," the state's prescription drug program, which will allow the state to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, and the state's college saving account program. Earlier this year, in one of more curious campaign gimmicks this cycle, Pingree distributed a "talking pill bottle" featuring a voice recording of her talking about the prescription drug issue. Maine is a politically quirky state, boasting an independent governor, two moderate Republican senators and two Democratic House members. It also responds quickly to national trends, which is what Democrats hope will hit in late October to lift Pingree. But barring that, Collins should win comfortably.
MASSACHUSETTS (Safe Democratic): Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, faces no Republican challenger this year, allowing him to focus on (and raise money for) a possible 2004 presidential bid. Anthony Kandel, a high school teacher and football coach, announced his intention to run, saying he was either "courageous or a moron." But he was not able to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Kerry will face Libertarian Michael Cloud. (Incidentally, it is the first time in Massachusetts political history that Republicans have failed to field a challenger against a U.S. senator).
MICHIGAN (Safe Democratic): Two years after one of the closest Senate elections in the country, Michigan's other Senator, Democrat Carl Levin, is one of the safest Senators up for re-election. Levin faces a token challenge from state House Majority Leader Andrew Raczkowski, an attorney/businessman better known as "Rocky." Rocky, still unknown to more than half of Michigan votes, trailed Levin by 27 points in a independent poll conducted in mid-October. A first-generation American, Raczkowski's parents were both born in Poland and immigrated to the United States after World War II. Rocky got his start in politics in 1992 when he ran John Pappageorge's unsuccessful bid for Congress against Levin's older brother, Rep. Sandy Levin, a Democrat.
MINNESOTA (Toss-up): The Minnesota Senate race changed dramatically, and yet very little, on October 25 when Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash in Eveleth, Minnesota. The race turned upside down, obviously, as Democrats scrambled to replace their beloved senator on the November 5 ballot with former Vice President Walter Mondale, who held Wellstone's seat from 1964 to 1976. And yet, the actual horse race appears to have changed very little, as polls conducted shortly after Wellstone died showed Mondale holding a similar, eight-point lead over Republican Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor and 2000 gubernatorial nominee.
While they're relatively confident considering the circumstances, Democrats stumbled in late October when they turned a Wellstone memorial service into a rollicking political rally that, Republicans claim, ended the mourning period for the fallen senator. Regardless of the circumstances under which this race is concluding, Coleman is an attractive candidate. Aided by a White House eager to replace one of its most vocal critics, Coleman kept pace with Wellstone in the money chase and was polls showed he was running even for several months with the two-term Democrat.
But while he's nowhere near as conservative as Wellstone's 1996 GOP challenger, ex-Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, Coleman also has taken some stances that don't square with most Minnesota voters, including opposition to abortion rights and gun control. Wellstone also ran a TV ad highlighting a speech in which Coleman endorsed the senator and Bill Clinton in 1996.
The logic behind Democrats' strategy is that Minnesotans don't care so much what their pols stand for, just that they stand for something and stick with it. As if to prove that point, Wellstone's poll numbers improved markedly after he voted in September against President Bush's war resolution. Facing a new race against Mondale, Republicans have to choose between remaining positive and attacking Mondale as a figure of the past. Democrats have the same opponent, but a new nominee, who hasn't appeared on a ballot since he lost 49 states in a presidential race 18 years ago. Mondale clearly plans to rely heavily on high name recognition and sympathy for Paul Wellstone to squeak out a victory. It's unclear whether it will work.
MISSISSIPPI (Safe Republican): Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican, also faces no major-party opponent this year. His Democratic opponent, Steven Turney, who had bested James W. "Bootie" Hunt by several thousand votes in the June 4 primary, quit the race in mid-August, citing poor health.
MISSOURI (Toss-up): Two sets of statistics offer very different outlooks for Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat, as she seeks to fill the remainder of her late husband's Senate term. Carnahan, who was appointed to fill the seat after her husband, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, won the seat posthumously in 2000, can be encouraged by the fact that nearly every widow who has run to succeed their late spouse has prevailed. However, a more discouraging fact is that in the last 50 years, only 40 percent or 18 out of 45 appointed senators have won election on their own.
Carnahan's battle with former Rep. Jim Talent, a Republican and 2000 gubernatorial nominee, tightened considerably this summer, and the race is now widely viewed as a toss-up. With loads of help from Senate Democratic leaders, Carnahan has proven to be an effective fund raiser, but Talent is also drawing plenty of fund raising help, most notably from the White House.
Adding to Carnahan's headaches, one of the first votes she cast in the Senate was against John Ashcroft, the senator her late husband ousted in 2000, for Attorney General -- a hard vote, considering Ashcroft remains popular back home. A late September poll showed Carnahan opening up an eight-point lead over Talent, breaking away from the tie he held her to for most of the summer. Like the race between Ashcroft and the late Mel Carnahan two years ago, look for this race to be tight up until the end.
The senator caught some heat by telling supporters that President Bush "couldn't catch Osama bin Laden so they're coming after me instead." She publicly apologized for the comments after they aired on CNN's "Inside Politics."
MONTANA (Safe Democratic): In one of the strangest moments of the 2002 election cycle, state Sen. Mike Taylor, a Republican, quit his challenge to Sen. Max Baucus in early October, decrying a vicious TV ad the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was running against him. Taylor had owned a beauty and hair-care supplies business and once ran instructional videos on local television stations.
The DSCC ad, entitled "Boogie Nights," used footage of him from the 1970s in which he was dressed flamboyantly and is touching another man's face as part of the demonstration. During a press conference in Helena, Montana, announcing his withdrawal, Taylor slammed the DSCC for trying to portray him inaccurately as a homosexual, which is not politically appealing in conservative Montana.
While Taylor's move came shortly after New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli's similar withdrawal, Republicans have not tried to replace Taylor on the ballot. That's probably because the only person who could mount a viable bid at this point, former Gov. Marc Racicot, declined to run. In other words, the GOP has forfeited a Senate seat in a state that Bush won by 25 points. Despite Montana's heavy GOP tilt, Baucus, who serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had already been running well ahead of Taylor and had more than 10 times as much cash on hand. He is now assured of winning a fifth term this fall.
NEBRASKA (Safe Republican): Construction worker Charles Matulka, a Democrat, beat out a homeless man in the May 15 Democratic primary for the right to challenge first-term Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. Democrats lost their best statewide candidate in 2000 when Ben Nelson, then a term-limited governor, narrowly won a Senate seat. Then again, Nelson probably wouldn't have posed much of a threat to Hagel, who defeated him by 14 points in 1996.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (Toss-up): Republican leaders got the Senate nominee they wanted on September 10, when Rep. John Sununu beat Sen. Bob Smith, making Smith the first incumbent Senator to lose renomination in a decade (The last one, of course, was Illinois Sen. Alan Dixon, who was ousted by ex-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun in a 1992 Democratic primary.) Republicans preferred Sununu for two key reasons: Unlike Smith, he had never quit the party and called it a "fraud," and he poses a more serious threat to Gov. Jeanne Shaheen this fall.
Still, the race is close. A late August poll showed Shaheen led Smith by three points, while she trailed Sununu by one point. Sununu came out of his primary swinging, calling Shaheen a "liberal Democrat" and noting that she voted for Walter Mondale and Al Gore. "She's now part of a Democratic tax ticket. New Hampshire deserves better," he told supporters on primary night. (Mondale took 31 percent in New Hampshire in 1984; Gore received 47 percent in 2000).
Shaheen so far has declined to respond. "This election isn't about Bob Smith or John Sununu," the governor said on September 10. "This election is about you and all of the people of New Hampshire."
NEW JERSEY (Likely Democrat): Facing plummeting poll numbers and an inability to discuss anything other than his ethical missteps, Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli abruptly quit the race September 30, sparking a legal battle over whether Democrats could replace him on the ballot. The state Supreme Court unanimously allowed Democrats to replace him on the ballot with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the GOP's appeal of the case.
Waiting in the wings was Republican Doug Forrester, who so far has focused primarily on being someone other than Bob Torricelli. The latest independent poll shows Lautenberg leading Forrester by 12 points. Republicans clearly wanted to run against the ethically scarred Torricelli, who trailed Forrester by 14 points in the last survey conducted in that matchup. Garden State Republicans, who were probably in the best position to win a Senate seat since they last prevailed in 1972, are now set for another defeat.
NEW MEXICO (Safe Republican): His Democratic challenger, former Federal Communication Commissioner Gloria Tristani, was personally recruited to run for Senate by Al Gore, who won New Mexico in the 2000 presidential election. But Sen. Pete Domenici, a Republican, is one of the safest Senators seeking re-election this year. Recent polls show Domenici leading by 2-to-1 margins. Recently, Tristani ran a TV ad highlighting her opposition to going to war with Iraq. "We're rushing down a dangerous path," she says in the ad. "Let's stop and think before it's too late."
NORTH CAROLINA (Likely Republican): Elizabeth Dole dampened Republican fears (and Democratic hopes) that she could not run an effective campaign when she scored a convincing primary victory September 10, taking 81 percent of the vote in a seven-way GOP race.
Granted, party leaders pushed her strongest rival, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, out of the race last year and promptly rewarded him with $200,000 he needed to retire his campaign debt. Nonetheless, Dole's primary win confirms she'll have a clear edge over Democrat Erskine Bowles this fall. Bowles, a wealthy investment banker, begins the general-election race with several challenges: More so than Dole, he faces a divided party base and must work to gain support from black voters who backed state Rep. Dan Blue, who took 29 percent in the primary.
While Democrats hit Dole hard for holding a fund raiser with former Enron CEO Ken Lay, Bowles is also vulnerable on corporate responsibility issues. He spent one year on the board of Merck Pharmaceuticals, which admitted using accounting gimmicks claiming revenue it never collected. Dole also has a sizable financial edge.
But Bowles probably can't do anything about his most formidable challenge, his work as chief of staff for Bill Clinton, who has always been unpopular in North Carolina. If Republicans really want to play rough, they can also remind voters that Bowles worked for Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky saga. But it doesn't look like they'll need to bother; while a mid-October poll showed the race had tightened to within 10 points, Dole still looks likely to prevail.
OKLAHOMA (Likely Republican): Former Gov. David Walters limped out of a stronger-than-expected primary challenge from attorney Tom Boettcher, which strongly hindered Walters's challenge to his ultimate target, Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican. Walters, who had held Inhofe to single digits in early polls, now trails the senator by roughly 20 points in several recent surveys. Try as he might to get beyond it, Walters is still plagued by a campaign fundraising investigation during his one term as governor in the early 1990s, which resulted in an indictment on felony charges. Walters took a plea bargain in which he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting excess contributions and paid a fine.
His 1990 campaign accepted a $12,500 contribution, which exceeded the state legal limit by $7,500. Walters says he did not know about the excess contributions, but signed the campaign finance reports, thus making him liable. As to why he didn't fight what he believed were wrongful charges, Walters said he didn't want to put his family through a trial even at the expense of his reputation, noting that both of his parents had just died and that his 19-year-old son had committed suicide.
Walters, who is now president of Oklahoma City-based Walters Power International, did not seek a second term as governor. During the Senate race, Walters has gotten endorsements from the National Education Association, the Oklahoma Federation of Teachers and the state AFL-CIO. He also made a strategically curious decision to campaign with former President Bill Clinton, who held a fundraiser for him in New York. Clinton never carried the state, or even came close.
OREGON (Likely Republican): Try as they might, Democrats have not been able to put a dent in GOP Sen. Gordon Smith's lead, which is not overwhelming but still far ahead of Democrat Bill Bradbury, the Oregon secretary of state. Bradbury served in the Oregon legislature for 14 years. From 1981 to 1985, he represented the southwest corner of Oregon as a state representative. From 1985 to 1995, he represented the coast as a state senator.
Bradbury was Senate Majority Leader from 1986 to 1993 and was elected Senate president in 1993. He served as chair of the Western Legislative Conference, a group of elected and appointed officials from 13 Western States and three Pacific island territories. Outgoing Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, appointed Bradbury secretary of state in November 1999; he was elected to the office the following year. The most optimistic Democrats say Smith will be the Slade Gorton of 2002.
Like Smith, Gorton, a Republican Senator from adjacent Washington state, suffered from low re-elect numbers throughout his 2000 race against former congresswoman Maria Cantwell but led in most head-to-head polls. Still, Gorton lost narrowly on Election Day. The bottom line is that Democrats suffered a recruiting setback here when Kitzhaber, the state's popular two-term governor, declined to run shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Democrats had so publicly touted Kitzhaber that any other candidate seemed second-tier, taking much of the steam out of Bradbury's campaign. Smith had a dramatic 15-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Bradbury September 30.
RHODE ISLAND (Safe Democratic): Sen. Jack Reed will have little trouble winning a second term over casino pit boss Bob Tingle, a token GOP nominee. Tingle has taken several positions that are virtually unelectable in Rhode Island, he opposes abortion rights and gun control and supports President Bush's tax cuts and school vouchers. Tingle made an unsuccessful bid for an open House seat in 2000, placing an embarrassing third with 14 percent behind Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat, and independent Rod Driver, a retired mathematics teacher.
SOUTH CAROLINA (Leans Republican): In one of the cycle's most curious Senate recruiting coups, Republicans united strongly behind Rep. Lindsey Graham in the race for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond's seat, almost before anyone else had a chance to think about running. Instead of seeking a Senate seat that hadn't opened up since 1956, a slew of Republicans lined up to challenge Gov. Jim Hodges, a relatively popular Democrat who was sitting on a $5 million war chest. Their logic has paid off. They now have a fair chance to beat the increasingly embattled governor, and Graham, a Clinton impeachment manager, is the odds-on favorite to succeed Thurmond.
While Republicans had no problem courting Graham, Democrats suffered an embarrassingly unsuccessful recruiting season here. They finally secured a commitment from Alex Sanders, the former president of the College of Charleston and the self-proclaimed "ninth choice" of party leaders. Sanders, 63, is a more mature and, perhaps, more "senatorial-looking" candidate than the 47-year-old Graham. And he has a folksy charm that can disarm even his harshest critics. He has also raised an impressive sum, although far short of Graham's totals. But Graham has hit Sanders for opposing the death penalty and supporting abortion rights, two unpopular stances in this conservative state.
SOUTH DAKOTA (Toss-up): Washington pundits have tried to make this race into a "proxy" battle between Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and President Bush, who went to great lengths to get Rep. John Thune to challenge Sen. Tim Johnson, a first-term Democrat. But voters here are less interested in proxy battles than they are in rain, or the lack thereof.
South Dakota is experiencing one of its worst-ever droughts, and voters have made clear that whoever can secure federal relief to farmers suffering from damaged crops will have a leg up in November. Some farmers were upset when Bush visited Mount Rushmore in August but said he could not support drought relief if it drove up the deficit.
Johnson aides said if Thune couldn't get the White House to deliver when he's in the middle of a critical Senate race, it does not bode well for voters if he becomes a Senator. Republicans said Johnson is politicizing the drought and said Thune had helped draft an aid package in the House that uses excess farm dollars and won't bust the budget. Polls show the race here will remain extremely tight up until November.
TENNESSEE (Leans Republican): In a testament to his popularity and political strength, Sen. Fred Thompson, a Republican, turned the Tennessee political world upside down in March when he announced that he would retire. Two House members, Republican Ed Bryant and Democrat Bob Clement, quickly jumped into the race. But while Clement was able to avoid a primary with Tipper Gore, Bryant drew a tough challenge from Lamar Alexander, who served as governor in the 1980s, education secretary under former President Bush and, in the past decade, twice ran for president.
While Bryant locked up some key endorsements from conservatives, Alexander easily out raised him and sailed to victory in the state's August 1 primary. Alexander is considered the favorite this fall against Clement, but Democrats are keeping an eye on this race as a potential upset. Polls have consistently showed the Republican enjoys a comfortable, double-digit lead. But 46 percent of GOP primary voters cast ballots for Bryant and against Alexander, meaning Al Gore's not the only politician who should be mending fences in Tennessee these days.
TEXAS (Leans Republican): Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, who would be only the third black senator since Reconstruction and the first from Texas, has enjoyed quite a bout of media adoration -- including a few magazine articles that never get around to mentioning his Republican opponent. That opponent, by the way, is state Attorney General John Cornyn, the first Republican elected attorney general in Texas this century and, he mentions whenever he can, a close personal friend of President Bush.
Bush has already headlined two fund raisers for Cornyn, adding more than $4 million to his already sizable war chest, and is scheduled to do so again in late September. First lady Laura Bush did an event for Cornyn as well this summer. Saying he's forced to compete with an unprecedented GOP fundraising machine, Kirk has traveled the country to raise money with some Democrats who wouldn't dare show their faces in Texas, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York.
Perhaps even more so than in Florida, Democrats are aching to score political wins this fall in Bush's native Texas. To do so, they nominated a so-called "Dream Team" of top candidates, including Kirk and wealthy banker Tony Sanchez, a Hispanic, for governor. The logic here is that Kirk and Sanchez will motivate unprecedented levels of minority voters, who traditionally vote Democratic. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will work. But Kirk, whether because of his race or in spite of it, has certainly kept things close.
WEST VIRGINIA (Safe Democratic): Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, is favored heavily over former state Sen. Jay Wolfe, the GOP nominee, this fall. Wolfe says West Virginia is trending Republican, citing the victories in 2000 of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in the Charleston-based 2nd district and President Bush statewide. He has railed against Democratic-controlled Senate, charging that Rockefeller and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have blocked several of Bush's judicial appointments. Perhaps because he has embraced such a partisan argument in his heavily Democratic state, Wolfe, an insurance company executive, has failed to catch fire. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1988, taking just 35 percent in a race against Sen. Robert Byrd, a Democrat.
WYOMING (Safe Republican): One of the most obscure Senators, Republican Mike Enzi also enjoys another distinction -- one of the safest. He faces a nominal challenge from Democrat Joyce Jansa Corcoran, a former mayor of Lander. She moved to Jackson in 1992 and worked for the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust for a year. She is currently employed as a therapeutic recreation director at St. John's Medical Center. Enzi won his first term in 1996 by 12 points, receiving 54 percent. His margin this time should be even larger.