- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Republicans swept the five Democratic Southern Senate seats up for election, expanding their majority by at least three seats in the U.S. Senate, and appeared to have scored a major upset by knocking off Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

In the House, Republicans seemed to have increased their decade-long majority by several seats as well, thanks in large part to a new congressional district map in Texas that helped oust four Democratic incumbents.

“We had some great pickups this election. We had some tough races, some tight races,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said on CNN last night. “We’re holding the seats we had to hold. We lost a couple, but that was to be expected.”

Returns as of early this morning showed that Democrats lost all five Southern seats in which they had members retire this year: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. They also turned back challenges to incumbents in Missouri and Kentucky, and defended their open seat in Oklahoma.

Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama captured the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald of Illinois. And Democratic candidate Ken Salazar was leading Republican Pete Coors in Colorado.

But Republicans also were poised to claim victory in South Dakota, where former Rep. John Thune was leading Mr. Daschle, 51 percent or 168,297 votes to 49 percent or 161,079 votes, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.

It has been more than 50 years since a party leader lost a bid for re-election to his seat. In 1952, Sen. Ernest McFarland, Arizona Democrat, lost to Republican Barry Goldwater, who won his party’s nomination for president a dozen years later.

Mr. Daschle’s loss could produce a power struggle among Senate Democrats, though Minority Whip Harry Reid of Nevada has said he thinks he has the votes to secure the leader’s post.

In Alaska, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was leading former Gov. Tony Knowles in early returns.

Overall, Republicans were thrilled with their performance, attributing it to good campaigning and to having President Bush at the top of the ticket.

“We’re looking to pick up a couple seats here tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said on Fox News last night.

With the expanded majority, and particularly with Mr. Daschle’s apparent loss, Republicans were talking about the chances to get through some of the judges Democrats are filibustering, as well as push through Mr. Bush’s energy bill and medical malpractice legislation, which have been stalled.

Republicans hold a 51-48 edge over Democrats in the Senate, with one Democrat-leaning independent. Just a third of the Senate is up for election every two years. This year, 36 Republicans, 29 Democrats and the lone independent were not up for re-election.

In races to fill the seats of the three retiring Southern Democrats, Rep. Jim DeMint defeated Inez Tenenbaum in South Carolina, Rep. Richard M. Burr topped former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in North Carolina and Rep. Johnny Isakson beat Rep. Denise L. Majette to win Georgia’s seat.

Former Bush Cabinet official Mel Martinez also topped Democrat Betty Castor in Florida by more than 70,000 votes out of about 7 million cast, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. And, in Louisiana, Republican Rep. David Vitter garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, the threshold to avoid a runoff in that state next month.

Meanwhile, a new congressional map in Texas, which Republicans won only after outlasting Democratic legislators who fled the state to avoid voting on the new district lines, delivered a handful of House seats to Republicans.

Democratic Texas Reps. Martin Frost, Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson and Charles W. Stenholm lost their bids for re-election last night as a result of the map.

“The American people have spoken tonight, and all indications are that they have hired a Republican House of Representatives for the sixth straight election,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and a key author of the map. “That means it’s time for our national majority [to] start thinking about the future.”

Republicans also held on to contested House seats in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky and won another seat from Democrats in Kentucky.

But Democrats defeated Republican incumbents in Georgia and Illinois, and one endangered Texas Democrat, Chet Edwards, appeared to have survived a tough new district as of early this morning.

Still, Republicans appeared ready to expand their lead by at least three seats. The current breakdown is 227 Republicans, 205 Democrats, one independent and two vacancies in Republican-leaning districts.

The closest Senate race of the early evening was in Kentucky, between Sen. Jim Bunning and state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, the Democratic challenger. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee siphoned money into the state in the waning days of the election after Mr. Bunning’s support seemed to collapse as recent statements appeared to catch up with him. He recently said the terrorist attacks against the nation occurred Nov. 11, rather than September 11.

But Mr. Bunning held Mr. Mongiardo to win 50.54 percent, or 861,424 votes, to 49.46 percent, or 843,011 votes, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

In Missouri, Sen. Christopher S. Bond fended off a challenge from State Treasurer Nancy Farmer, another candidate Democrats had touted but who failed to gain traction as Mr. Bond became the first Republican to win a fourth term from Missouri.

And, in Oklahoma, Tom Coburn defeated Rep. Brad Carson, a Democrat, in the race for the seat left open by retiring Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican.

Republicans and Democrats traded open seats in Georgia and Illinois where incumbents didn’t seek re-election.

Mr. Obama has become the Democrats’ newest star, based largely on his address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston this year. He is the first black senator since Carol Moseley Braun, also from Illinois, who was elected in 1992 and lost to Mr. Fitzgerald in 1998.

Mr. Keyes, a Maryland resident and two-time long-shot candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was a last-minute addition as the Republican candidate after Jack Ryan dropped out when salacious details of his personal life were unsealed from his divorce records.

In the House, Rep. Anne M. Northup, Kentucky Republican and a perennial target for Democrats in her Louisville district, easily survived to claim her fifth term.

In a neighboring district, Republicans won the seat of retiring Rep. Ken Lucas, a Democrat. Geoff Davis, the Republican candidate, defeated actor George Clooney’s father, Nick Clooney, who Democrats had hoped could hold on to the seat.

Democrats managed to defeat Republican Rep. Max Burns in Georgia, which canceled out Republicans’ net in Kentucky.

Democrats also defended a Republican-leaning contested seat in Kansas, the seat left open by Mr. Carson in Oklahoma and the seat left open by Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, who lost in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.

The strong performance by Republicans follows their history-making showing when they won House and Senate seats in 2002 — a rarity for a party that held the White House.

They netted two seats in the Senate that year, defeating incumbents in Georgia and Missouri, and picked up a half-dozen seats in the House, thanks in large part to redistricting efforts in Florida and Pennsylvania, which they controlled, and Democrats’ failure in Georgia, where they controlled the state house and governorship, to create a favorable map.

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