- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

It doesn't get any tighter than this in Senate elections: Not one of the 34 seats up for re-election this fall is rated a likely turnover by election analysts.
"It's unusual that at this point that you do not have a single seat that is likely to turn over," said Stuart Rothenberg, a veteran tracker of congressional elections.
This is in sharp contrast to the 2000 races, he said, when there were five senators at this stage of the election year who "were highly vulnerable. In 1998, there were four highly vulnerable."
"But right now, in the middle of March, I'd be surprised in May if we had any leaning or likely takeovers," he said. "It's a reflection that there is no incumbent at the moment who is so weak as to be an underdog."
This means that the battle this fall for control of the Senate, the burial ground for much of President Bush's agenda in the past year, could be as close as it gets.
With the Democrats barely controlling the chamber 51-49, the Republicans need a net gain of only one to reclaim the Senate and break the Democratic logjam that has blocked the administration's judicial nominations and major bills from energy to trade.
Five Senate races are rated "tossups" by Mr. Rothenberg, who presents his ratings each month in the Rothenberg Political Report.
Of the 34 seats up for re-election this year, 20 are held by the Republicans and 14 by the Democrats. But Mr. Rothenberg says he cannot find one race that meets his "leaning-to-takeover" definition.
All eyes are on the five tossup races where the latest polls show the candidates running neck-and-neck at this point.
The Republican Party's best shot at a pickup is in South Dakota, a state that Mr. Bush carried by 60 percent, where freshman Sen. Tim Johnson is in the fight of life against Republican Rep. John R. Thune. Mr. Thune is leading by five to seven points in this month's polls.
In New Hampshire, two-term Sen. Robert C. Smith, who briefly bolted the Republican Party in 2000 only to return later, is in a bitter primary fight with Rep. John E. Sununu, who is running ahead in the polls. The winner faces Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Polls show Mr. Sununu leading her by seven points.
Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, is in a close race with Attorney General Mark Pryor, a Democrat. Analysts say Mr. Hutchinson's divorce and remarriage have hurt him, and Democrats say this is their best chance for a takeover.
Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone also appears in trouble in Minnesota. He boasts a 100 percent vote score from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action but narrowly won a second term six years ago with 51 percent of the vote. St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, also recruited by the White House, is opposing him. Polls show the race in a dead heat.
Sen. Jean Carnahan, Missouri Democrat, is also running neck-and-neck against Republican Jim Talent, a former congressman. Mrs. Carnahan was appointed to her seat after her husband was killed in a plane crash just weeks before the 2000 Senate election. The race is a tossup right now.
There are four open Republican seats where senators have chosen not to seek re-election, a situation that ordinarily would offer the Democrats a big advantage to tighten their hold on the Senate. But the Republicans look relatively safe in all four.
In South Carolina, Rep. Lindsey Graham, one of the House impeachment managers in President Clinton's Senate trial, is the Republicans' likely nominee and a virtual shoo-in for the seat held by the venerable Strom Thurmond.
In Texas, polls show Republican Attorney General John Cornyn currently running ahead of his two Democratic rivals, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk or schoolteacher Victor Morales, who are headed into a party runoff on April 9. Sen. Phil Gramm is retiring after three terms.
Former Transportation and Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, who briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, is the clear front-runner for North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' seat. She has little serious opposition in the GOP primaries, and early polls have shown her beating any of her Democratic rivals.
But Mrs. Dole, a notorious micromanager, has been slow to put her campaign together and was criticized for poor judgment when she held a fund-raiser on Sept. 20, a little over a week after the terrorist attacks.
Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's decision last week not to seek re-election appeared to be a setback for the Republicans' drive to win back the Senate. But analysts think former Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander's decision to get into the race will keep this seat in the Republican column.
"If I had to put that race in my normal categories, I'd start it off as a clear advantage to the incumbent party. That's pending the decision about who the Democratic nominee will be," said Mr. Rothenberg.
"The state has been moving Republican for a number of election cycles. It's Alexander's to lose," he said.
According to news reports, Democratic leaders in Tennessee have urged Tipper Gore, wife of failed presidential candidate Al Gore, to seek the seat.
Mrs. Gore must make a decision on her candidacy before the April 4 filing date and has returned to Tennessee this weekend to discuss a possible bid with friends and family, a close Gore source said.


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