- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Voters go to the polls tomorrow in a closely contested and pivotal midterm election, in which 36 governorships, 34 Senate slots and all 435 seats in the House are at stake.
Each party is within striking distance of controlling both chambers of Congress. Democrats need to pick up six seats to regain the House for the first time since 1994, and if Republicans pick up one seat in the Senate they will regain the control they lost in spring 2001, when Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords' becoming an independent cost them the gavel.
That big picture contains some fascinating individual races, such as the Senate contest in Minnesota. The tragic death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone has created a weeklong sprint to Election Day for Republican candidate Norm Coleman and Mr. Wellstone's replacement on the ballot, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale.
The tight contest in Minnesota has mostly overshadowed the other great ballot swap of the year, in New Jersey, where Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, a Democrat facing accusations of campaign corruption, was getting steamrolled by Republican candidate Douglas Forrester. Mr. Torricelli renounced his candidacy Sept. 30, and Democrats succeeded in replacing him on the ballot with former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.
Then, there's the biggest state prize of all, the California governorship, where polls show that voters would prefer just about anyone to either incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis or his opponent, Republican businessman Bill Simon.
And there is the chance that Republicans could instantly regain control of the Senate if their candidate wins either the Missouri or Minnesota races. Because those elections fill the unexpired terms of deceased senators, the winner will be appointed as soon as the results are certified.
In one sense, the choice for voters has rarely been clearer when it comes to Congress. They can look to the Republican-controlled House to see that party's legislative priorities and to the Democrat-controlled Senate to see that party's priorities.
At stake for President Bush is whether he will get a Congress that will move his stalled agenda. House Republicans have pushed for many of the president's priorities, including voting to make the administration's tax cuts permanent. But Senate Democrats have blocked the proposal, as well as several of the president's high-profile judicial nominees.
Mr. Bush has been active on the campaign trail, pleading with voters to give him a Senate majority he can work with.
At a rally Thursday for Republican Senate candidate John Thune, Mr. Bush told South Dakota voters that "I need a senator with whom I can work to make sure that we stop playing petty partisan politics with the judicial nominations I've sent up, to make sure people's records aren't distorted and to make sure we have a bench that is full of judges who aren't there to write the law but are there to strictly interpret the United States Constitution."
At that rally, the president also said he needs Republicans elected to the Senate to help pass homeland security legislation and a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare recipients.
Democrats, meanwhile, have portrayed themselves as a necessary check on Mr. Bush's power. They have given a national tone to the election by blaming Republicans for the slow economy and seeking to link the administration with the recent stock market meltdown and corporate corruption scandals.
"The voters are deciding this election on the economy. I know all the prognosticators are saying there are lots of other issues out there that are clouding the horizon as the voters go to the polls. Don't believe it," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. "Go door to door, as I do in my own district. Talk to voters all over this country, as I do, and the predominant, dominant, clear issues voters are thinking about are economic and personal issues."

The marquee Senate matchups

The marquee races this year are the competitive Senate contests. Hometown newspapers throughout the country have been dubbing their state's U.S. Senate race the one that could decide control of the chamber.
No incumbent goes into tomorrow's election the odds-on favorite to lose, partly because Democrats have already removed their weakest incumbent, Mr. Torricelli in New Jersey. His replacement, Mr. Lautenberg, who served three terms in the Senate before retiring two years ago, holds a significant lead in the polls over Mr. Forrester, a businessman.
Meanwhile, the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent, Sen. Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire, lost his primary battle to Rep. John E. Sununu. Mr. Sununu is locked in a seesaw contest with Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Then there's Minnesota, where Mr. Mondale stepped in last week to fill the ballot vacancy left when Mr. Wellstone and seven others died in a plane crash Oct. 25. Mr. Mondale served from 1964 to 1977 as senator before being elected vice president in the Carter administration and then failing in his own presidential bid in 1984.
His opponent, Mr. Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul, has been running an energetic campaign. Republican daily tracking polls over the weekend showed that the race was virtually dead even, with 42 percent supporting Mr. Coleman and 43 percent backing Mr. Mondale. The large number of undecided voters, especially among independents and women, was worrying some members in the Mondale camp.
Mr. Wellstone's death was shockingly similar to two years ago, when Democrat Mel Carnahan, governor of Missouri, died in a plane crash while in the midst of a campaign to unseat Republican Sen. John Ashcroft. Mr. Carnahan posthumously won the election, and his wife was appointed to begin serving his term.
Jean Carnahan has to be re-elected to serve out the term, and the political novice finds herself struggling against Republican former Rep. Jim Talent.
Another endangered Democratic incumbent is Sen. Tim Johnson in South Dakota. He faces Republican Rep. John Thune in a race widely seen as a surrogate struggle between Mr. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
One vulnerable Republican incumbent is Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, who was tarnished by his 1999 divorce and subsequent marriage to a staffer after having run as a family-values candidate in previous campaigns. Meanwhile, Mr. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Mark Pryor, proudly emphasizes his family, including his father, David, who was once an Arkansas governor and U.S. senator.
Then there's Colorado, where Republican Sen. Wayne Allard narrowly won election in 1996 and has not been able to put away Democratic challenger Tom Strickland this year.
Just below those races on the list of potential upsets are the North Carolina contest, where Democrat Erskine Bowles has mounted a strong late charge against the Republican front-runner Elizabeth Dole, and Georgia, where Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss has mounted a similar challenge to Democratic Sen. Max Cleland.
No matter what happens in those contests, election night may not prove to be the final word over which party will control the Senate. Louisiana holds an open election for all comers tomorrow, and if no one candidate wins 50 percent of the vote there will be a runoff in December. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu has a solid lead over her field of competitors, including three credible Republican challengers, but recent polls have shown her hovering at about 45 percent support, not enough to avoid a runoff.

Key House races

Despite all the attention being paid to the Senate races, however, the House election has the chance to be historic if Republicans gain seats in an off-year election. But Democrats say they don't think Republicans are strong enough this year to defy history.
"For 150 years in the first off-year election of every president that's 25 presidents 24 of them have lost House seats. The only exception was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934, with unemployment at 25 percent and the people of our country still outraged at the Hoover economic philosophy," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. "The question is, is George Bush going to go under the Roosevelt column, just two people now, or is he going to be with every other president?"
But few independent political observers predict that Republicans will lose six seats, and many say Republicans are more likely to gain than lose seats.
The stage for the election was set by reapportionment and redistricting the once-a-decade process after a census that shifts seats from slow- to fast-growing states and redraws districts within states.
Republicans controlled redistricting in a number of the key states, including Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The party sought to shift district lines enough to gain three to 14 seats by eliminating Democrat-held districts.
But Democrats say big gains in Georgia, where they controlled the process, and small Republican gains in Texas, where a court ended up drawing the lines, offset the efforts of Republicans.
"Redistricting turned out to be a wash, and originally it was going to be devastating and prohibitive of our ability to win back the House," Mr. Gephardt said last week.
What redistricting did do, though, was protect incumbents throughout the nation.
Take California, which accounts for more than one-ninth of the nation's House seats. The only competitive race is for the seat of Democratic Rep. Gary A. Condit, who lost his party primary after public revelations of an affair with slain Washington intern Chandra Ann Levy.
Democratic State Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza is favored in the race, but Republican Dick Montieth has kept things close. In recent days, Mr. Condit's presence has been a factor; his children have sent a letter urging voters to reject Mr. Cardoza, a former employee of Mr. Condit, for not being loyal to the congressman.
The list of vulnerable incumbents is not long.
Top on the list is Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, whose seat has always leaned Democratic. Other Republicans on the list include Rep. Felix J. Grucci Jr. of New York; Rep. Anne M. Northup of Kentucky; and Reps. Jim Nussle, Tom Latham and Jim Leach of Iowa. Vulnerable Democrats include Rep. Bill Luther of Minnesota, Rep. Leonard L. Boswell of Iowa, Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas and Rep. Julia Carson of Indiana.
Then there are four races pitting Democratic incumbents against Republican incumbents thanks to redistricting, in Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
The other main seats in play are either newly drawn seats or ones left open by retirements.
In Colorado, Republican Bob Beauprez and Democrat Tom Feeley have been running neck and neck in the polls for several weeks for a new district just outside Denver.
In Mr. Thune's old South Dakota district, newcomer Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat, has run a strong race even though most pundits expected her to be steamrolled by Republican Gov. William J. Janklow.
Also, voters in Ohio's redrawn 17th district will still see James A. Traficant Jr.'s name on the ballot, though for the first time in 18 years they probably won't elect him. Traficant, the expelled congressman and former Democrat, is running as an independent from a prison cell in Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer Township, Pa., where he is serving a sentence for racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
Democrat Timothy J. Ryan holds an edge over Republican Ann Womer Benjamin in the Democrat-leaning district, but Traficant is the wild card. If he draws enough of Mr. Ryan's support, Mrs. Womer Benjamin might win with 40 percent of the vote.
Among the 36 governorships to be filled tomorrow, 23 are held by Republicans, 11 by Democrats and two by independents.
Democrats are expected to win back key states such as Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania, based largely on the fact that popular governors elected during the Republican tidal wave of 1994 are prevented from seeking third terms by term limits.
Still, Republicans should easily hold on to governorships in New York and Ohio, where Gov. George E. Pataki and Gov. Bob Taft are cruising to re-election.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is trying to survive an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democrat Bill McBride.
Republicans will be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on California, where Mr. Davis is poised to overcome his unpopularity with many voters to secure re-election over Mr. Simon, who some Republican leaders have said has run an abysmal campaign.
In Minnesota the question is whether a nascent third party can survive. Gov. Jesse Ventura is not seeking a second term, leaving his aspiring successor Tim Penny to run as the candidate representing Mr. Ventura's Independence Party. Mr. Penny trails in the polls to Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Roger Moe, who are running neck and neck. If Mr. Penny does win, however, it would be the first time in modern U.S. history that an independent party transferred power to another party member.
Along with the gubernatorial races, there are elections for state legislatures in all but four states. As with national political offices, statehouses are nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats control 18, Republicans control 17 and 14 are split. Nebraska's unicameral legislature is nonpartisan.

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