- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Campaign 2002 rolls to a conclusion today with national polls suggesting voters want a Republican majority in Congress but individual polls still showing contests too close to call in the key races that will determine control.
At stake are all 435 U.S. House seats, 34 U.S. Senate seats and 36 governorships, including chief executives in the nation's largest states: New York, Florida, Texas, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Voters also will consider ballot initiatives such as legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use in Nevada and splitting two parts of Los Angeles into separate jurisdictions.
Maryland features a marquee governor's race between Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and the critical battle in Montgomery County, where Democratic state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. is trying to unseat eight-term Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella.
D.C. voters will select a mayor. Virginia voters are expected to return Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican who is running virtually unopposed, for a fifth term, and Northern Virginians will decide whether to raise the sales tax to 5 percent from 4.5 percent to pay for transportation projects.
Minnesota continued to dominate yesterday's political news. As Republican candidate Norm Coleman and former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, the Democratic candidate, were debating yesterday morning, Gov. Jesse Ventura was announcing that a member of his own party, the Independence Party, would serve as interim senator.
Dean Barkley, a member of Mr. Ventura's administration, will serve in the slot left by Sen. Paul Wellstone's death last month and will hold the office until either Mr. Coleman or Mr. Mondale is certified the winner of the general election.
The Senate debate itself was a groundbreaking affair not only for being an engaging exchange rare enough throughout the nation this year but also because it occurred at the unheard of time of 10 a.m. the day before the election.
Nationally, a Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll released yesterday showed a dramatic shift among likely voters. By 51 percent to 45 percent, those surveyed favored their local Republican candidate over their Democratic candidate. That was a major change from 10 days ago, when the same poll showed Democrats preferred 49 percent to 46 percent. An Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday also showed that 46 percent of respondents want Republicans to control Congress and that 44 percent prefer Democrats.
But a Pew Research Center for the People and Press survey asking similar questions showed Democrats favored 46 percent to 44 percent. And individual polls showed races too close to call in key Senate contests across the nation.
Republicans need to net one Senate seat to have 50 and, given Vice President Richard B. Cheney's tiebreaking vote, control the chamber. In addition to Minnesota, they have hopes of taking a seat away from Democrats in South Dakota, Missouri and Georgia. They also hope to keep Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu below 50 percent of the vote, forcing her into a December runoff.
Democrats, meanwhile, hope to extend their majority by winning in New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina.
It's less likely the Democrats will win the House. Though they need to net just six seats out of 435 total, there are fewer than two dozen truly competitive races, and Democrats would have to win three-fourths of them to secure control.
President Bush yesterday continued his tour of key states and districts, urging a vote for Republicans but also urging registered Americans of every political stripe to exercise their right.
"We have a duty as Americans to support our democracy," he said at a stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "We have an obligation as citizens of this free land to exercise our right to express ourselves in the voting booths. We have that obligation. I don't care whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, or could care less about political party. You have an obligation to America."
Since Democrats' surprising successes in turning out their voters in 1998 and 2000, both parties have been planning for a major turnout push this year. Democrats promise to duplicate and surpass their previous efforts, and their labor union allies have also geared up for a major push.
Republicans, meanwhile, have countered with their 72-hour task force, which was based on a Republican National Committee study of tried-and-true "ground game" methods in the days leading up to an election to turn out Republicans. House Republicans also have a program to shift volunteers around from districts where incumbents are safe to help out in neighboring districts with competitive races.
Democrats have charged the GOP with trying to suppress Democratic voters, particularly in areas with large minority populations.
"Democrats will not stand idly by while Republican operatives try to strip voters of their most basic right. Too many people have fought and died for the right to vote," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said yesterday.
Some Republicans, though, have called the charges an attempt to rile up Democratic voters still upset at the way the 2000 presidential election played out in Florida.
The 2000 elections have prompted changes in today's elections. Thanks to Florida's voting and vote-counting difficulties in 2000, many states and localities have installed new voting machines. Also, television networks have promised to be more careful in calling elections.

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