WASHINGTON – Missouri Republican Jim Talent was responsible for shifting control of the Senate to the GOP early Wednesday, as his victory over incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan was declared in the early morning hours after an extremely close, contentious race.
"We're on and Talent tips the balance," Sen. Christopher Kit Bond, R-Mo., told Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee through an e-mail on his BlackBerry pager just before 1 a.m.
Talent could be sworn in immediately, as he replaces an incumbent who was appointed to the seat after her husband, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, won posthumously in 2000 three weeks after being killed in a plane crash. Talent's presence in the Senate could affect the upcoming lame duck session, especially if Bush wants his homeland security bill to get passed. Democrats have been holding up the bill over labor rights.
Talent's victory came after a series of Republican wins, starting with the first major Senate upset of the evening in Georgia.
Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss wrested control of Georgia's Democratically held junior Senate seat from one-termer Max Cleland Tuesday.
Going into Election Day, Cleland had shown a slight lead in the polls in this election. The race had become a messy battleground in recent weeks, with Cleland — a wounded Vietnam veteran — being forced to defend his patriotism in the war on terror.
But as soon as the Republicans registered a pick-up, they lost Arkansas. Democratic Attorney General Mark Pryor took the seat from one-term Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who was embroiled in accusations of hypocrisy after running on a family values platform, then divorcing his wife to marry a staffer. Pryor, son of the former governor and senator, David Pryor, was winning 54-36 when the race was called in his favor.
In later election returns, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn managed to keep the Texas seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm in the GOP column. He beat former Democratic Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, even after Kirk attempted to portray Cornyn as a racist to minority voters. Kirk was not able to get out the minority vote as much as he wanted.
Republicans are likely breathing a sigh of relief as former Red Cross president and GOP candidate Elizabeth Dole was declared the winner of the U.S Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in North Carolina Tuesday night.
In one of the most-watched races of the season, Dole managed to overcome flip-flopping polls to beat former Clinton chief of staff and Democrat Erskine Bowles and keep the Senate seat in the GOP column.
"I want to ask those who voted for Erskine Bowles to please give me a chance because I want to be senator for all the people of North Carolina," Dole said in her victory speech.
Other big news came from New Hampshire, where Republican Rep. John Sununu defeated Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Bob Smith. Sununu defeated Smith in the Republican primary, winning the support of voters who thought that he would be a stronger candidate against the popular Shaheen.
After this race was reported as Republican Sen.Wayne Allard's to lose, he turned around and beat back a tough challenge from Democrat Tom Strickland in Colorado. This was billed as rematch of a race in which Allard won his first term by 5 percent in 1996, just barely topping 50 percent. The undecided voters were expected to be the swing vote in this race.
There was little surprise in South Carolina that four-term Rep. Linsday Graham defeated Democratic challenger Alex Sanders to replace outgoing GOP incumbent Sen. Strom Thurmond, who held the seat for 48 years.
In other races, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, put on the ballot late in the campaign, beat Republican Doug Forrester in the New Jersey Senate contest on Tuesday, allowing Democrats to hold the seat.
Lautenberg jumped into the race in September after Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli bowed out of the race as a result of ethics scandals. While Forrester had made gains against Torricelli in the polls, he was unable to compete against Lautenberg's name recognition and experience.
In other states, incumbents were skating to wins with little or no opposition.
With 17 percent of precincts reporting, Kentucky elections officials said Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell coasted to a fourth term easily.
McConnell, who recently made headlines for his opposition to campaign-finance legislation, was challenged by Democratic education activist Lois Weinberg, daughter of former Gov. Bert Combs.
In Virginia, four-term Republican Sen. John Warner was also safe for another six years in Washington. Ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Warner was only nominally challenged by independent candidates Jacob Hornberger and Nancy Spannaus.
John "Jay" D. Rockefeller of West Virginia was the first incumbent Democratic senator re-elected Tuesday night. A member of the Select Intelligence Committee and chairman of Veterans Affairs, Rockefeller was headed back for a fourth term.
In Alabama, Republican junior Sen. Jeff Sessions won an easy second term in office after trouncing Democratic state auditor Susan Parker and Libertarian Jeff Allen.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry overcame a challenge from Libertarian candidate Michael Cloud, who went on a hunger strike during the campaign for the Massachusetts Senate seat. Kerry won a fourth term easily, solidifying his base for a possible presidential run in 2004.
In Delaware, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden won a sixth term as opponent Republican businessman Ray Clatworthy proved an unsuccessful challenge for the second time. Biden beat him in 1996 as well.
In Mississippi, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran won his bid for a fifth term. His only opponent was Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara.
As expected, Democratic incumbent Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois easily won his re-election bid against Republican state Rep. Jim Durkin.
GOP Sen. James Inhofe was declared the winner in Oklahoma, earning him a third term. He beat out former Democratic Gov. David Walters and Independent candidate James Germalic.
In Maine, Republican Sen. Susan Collins beat back a challenge by Democrat Chellie Pingree, a former state Senate majority leader, for a second term.
In Rhode Island, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed won a second term against his Republican challenger Robert Tingle.
Former governor and presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, a Republican, pulled out a win in Tennessee against Democratic Rep. Bob Clement to replace retiring Republican Sen. Fred Thompson. Alexander was a former senator and governor himself, and had earlier been favored to win the race.
Sen. Pat Roberts had no Democratic challenger and easily beat Libertarian Steve Rosile and Reform Party candidate George Cook for a second term representing Kansas.
In Nebraska, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel passed over three challengers for a second term in office.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, trounced four challengers for a fifth term as Michigan's senior senator. He will now become the longest-serving senator in Michigan history.
New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, ranking member of the Budget Committee, sailed to a huge win against former Federal Communications Commissioner Gloria Tristani for a sixth term in the U.S. Senate.
Republican Sen. Michael Enzi easily overcame his challenge from former Democratic Lander Mayor Joyce Jansa Corcoran in Wyoming. He wins a second term in office.
Finance Committee Chair and Democratic Sen. Max Baucus won an easy fifth term in Montana, as his Republican opponent Mike Taylor dropped out in early October after television ads put out by the Democrats insinuated that he was gay. He later re-entered the race, but it was too late to pick up any points.
In Iowa, Democratic incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin pulled out a win against Republican Rep. Greg Ganske, who had tried unsuccessfully to paint the three-term Harkin as a duplicitous, driven campaigner.
In another incumbent victory, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig easily won a third term against Democratic opponent Alan Blinken, who raised more than $1 million to launch his challenge. This win will clear the way for Craig to fill any desire he might have for a run for Senate Republican Whip in the next Senate.
On the West Coast, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon held on to his seat for a second term. Smith overcame early concerns about a loss to his challenger, Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who apparently could not keep up the momentum and allowed Smith a double-digit lead in the last months of the campaign.
Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska also won an easy seventh term despite facing a field of challengers, including Democrat Frank Vondersaar, Alaskan Independence Party candidate Jim Dore, Green Party candidate Jim Sykes and Libertarian Len Karpinsky.
In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu easily led the primary, but she may have a tough time retaining her seat in the Dec. 7 runoff. Republican Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell ran second in a field of nine. In Louisiana's unique primary, all candidates regardless of party run at the same time, and a candidate must get at least 50 percent plus one vote to win. Without a majority winner, there must be a runoff. Returns showed Landrieu with 47 percent of the vote, Terrell with 26 percent.
In Minnesota, former Vice President Walter Mondale conceded victory to former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman Wednesday morning. Mondale stepped in after a plane crash killed Sen. Paul Wellstone with only 11 days to go before the election. The Wellstone-Coleman race had been extremely tight.
Freshman Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson beat GOP Rep. John Thune in South Dakota, but a recount is likely.