Published November 06, 2002
WASHINGTON – Upsets among the 10 most-watched Senate races gave spark and drama to the 2002 midterm elections and led to a shift in the body's evenly divided balance of power.
Thanks to the victory of Republican Jim Talent over Democratic incumbent Sen. Jean Carnahan in Missouri, the GOP now has control of the House, Senate and the White House.
Because Carnahan was serving a special term following the posthumous victory of her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, in 2000, Talent is expected to be sworn into office right away and may be able to help his party flex its new muscle in the Senate during the so-called "lame duck" session.
His early morning declaration of victory came after an evening of GOP wins. In early results Tuesday night, Georgia Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss pulled off a major upset by beating one-term Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam vet who had been forced to defend his patriotism and support of the war on terror in the waning days of the race.
"I told people all across the state that our base was more fired up, further out from general election day than in any campaign I'd ever been involved in," Chambliss said in his acceptance speech. "And folks, you all are what made this happen tonight."
But then in Arkansas, Democratic state Attorney General David Pryor ousted incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson, despite having to deflect 11th-hour charges that he did not pay taxes on an immigrant whom he hired for part-time housekeeping.
One-termer Hutchinson, who campaigned on family values, was forced to answer to negative press he got after he divorced his wife and married a staffer. He was also blamed for running a poor re-election bid, which resulted in the loss of his lead in the polls weeks ago, which he was never able to regain.
In most races, however, the seats were held by Democrats and Republicans, even after messy, nail-biting campaigns.
In New Hampshire, GOP Rep. John Sununu beat Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in what was a particularly close race throughout the campaign.
"We were outspent in this election, but we weren't outworked," Sununu said in his victory address. "This was a tremendous grassroots organization that made this victory possible."
U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who lost the primary to Sununu, launched a write-in campaign after his loss, but that seemed to count very little in the endgame.
In Texas, state Attorney General John Cornyn managed to keep the Senate 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.
"I also want to thank those of you here tonight and those of you who may be watching who have put their trust in me to help represent you, all Texans, in the United States Senate regardless or race or gender or ethnicity or sex," Cornyn said in his acceptance speech. "I want to be a senator for all Texans."
In New Jersey, where a debate over political corruption became a very tight race between the old guard and a newcomer, the voters picked the familiar.
Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, who retired from office in 2000, was re-elected to the Senate Tuesday, replacing Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli, who resigned his seat and was taken off the ballot in early October. Lautenberg, 78, stepped up and beat Republican businessman Doug Forrester.
"Quite a surprise. Quite a surprise. We squeezed 10 months into five weeks, got it all done, got it all done," Lautenberg said Tuesday night. "And tonight, we stand here with a mandate to go ahead to Washington, stand up there for all the people of New Jersey and the people of this country and do the right thing."
While former Transportation Secretary Republican Elizabeth Dole saw her lead evaporate in the last several weeks in her bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in North Carolina, she rebounded enough to win Tuesday night.
In what became the the most expensive Senate race this year, Dole beat former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. They raised $20 million combined.
The wife of former Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole, the new Senator-elect said she would try to hard to emulate Helms, known for his staunch allegiance to the conservative cause.
"I intend to emulate that and stand just as tall for the people of North Carolina," she said in her acceptance speech.
After the Colorado race was reported as Republican Sen.Wayne Allard's to lose, he turned around and beat back a tough challenge from Democrat Tom Strickland. This was billed as a 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 thought to have swung the vote in Allard's favor.
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.
All the votes have not yet been counted in Minnesota, but former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman currently has 50 percent, making it nearly impossible for him to lose now to former Vice President Walter Mondale. Mondale agreed to leave retirement to run after Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash only 11 days before an election that was expected to be extremely tight.
Freshman Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson beat GOP Rep. John Thune in South Dakota, but a recount will almost certainly be held.
While Republicans may revel in their newfound control, they will have to look over their collective shoulder, as rumors still abound that Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican with a liberal voting record, is being courted by Democrats to jump to their party.