Dole wins battle of the titans in N.C.
Bush re-elected in Fla.; Democrats win 2 big governorships
by Alex Johnson
Nov. 5 — Elizabeth Dole held the open Senate seat for the Republicans in North Carolina, NBC News projected Tuesday night, beating former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in a showdown of political heavyweights important to the battle for control of Congress. The Democrats countered by holding on to the open seat in New Jersey, where Democratic former Sen. Frank Lautenberg defeated Douglas Forrester only a few weeks after stepping in for incumbent Democrat Robert Torricelli, who withdrew in an ethics scandal.
REPUBLICAN GOV. Jeb Bush won re-election in Florida, but Democrats took open governor’s races in two other big states, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The outcome of Tuesday’s midterm elections will shape coming political battles, including how to stimulate the economy and manage Social Security. With control of both houses of Congress likely to be determined by a bare handful of contests, a clear picture remained many hours off.
If Republicans keep their House edge and pick up just one or two Senate seats, they would control all three branches of government. Democrats, for their part, could present President Bush with a united opposition if they hold onto the Senate and add seven House seats.
The prospect of more of the same — Republicans holding the House, Democrats commanding the Senate and Bush navigating between the two — was also very much a possibility.
Voters also were choosing state legislatures, now split almost evenly between the parties, and deciding more than 200 ballot initiatives in 40 states.
For political analysts, the evening promised to be a chore — Voter News Service said late Tuesday afternoon that it would not be able to provide results of state and national exit poll surveys of voter attitudes, valuable data that election-watchers use to explain voting patterns and predict trends.
VNS — a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press — also extrapolates from actual reported votes, and that operation was not affected, however, it said.
Based on those data, NBC News projected that Dole, a Cabinet member in two Republican White Houses, had triumphed over Bowles in the race to succeed Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, who is retiring.
Dole’s victory was balanced by Lautenberg’s win in New Jersey, but elsewhere, Republicans were winning several key races, according to NBC News projections. Former Gov. Lamar Alexander beat Democratic Rep. Bob Clement to claim the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Fred Thompson, while Republican Rep. John Sununu defeated Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
In other states where polls had closed, NBC News projected that most incumbent senators had already won re-election over little-known opponents, including Joseph Biden, D-Del., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., John Kerry, D-Mass., Carl Levin, D-Mich., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Warner, R-Va.
Control of the Senate rested on races in a bare handful of other states that were so close that winners were not expected to be decided quickly. The strong likelihood of recounts and legal challenges could push back the final outcome by days or weeks.
Among the closest were:
Minnesota, where former Vice President Walter Mondale had barely a week to campaign after replacing the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone on the ballot. He and Republican Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, were able to debate only once, on election eve.
South Dakota, where incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson faced a tough challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. John Thune in a nasty campaign that the Republican Party tried to cast as a referendum on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Missouri, where incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan was being closely challenged by former U.S. Rep. Jim Talent. Carnahan won the seat only two years ago, when she was elected to replace her husband, Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash shortly before Election Day.
The scenario could become even more unwieldy if no Senate candidate wins 50 percent of the vote in Louisiana. That would force a runoff Dec. 7 that could decide which party holds Senate power.
RACES FOR GOVERNOR
In addition to 34 Senate seats, all 435 House seats were at stake Tuesday, several dozen of them hotly competitive, as well as 36 governorships.
The highest-profile governor’s race was in Florida, where Jeb Bush sought a second term. The president called his brother to congratulate him early in the evening, well before news organization called his win over Democrat Bill McBride.
The other gubernatorial contests also featured famous political names, a strong bid by women and hopes by Democrats for seizing a majority of the offices key to shaping the 2004 presidential election.
NBC News projected that former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, had won the open Pennsylvania seat over Republican Mike Fisher, and it projected that Democratic U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich had won the open statehouse in Illinois over state Attorney General Jim Ryan.
In Maryland, a Kennedy — Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend — was seeking to contribute to a first. Hers was one of nine gubernatorial contests involving women, including an all-female race in Hawaii. Women have never held more than five governorships at one time.
While issues differed by state, the races provided an important foundation for the organizational and fund-raising structure they could give to presidential candidates of the same party in years when the White House is at stake.
Before the election, Republicans held 27 offices, compared with 21 for the Democrats, with independents in Maine and Minnesota. Neither of the independents sought re-election.
BUSH CASTS HIS VOTE
In House races, Bush hoped to become just the third president in a century to gain seats in a midterm election, joining Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 and Clinton in 1998. His popularity remained high in the NBC News poll, a factor that was considered likely to boost Republican House Senate candidates.
The poll of 5,060 likely voters, questioned by telephone Saturday through Monday by RoperASW of New York, reported a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.
The president went all out for his candidates in the final days of the campaign, touring four states on election eve alone. But he did not want to raise expectations Tuesday.
After voting at the fire station near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush seemed to signal that the day could go either way, first flashing a thumbs-up and then turning his thumb to the side when asked about Republican chances.
“I’m encouraging all people across this country to vote,” he said before driving off to get ready to return to the White House.
Democrats also sent their big guns out Monday for a last day of campaigning, with Clinton, Daschle, former Vice President Al Gore and House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri appearing across the country to stir up Democratic turnout.
Democrats were fighting an uphill battle to retake the House, but they were hoping history and voter unease about the economy would work to their advantage. Public opinion polls showed little evidence that the nation’s lackluster economic performance hurt Republicans.
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