Republicans recapture Senate, hold the House, bucking historical trend for party in White House

November 6, 2002

Decision 2002 on

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans recaptured control of the Senate, savoring a history-making victory that could help President Bush's plans for tax cuts and homeland security and spur quicker action on judicial vacancies.

The GOP on Tuesday ousted a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran in Georgia and an incumbent appointed to fill her husband's seat in Missouri, while ending the comeback attempt of former Vice President Walter Mondale in Minnesota.

Republicans were assured of 51 seats in the 100-member Senate, leaving two states undecided: South Dakota, where votes were almost even, and in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a Dec. 7 runoff.

Coupled with the GOP's equally satisfying but less surprising retention of its House majority, the Democrats' only snippet of power will be the ability to force procedural delays in the Senate.

Mondale, who had less than a week to campaign after the death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash, lost narrowly to former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. In South Dakota, Republican Rep. John Thune held a slight lead over Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in a race that became a proxy battle between Bush and outgoing Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

The election also brought familiar names to the Senate: Republican Elizabeth Dole, the former secretary of transportation who won in North Carolina; Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, drafted by his party after Sen. Robert Torricelli quit his re-election race due to ethical problems; and former U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander in Tennessee.

The results reversed a two-decade trend of the party holding the White House losing Senate seats in midterm elections, and saw GOP victories in at least five of nine states Bush visited in the campaign's closing days.

"President Bush and the Republican Party tonight have made history," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, who will soon resume his post as majority leader, told CBS's "The Early Show" that the results "did exceed our hopes and expectations to a degree, just because it did become so widespread, not only keeping the House but taking back the Senate by at least a couple of seats."

Daschle acknowledged that the election results represented a statement on Bush's leadership.

"It was also a referendum of the American people's concern for the war on terror, what is happening in Iraq, our foreign policy, the concern they have for national security. The president made that his drumbeat," Daschle said on NBC's "Today" Show.

Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss ousted Sen. Max Cleland in Georgia, after hammering at the incumbent's opposition to Bush's Department of Homeland Security bill and overcoming Cleland's background as a triple-amputee from the Vietnam War.

"It was a hard fought battle and it was one where we carried a message of a senator who simply was voting in a way that was out of touch with a way a majority of Georgians think and our message resonated with the people," Chambliss said Wednesday morning on CBS's The Early Show.

The GOP continued its winning ways in Missouri, where former Republican Rep. Jim Talent turned back a bid by Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan to serve out the remaining four years of her term. She had been appointed to the seat after her husband, Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash shortly before the 2000 election but still elected.

The lone Democratic pickup was in Arkansas, where state Attorney General Mark Pryor won the seat once held by his father, David Pryor. The loser was incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson.

Republicans also won a number of other races that were considered tossups.

Rep. John Sununu was victorious in New Hampshire, defeating Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for a seat held by a conservative Republican, Bob Smith. The incumbent was defeated in the primary by Sununu, whose father, John, was the state's governor and chief of staff for former President George Bush.

In Colorado, incumbent Republican Sen. Wayne Allard held off lobbyist and former U.S. Attorney Tom Stickland in a rematch of their race six years ago.

Democrats sustained a partial setback in Louisiana, where Landrieu was forced into the runoff when she failed to get the 50 percent required under state law. Her opponent will be Republican State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Terrell, who finished second in the nine-candidate race Tuesday.

With their slender margin of control, Senate Republicans will command committees and decide which bills the chamber will debate. Bush's proposals for tax cuts, economic stimulus, defense and domestic spending, national security and judicial nominations would dominate the chamber's agenda -- and put Democrats in a defensive role.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who led her party's Senate election drive, said Democrats failed to hone a sharp message on issues like education and jobs.

"The country is still divided, but there were a lot of people on the left who didn't hear what they needed to hear in this election and might have stayed home," she said in an interview.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General John Cornyn won the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Phil Gramm, denying a bid by former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to become the state's first black U.S. senator.

Virginia's John Warner, a Republican power on the Senate Armed Services Committee, won his fifth six-year term, and Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, expected to be the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, won his fourth term.

Other victorious Republicans included Larry Craig of Idaho, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Susan Collins of Maine, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Michael Enzi of Wyoming.

Also re-elected were Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia; Richard Durbin of Illinois; Jack Reed of Rhode Island; and Joseph Biden of Delaware.

Other returning Democrats included Carl Levin of Michigan, Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa and potential 2004 presidential contender John Kerry of Massachusetts.


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