Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2002 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "Off with their heads" seems to be the mood of the voters as the candidates enter the final lap of the 2002 races that will determine control of the Senate. Incumbents who shouldn't be in trouble are fighting for their lives, and challengers who should be nowhere are close on their heels.
Of the 33 senators whose terms expire this year, three have quit, one lost a primary and Bob Torricelli has vaporized. Of the remaining 28, nine - one-third - are stuck in tough races for re-election.
When an incumbent seeks re-election, the key question is whether his vote polls over or under 50 percent. If more than half the voters are backing his opponent or are undecided, he's in trouble. It's like asking someone if they will be married to the same person next year: An answer of "undecided" isn't exactly encouraging.
With that in mind, here's how the Senate races stack up. (I cite polls conducted in the past few days, mostly by John Zogby, the best in the business and one of the only pollsters who got the 2000 presidential election right.)
Likely Democratic Gains
Arkansas: Latest polls have GOP Sen. Tim Hutchinson tied at 45-45 with challenger Mark Pryor, son of former Sen. David Pryor. As an incumbent, that means Hutchinson is in a deep hole.
Colorado: Democratic challenger Tom Strickland, who almost won last time, has a 41-40 lead over GOP incumbent Wayne Allard. At 10 points under 50, don't sell Allard a life-insurance policy.
Likely GOP Gains
Missouri: GOP Rep. Jim Talent has been steadily gaining on Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, who took the seat her husband won posthumously in 2000. Behind by eight in mid-September, Talent now leads 47-41. No way Jean Carnahan should be in the Senate.
South Dakota: In a real kick in the teeth to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, his South Dakota Democratic colleague Sen. Tim Johnson is trailing Republican John Thune by 45-43. Daschle's high liberal profile may be weakening his party in this conservative state.
New Hampshire: Republicans breathed a sign of relief when Rep. John Sununu defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Smith in the primary. But now Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen has opened up a two-point lead.
North Carolina: Nobody thought Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, had much of a shot against Elizabeth Dole. But Mrs. Dole seems to have studied her husband's monograph, "How to Lose an Election": Her lead has dropped to just six points, 47-41.
Still in Play
The party now in power seems likely to hold these seats, but none is a done deal.
Minnesota: It looked as if Democratic liberal incumbent Paul Wellstone was licked when Democrat-turned-Republican Norm Coleman opened a six-point lead in mid-September. But Wellstone has come back to lead 46-37. He's under 50 percent, but he seems to have Coleman on the ropes.
New Jersey: Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the beneficiary of Gov. McGreevey's disappearing-rabbit act, has taken the lead, 48-36, over Douglas Forrester. But Lautenberg's still not over 50 percent.
Texas: Republican John Cornyn leads Democrat Ron Kirk by 45-37 in his battle to hold Phil Gramm's seat for the GOP. He's lost one-third of his lead since September.
Outcome: If today were Election Day, the Democrats would pick up Arkansas and Colorado while the Republicans took Missouri and South Dakota. Then it would come down to New Hampshire and North Carolina. Anybody's guess from there.
Special Twist: If Carnahan loses in Missouri, the Republicans will have a Senate majority until Jan. 1. Since she's an appointed replacement for her husband, Talent would take the seat immediately while other new senators have to wait for Jan. 1 to start their terms. The Republicans could confirm all of Bush's judges in eight busy weeks.
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