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Election 2002: Background

November 6, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: History was favoring the Democrats. The party not in control of the White House traditionally has gained Congressional seats in the midterm elections, and the numbers were favoring the Democrats. Already riding a one-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats set their sights on one or more of five open seats, all vacated by Republicans.

But the political winds blew east to west on election night, and by the time they died down and the polls began closing in New Hampshire, Missouri, and Colorado, the votes were favoring the Republicans.

New Jersey gave Democrats the first win: Former Senator Lautenberg who replaced Robert Torricelli on the ticket returns to the Senate after defeating businessman Douglas Forrester. But Georgia gave an early indication of trouble ahead. There voters replaced Democratic incumbent Max Cleland with Republican House member Saxby Chambliss.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I tell what you I told the President. I said, “Mr. President, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to get up every morning and go to work knowing that I’m working for a man like you.” And this President… ( cheers and applause )

MAX CLELAND: You all have enabled me to live the life of my dreams. And I appreciate that.

CROWD: We love you, Max.

MAX CLELAND: Thank you.

KWAME HOLMAN: Soon after that, New Hampshire chose another House Republican, John Sununu, over Democratic Governor Jean Shaheen.

SPOKESMAN: As I look across this room, I see so many people that began with us in the primary in 1996, have stayed with us through every race, through a tough primary into victory tonight. Thank you all.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arkansas gave the Democrats a cherished Senate victory, ousting incumbent Tim Hutchinson in favor of state attorney general Mark Pryor, the son of former Senator David Pryor.

TIM HUTCHINSON: A few moments ago I placed a call to Mark Pryor and congratulated him on being elected United States Senator.

SENATOR-ELECT MARK PRYOR, (D) Arkansas: Although we differ on the issues, I respect his commitment and we are political opponents, but we’re not enemies and I wish him well.

KWAME HOLMAN: But then, nearly all of the other Senate seats still in play fell to the Republicans.

In Missouri, former Congressman Jim Talent defeated Jean Carnahan in a special election held to fill the un-expired term of the late Mel Carnahan. In Minnesota, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman out-polled former Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale, who joined the race after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash.

WALTER MONDALE: I think the President won a big victory here. Normally, the President in his first midterm as you know goes the other direction. But this was a sweep. We can feel the undertow here in Minnesota. He will claim a mandate and I think the public will accept that.

That does not mean, however, that the members of the Congress and others don’t continue to have a responsibility to question, to make their case, to seek to bring about their views. So he has the government, but I think the issues that we were talking about before the election will still be very much up front and in the best tradition of America, that debate, after a brief period of celebration, will began again.

KWAME HOLMAN: And in Colorado, the much-anticipated rematch between Republican Senator Wayne Allard and former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, resulted in an easier-than-expected win for the incumbent.

SPOKESMAN: You know, we have had so much excitement from the grassroots up, I’ve never seen in recent history the Republican Party get so excited about a race. ( Cheers and applause )

KWAME HOLMAN: In South Dakota, Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson narrowly held off Republican John Thune, but a recount is possible. And in Louisiana, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu outdistanced three challengers, but with less than 50 percent of the vote. She now faces a December 7 run-off against Republican state elections commissioner Suzanne Terrell.

Those two races aside, Republicans still are assured of at least 51 seats, and majority control in the new 108th Congress. Former Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Dole will be part of that majority, having defeated former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles in North Carolina.

ELIZABETH DOLE: Yes, the President called just at the time that the race was being called. In fact, there was so much screaming in the headquarters that I said, “who is this? Who is this?” “It’s the President, it’s the President.” (Laughter) “Well, hello.”

KWAME HOLMAN: In the House of Representatives, while few Democrats believed they could gain the seven seats needed to retake majority control of that chamber, few believed they actually would lose seats, but they did. When the new Congress convenes in January, House Republicans will hold at least 226 seats, three more than they do now; and Democrats, 204 seats.

Five House races have yet to be decided. Of the four races pitting incumbent against incumbent, the result of redistricting, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania was the lone Democrat to win, narrowly edging Republican George Gekas. Other incumbents who lost reelection bids yesterday include Republican Connie Morella of Maryland, and Florida Democrat Karen Thurman.

Republicans also won most of yesterday’s 36 gubernatorial contests, including state House takeovers in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Minnesota. But Democrats took over several previously held Republican states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. The most closely-watched race of course was in Florida, where the President’s brother, Jeb, had a relatively easy time defeating first-time candidate Democrat Bill McBride.

GOV. JEB BUSH: I am so grateful for the support that was evidenced by the election last night. It is an incredible honor. Many of the press corps know, and I hope you know I’m sincere about this, that I have the best job in the world, and to be able to continue to work for four more years in this job is a tremendous honor.

KWAME HOLMAN: Races in Alabama, Arizona, and Oregon, remain undecided.