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Senate election outlook: key contests can cause power shift. (Washington Insights).

As members of Congress return to their districts later this month, we should expect furious campaigning for the elections in November. Control of the Senate could easily change, pending the outcome of those elections.

The Democrats currently control the Senate by a slim one-seat majority, and each party has spent considerable time and money campaigning in several "vulnerable" districts hoping to pick up ground against the other party. Here are some key contests to watch as they could shift the balance of power in the Senate:

New Hampshire

Congressman John Sununu (R) v. Governor Jean Shaheen (D). Probably the most vulnerable Republican seat. Sununu emerged from a bitter primary against incumbent Senator Bob Smith on Sept. 10. Sununu, who is the son of the senior Bush's White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, has represented the first district of New Hampshire for six years, is popular among conservatives and moderates and stands a good chance of defeating his opponent in the general election. Though Shaheen is a popular governor, she has been polling neck-and-neck with Sununu. This race represents a possible Democratic pick-up and it will go down to the wire.

Missouri

Senator Jean Carnahan (D) v. Congressman Jim Talent (R). This race is not a normal election but is actually a "special election." Two years ago, Carnahan was appointed by Missouri's governor to fill a two-year opening that was left by her husband who died during the 2000 campaign against then-Senator John Ashcroft, but was nonetheless elected. The status of "special election" is significant because if Carnahan were to lose, Talent could be immediately sworn in as a senator, therefore shifting control of the Senate immediately. Normally, senators are sworn into office in January, following an election. Because Carnahan is an inexperienced politician (having never been elected to office), the Democratic Party has stepped in to help her politically and financially, hoping to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Her opponent, on the other hand, represented the 2nd District of Missouri for eight years but was narrowly defeated in the 2000 gubernatorial race. This race is sure to be close and represents a possible pi ck-up for the Republican Party.

South Dakota

Senator Tim Johnson (D) v. Congressman John Thune (R). Both parties have taken a keen interest in this race because a Democratic loss could reflect the inability of the current Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to lead and to keep a seat from his own state in Democratic hands. Republicans, however, are hopeful because President Bush won 60 percent of the South Dakota vote in the 2000 election. Thune is a viable contender in this race as he has thrice been elected in a statewide contest (South Dakota has only one Congressman). The polling in this race has been within statistical margins of error and could go either way -- a possible Republican pick-up.

Arkansas

Senator Tim Hutchinson (R) v. Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor (D). Elected for the first time in 1996, ultra-conservative Sen. Hutchinson faces a serious challenge in the election from Pryor, the strong and popular attorney general. Hutchinson is hurt by his platform as a family-values conservative who, in 1999, divorced his wife and subsequently married a former staff member. Pryor is helped by his family name -- his father, David Pryor, served as senator from Arkansas for 18 years before retiring in 1996. This will be another close one and could represent a Democratic pick-up.

New Jersey

Senator Bob Torricelli (D) v. Doug Forrester (R). First-term Senator Torricelli is facing a tough re-election challenge from business-owner Forrester. Torricelli is having a difficult time overcoming the stigma from a recent ethics investigation that "severely admonished" his financial relationship with a 1996 campaign contributor. Forrester has picked up ground on Torricelli in recent months and has actually been leading in the polls. This is another race that could go either way -- a possible Republican pick-up.

There are several other close races to watch, including Minnesota, Colorado, North Carolina and Tennessee. Given the current political climate, I believe that the Democrats will pick up a seat in Arkansas, and the Republicans will pick up a seat in New Jersey, but there will be no ultimate change in control of the Senate.

Bob Shepler is Manager, Government Relations, in FEI's Washington, D.C. office.
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Author:Shepler, Bob
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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