Senate races to watch

Counting Electoral College votes driving you totally batty? Take a mental health break with these crucial contests.

By Mary Jacoby
Published November 1, 2004 8:56PM (UTC)
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The presidential race isn't the only cliffhanger Tuesday. Also up for grabs is the fate of the U.S. Senate, now tenuously controlled by Republicans, 51 to 48, with one Democratic-leaning independent. Here's the most recent news about some of the most competitive Senate races:

Alaska: Appointed two years ago by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill his unexpired Senate term, Republican Lisa Murkowski has struggled with nepotism charges. Her Democratic challenger, former Gov. Tony Knowles, who has championed Native American fishing and hunting rights, was greeted with "loud cheers" at a Native American forum on Sunday; Murkowski received "polite applause," the Associated Press reported. Yet Murkowski's father's friends -- most prominently the state's revered Sen. Ted Stevens, the Republican who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee (the panel that funds millions in pork projects for Alaska) -- have stumped hard for her in recent days. A recent poll by GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates has her up, 48 percent to 43 percent, within the margin of error. The Anchorage Daily News and the Juneau Empire endorsed Knowles. Murkowski got the nod from the Kenai Peninsula newspaper. But the Knowles campaign says its canvassers have knocked on 100,000 doors in the past few days and stresses that turnout is crucial.


Colorado: The results of a Zogby International poll look good for Democratic state attorney general Ken Salazar, who leads Republican beer magnate Pete Coors, 52 to 44 percent. Factor in the 4.1 percent margin of error, though, and the outcome is still uncertain. Salazar appears to be feeling confident; he has been invoking John Kerry's name in campaign appearances -- trying to extend his coattails, it seems, to his party's presidential ticket. Coors stumped today with Vice President Dick Cheney in the battleground state, their second joint appearance in nine days. A Salazar win would add a Senate seat for the Democrats. Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is retiring.

Florida: A new CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll has the Democrat, former University of South Florida president Betty Castor, up 2 points over Karl Rove's handpicked candidate, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Mel Martinez. But a poll by Republican firm Strategic Vision has Martinez up by 4. The most likely scenario is Zogby International's analysis: dead even at 46 percent each, with 7 percent undecided. Castor campaigned Monday with John Edwards, retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and singer Jimmy Buffett. After appearing at rallies on Sunday with President Bush, Martinez is campaigning Monday with Gov. Jeb Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Kentucky: His campaign floundering, Republican Sen. Jim Bunning appeared briefly on Sunday with President Bush and Laura Bush as they headed for a rally in Cincinnati, in the neighboring battleground state of Ohio. Bush praised Bunning, and the 73-year-old senator again told reporters that rumors of his mental incompetence were malicious lies spread by his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo. Bunning campaign spokesman David Young stressed the "Bush-Bunning team," while new Democratic Party star Barack Obama stumped for Mongiardo, who has denounced attempts by Bunning's surrogates in recent days to insinuate that he is gay. Illinois' Obama is expected to sail to victory in his own Senate race on Tuesday -- snatching a GOP seat for the Democrats.


Louisiana: The big question here is whether Republican Rep. David Vitter can pull at least 50 percent of the vote in the state's all-party election and avoid a runoff. Until recently, he appeared headed for a straight-out victory on Tuesday. But pollster Verne Kennedy told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser Monday that an ad Vitter started running in north Louisiana implying that Democrats will let U.N. troops take over Louisiana elections appeared to have damaged the Republican, especially among women. The ad shows the lowering of the American flag as a rattled woman is escorted into a polling place. "Vitter has lost support in North Louisiana, and I understand that's where the ad was run. I don't know why [else] that would have happened," Kennedy told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Chris John -- battling for second place against fellow Democrat John Kennedy, the state treasurer -- is gaining support among African-American voters. Kennedy angrily accused John of mailing a pamphlet to black voters calling him a segregationist.

North Carolina: The race to succeed Sen. Edwards remains a dead heat. The candidates are former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, the Democrat, and Rep. Richard Burr, the Republican.


Oklahoma: Again, dueling polls have produced a murky picture in this conservative state, where Democrats believe they have an unusually good chance to pick up the Republican seat held by retiring Sen. Don Nickles. A survey by GOP firm has former Republican Rep. Tom Coburn with 44 percent, compared with 35 percent for Democrat Brad Carson, a congressman. When the 4.4 percent margin of error is factored in, this poll has the race still up for grabs. CapAd Communications, a Democratic firm, has the race tied at 43 percent each. Coburn's many gaffes have put the state in play for the Democrats. Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe demanded an investigation into what he called voter intimidation by the pro-Carson Cherokee Nation. Carson, a former Rhodes Scholar, is part Cherokee.

South Dakota: Knocking off Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has been a top GOP priority. Former Republican Rep. John Thune has nipped uncomfortably close with an aggressive, pro-Bush campaign in the increasingly Republican state. But a flier he recently distributed in western South Dakota that seemed to equate Indians with "varmints" and "prairie dogs" has created a "groundswell of resentment" among the Native American population, the newspaper Indian Country Today reported.

Mary Jacoby

Mary Jacoby is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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2004 Elections