UPI Political Roundup

By AL SWANSON, United Press International  |  Nov. 4, 2002 at 5:56 PM
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Election officials in Broward County, Fla., have a 14-page single-spaced checklist to go over before opening the doors to voters early Tuesday morning.

They hope the 588-item list can prevent a midterm repeat of the traumatic 2000 presidential election meltdown or delays like those that plagued Florida's September primary, when the state used its new high-tech, touch-screen voting system for the first time to mixed reviews.

Gov. Jeb Bush had to order Miami-area polls to stay open two extra hours.

The U.S. Justice Department plans to send 324 federal observers to monitor voting in 26 counties in 14 states, including many of the same Florida precincts where the presidential recount was halted two years ago. In Florida, Albania and Russia are both sending observers.

However, even a good political crystal ball may not be of any help in determining one's next senator or governor.

Conventional wisdom says the GOP will retain control of the House and Democrats the Senate.

To do so, Republicans must buck a historical trend of the party in the White House losing seats in off-year elections. Republicans now hold 223 of the 435 House seats.

Democrats need a near sweep of all hotly contested toss-up races and wins in eight of 24 races leaning Republican for a net gain of the six seats they need to wrest the chamber from the GOP.

Thirty-four U.S. senators are being elected.

While there surely will be surprises, Republicans would have to take three or four toss-up races in Missouri, South Dakota, Colorado and New Hampshire to split the Senate evenly and give Vice President Dick Cheney the tie-breaking vote. The Senate makeup is now 49-49 with two independents, one appointed Monday.

The Missouri race was a coin-flip.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Poll of 800 likely voters taken Oct. 31-Nov. 1 has incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in a dead heat with former Rep. Jim Talent, 46 percent each with 8 percent undecided. The poll conducted by Zogby International had a 3.6-point margin of error.

Democrats were expected to make their best showing in the 36 governor's races, with likely pickups in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and possibly Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott McCallum was in a close race with Democratic Attorney General Jim Doyle. That would give Democrats a majority of the 50 governorships for the first time in eight years.

Republicans held 27 governorships going into the election, Democrats 21 and two states had independents. Tim Pawlenty could pull off a GOP victory in Minnesota, where maverick Gov. Jesse Ventura did not seek re-election.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Connecticut Gov. John Rowland were way ahead in the polls but it could be a long election night in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and Hawaii.

Political strategists and pollsters said many key races were going "down to the wire," in a "dead heat" or "just too close to call." It's not a cop-out. The key to the midterm vote is turnout at the ballot box and the number of tight races had party volunteers scrambling to phone banks, filing e-mail and going door-to-door stuffing mailboxes with fliers to get their supporters to the polls.

President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush barnstormed though Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Bush went on to St. Charles, Mo., Benton, Ark., and Dallas Monday in a final day of campaigning, winding up at his ranch after a more than two-week marathon on behalf of GOP candidates. The Bushes vote in Crawford, Texas.

The president appeared at rallies Sunday for Republican candidate for governor Jim Ryan in Illinois, and Senate candidates Norm Coleman in Minneapolis and Rep. John Thune in South Dakota.

Coleman squared off with former Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale Monday at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., in the first and only debate of the abbreviated campaign after the death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash 11 days before the election.

As the two candidates mixed it up, Ventura threw both parties a curve ball by appointing former third-party congressional candidate Dean Barkley to Wellstone's vacant Senate seat. Barkley, director of Minnesota Planning, managed a car wash when Ventura was elected governor four years ago as an independent.

Barkley will represent Minnesota in the lame duck Senate session beginning Nov. 12 and could serve until the winner of Tuesday's election is sworn in. State Attorney General Mike Hatch initially said the candidate elected on Tuesday would take office when election results were certified, but Ventura said his appointment should last until the 108th Congress takes office in January.

Minnesota will have a paper ballot substituting Mondale's name for Wellstone's in the Senate race and that could slow down the vote count.

Wellstone's untimely death Oct. 25 and a tight governor's race were expected to raise turnout significantly in a state that had the nation's highest turnout (69 percent) in 1998. The turnout in the 2000 presidential election was 77 percent.

The turnout story may be the opposite in California, where a mean-spirited, mistake-filled campaign between incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Republican investment banker Bill Simon Jr. had a majority of voters wishing there was a viable third candidate.

The non-partisan Field Institute predicted only 8.4 million of the Golden State's 21.4 million eligible voters would cast ballots -- 39.2 percent would be the lowest turnout for a general election in California history.

A Pew Research Center poll released Sunday found the nation remains nearly equally divided politically with 46 percent leaning Democratic and 44 percent likely to vote Republican, well within the survey's 3.5-point margin of error.

Clinton stumps in key races

Former President Bill Clinton campaigned during the weekend to get the vote out for Florida gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride and Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor, who is trying to upset Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson in one of the nation's closest Senate races.

Speaking to a chanting crowd in Pine Bluff on Sunday night, Clinton outlined the reasons he believes Arkansans should vote Democratic.

"Because we believe in community over division," he said. "We believe in cooperation over domination because we believe in counting everybody in, not counting anybody out."

Oscar winning actress Mary Steenburgen, an Arkansas native, was also on hand at the Democrat's get-out-the-vote rally.

"First of all I would say go out and vote because it's so important," she said. "My son is getting to vote in his first election in California and we've been talking in our house a lot about voting."

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appeared likely to be re-elected in a race seen as a test of his family's political acumen. Both Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore campaigned for McBride.

The New York Times Regional Newspapers Florida Poll of 715 likely voters taken Oct. 26-31 gave Republican Gov. Jeb Bush the edge over the Tampa lawyer, 49 percent to 43 percent with 8 percent undecided. The poll had a 4-point margin of error.

Lautenberg leads final N.J. Senate polls

Former New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg has a solid lead heading into Tuesday's election against Republican Douglas Forrester.

Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn., had the 78-year-old Lautenberg ahead 50 percent to 39 percent in a survey of 574 likely voters taken Oct. 28-Nov. 3. The poll had a 4-point margin or error.

Lautenberg, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2000, was chosen by New Jersey

Democrats last month to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli after the incumbent dropped out of the race. A Bergen Sunday Record poll of 600 likely voters Oct. 31-Nov. 1 had Lautenberg ahead 47 percent to 35 percent with 7 percent undecided. The poll had a 4-point margin or error.

Romney has momentum

Republican Mitt Romney has opened up a slight lead over Democrat Shannon O'Brien in the Massachusetts governor's race. A Suffolk University/WHDH-TV poll released Monday showed Romney leading O'Brien, 37 percent to 33 percent, with 18 percent still undecided.

The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Friday through Sunday, and had a margin of error of about 4.5 percent. Polls several weeks ago showed O'Brien with a slight lead, but Romney appeared to pick up support following last week's debate. "It appears over the final weekend that Romney had the momentum," said pollster David Paleologos, Suffolk University adjunct professor. "Whether there is enough time for the pendulum to swing back to O'Brien is the key question."

Israeli issue raised in N.H. Senate race

Questions about U.S. support of Israel highlighted the final pre-election exchange between candidates for the Senate in New Hampshire. Rep. John E. Sununu said the decision over who should claim Jerusalem as its capital is an issue to be decided by the Palestinians and Israelis, not Americans.

"I don't think it's right for America to tell anyone how Jerusalem ought to be governed," Sununu said Sunday, according to the Union Leader of Manchester. Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, however, said she supports making Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel, and questioned Sununu's record on the question of U.S. support for Israel.

"He is part of a small minority that has voted against Israel's interests," she said, adding that Sununu "doesn't think the U.S. should be involved in the peace process."

"That statement is ridiculous," Sununu shot back. "The U.S. has to be a forceful mediator in the Middle East."

In a race considered a toss-up, both campaigns spent the final days before the election appealing to the undecided voters. Both camps said they expect the race will be decided by a few thousand votes.

(Thanks to Phil Magers in Dallas, Dave Haskell in Boston and Alex Cukan in New York)

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