Man Without Qualities

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Larry Sabato Sez Some of These Senate Elections Are Stranger Than You Think

Some particularly odd aspects of two upcoming Senate elections are highlighted in bold below.


LARRY SABATO's CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: Toss-up (Highly competitive)

Democratic Senator Jean Carnahan, appointed after the tragic race of 2000, is no better than a nominal favorite to win the remaining four years of the term technically won by her husband, the late Governor Mel Carnahan. Congressman Jim Talent, the unsuccessful 2000 GOP gubernatorial nominee, is a strong challenger who probably would have been governor had it not been for the plane crash that killed Governor Carnahan and created an enormous last-minute wave of sympathy for the Democratic ticket in Missouri two years ago. It is becoming apparent in public and private surveys that Talent is doing quite well, and that IF this trend continues, he will have a decent chance to beat Carnahan on election day. However, there are too many unknowns remaining in this race, and the Crystal Ball is not yet ready to say that it is leaning to Talent.

It should be noted that the Missouri match-up is technically a special election to fill the remaining the four years of the term of the late Gov. Carnahan. As such, the winner will likely be sworn in within a few days of the Nov. 5 election, assuming Democratic Governor Bob Holden doesn't sit on the official certification of the results produced by the elected Republican Secretary of State (Which Holden may well be tempted to do). Therefore, if Mrs. Carnahan wins, the effect is nil. But if Talent should capture the seat, and there are no other changes in the Senate before then, the Senate would revert to Republican control for any lame-duck session in November/December. With Trent Lott the Majority Leader again, this would have some dramatic effects, potentially, including the possible approval of Bush judicial nominees currently bottled up in the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee. This prospect--tantalizing for Republicans and nightmarish for Democrats--will undoubtedly increase the focus on and fundraising for this contest as election day approaches.


LARRY SABATO's CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: Likely Republican (Highly competitive)

After an unusual eight years of Democratic rule in Republican Alaska under Governor Tony Knowles, Alaska seems to be reverting to form with Republican Frank Murkowski, the current junior U.S. Senator from Alaska. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer is a credible Democratic nominee, but her only real chance is in the mad collection of third-party and independent candidates on the ballot in Alaska, which may drain more votes from Murkowski than from her. Still, Murkowski is firmly in the frontrunner's saddle, and he has to hope that Alaskans do not prefer in the end to keep his Senate seniority by electing Ulmer.

By the way, if Murkowski does win, he will be able to appoint his U.S. Senate successor. The new Alaska governor takes office on December 2, but by law (passed by a GOP state legislature), Murkowski must wait 5 days after his Senate resignation to appoint the successor. This provision was enacted to prevent outgoing Democratic Governor Knowles from getting the Senate appointment--though again under law, would have had to choose a registered Republican for the open seat. If the Congress has a lame-duck session, and the GOP has achieved majority status through the election of Jim Talent in Missouri (see Missouri Senate race), then Murkowsi's resignation might deprive Republicans of their temporary majority for the 5-day period.

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