ON ELECTION NIGHT, watch for Senate races nationwide to be the wild card. While the makeup of the House may reflect the outcome of the presidential race (i.e., a Clinton victory of more than 10 percent could swing control to the Democrats), the Senate is a law unto itself. In state after state, Senate candidates have reputations and idiosyncrasies that separate them from national voting trends.
At present, Republicans enjoy at 53-47 majority. With seven Democrats and only four Republicans retiring, one might think that the GOP would have an easy time of it. But with 34 seats in contention, anything can happen.
Republican incumbents Larry Pressler of South Dakota and Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire are in trouble. GOP-held open seats in Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Wyoming and even Bob Dole's Kansas are threatened.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Massachusetts incumbent John Kerry is in the fight of his life against moderate Republican Gov. William Weld and Minnesota's Paul Wellstone is facing a tough challenge from former GOP Sen. Rudy Boschwitz. Of the seven open Democratic seats because of retirements, Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey and even Bill Clinton's Arkansas could go Republican.
So the one safe bet on election night is that 11 percent of the Senate membership will change -- and that number could rise to 15 percent. While the Senate will be losing such luminaries as Sam Nunn of Georgia, Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Mark Hatfield of Oregon and William Cohen of Maine, it is sure to get some new characters to enliven national politics.
Louisiana will either get its first Republican senator of this century in right-winger Woody Jenkins or its first woman senator ever in Mary Landrieu, daughter of a storied New Orleans mayor. New Jersey will get the battered winner of the most vitriolic and expensive legislative race of the year between Democrat Robert Torricelli and Republican Dick Zimmer, both now members of the House. The list goes on, and any one could become a national figure.
Control of the Senate, especially if a Republican majority re-emerges to checkmate a second Clinton term, could become the key development on election night.
Pub Date: 10/31/96