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Tight Senate Races Hold Key to Balance of Power

With the current Senate at only a one-vote majority for the Democratic Party, the mid-term elections on November 5 are seen as crucial by both liberals and conservatives alike.
With the Supreme Court hanging on a razor-thin margin of 5-4 in support of Roe v. Wade and several justices possibly close to retiring, the fate of abortion rights could rest in the hands of the Senate, which has the power to confirm presidential appointments to the Supreme Court. Several close races could make the difference in the balance of power in the Senate.

In New Hampshire, the race for an open Senate seat between Governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Republican John E. Sununu, hinges in part on abortion rights. Sununu supports abortion only in the cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at stake, and Shaheen supports a broad range of abortion rights, according to the Boston Globe. In Minnesota, the close race between incumbent Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone and Republican Norm Coleman could swing the balance in the US Senate into the hands of the GOP, according to the Los Angeles Times. Wellstone’s vote against authorizing Bush to wage war against Iraq was seen by some as lessening his chances to win his race, according to the Washington Post. However, recently, Wellstone’s stance against the war in Iraq won him support from MoveOn, an anti-war group that reportedly raised $180,000 in 24 hours for the senator from a single mass email. Also, one Zogby poll put Wellstone in the lead against his Republican opponent, with his numbers rising shortly after declaring he would not support Bush’s Iraq war resolution, according to the Post. In addition, incumbent Senator Jean Carnahan (D-MO), who took over her husband’s seat after he died in a plane crash, is now trailing Republican Jim Talent. Talent has taken a significant lead with male voters, while likely female voters are split between the two candidates, AP reports.

President Bush on Monday began a three-week tour of 15 states to increase support for GOP candidates in tough races. He is expected to conduct multiple stops in Florida, where his brother, incumbent Jeb Bush, faces a challenge from Democratic candidate Bill McBride. Jeb Bush has taken heat recently for his conservative stance on gay rights and affirmative action, as well as what some voters perceive to be his mishandling of the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, according to The Nation.

Bush’s campaign for Republican candidates centers around the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee, which has been the biggest obstacle to Bush’s attempts to pack the federal Circuit Courts of Appeals with right-wing ideologues. Recently, the committee delayed a vote on Dennis Shedd, a former aide to Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), which won them criticism from Thurmond and Bush. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer emphasized the insult this was to Thurmond personally, according to the Associated Press. However, the Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy said that he delayed the vote on Shedd because his nomination was very contentious and would prevent the committee from sending 17 other pending nominations to the Senate floor for a vote, according to AP.

Media Resources: New York Times 10/16/02; Boston Globe 10/15/02; Washington Post 10/15/02, 10/9/02; Associated Press 10/14/02, 10/9/02; Los Angeles Times 10/15/02; MoveOn 10/15/02; The Nation 10/28/02

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