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Handful of races could decide control of Senate

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Talent, with daughter Chrissy and son Michael, votes on Tuesday.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Talent, with daughter Chrissy and son Michael, votes on Tuesday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats and Republicans each hold 49 Senate seats going into the elections Tuesday, with one seat held by an independent and another made vacant by Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone's death. Control of the chamber could hinge on a handful of races.

Thirty-four Senate seats are being contested.

Missouri is seen as the Democratic seat most likely to land in GOP hands. Sen. Jean Carnahan was appointed after her husband, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, won the seat posthumously in 2000. She faces Republican Jim Talent, a former congressman who narrowly lost his bid for the governor's mansion that same year.

The Missouri Senate vote is a special election to determine who will serve the last four years of Mel Carnahan's term. That means the winner could be sworn into office immediately, and just as quickly change the balance of power in the Senate.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is shaking things up in the Senate for the post-election session by appointing independent Dean Barkley as interim senator to fill the seat of Wellstone, who died in a plane crash October 25. Barkley will serve until the winner of Tuesday's race takes office, a period of two weeks.

The Gopher State race was tight even before former Vice President Walter Mondale took up the Democratic mantle against Norm Coleman, the Republican former mayor of St. Paul.

Mondale had five days to campaign, while President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Republicans visited the state in a last-minute push on Coleman's behalf.

The two candidates were neck-and-neck before their debate Monday.

Talent's Democratic opponent,  Jean Carnahan, is interviewed after casting her vote.
Talent's Democratic opponent, Jean Carnahan, is interviewed after casting her vote.

Another Democratic seat is in jeopardy in South Dakota, where first-term Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson faces Rep. John Thune. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows the candidates in a statistical dead heat.

Each candidate is receiving extensive support from the highest levels of their parties: President Bush campaigned for Thune on Sunday night, while the state's senior senator, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, stumped for Johnson.

Senate races in New Jersey and Georgia are leaning toward Democrats, but neither seat looks safe for the party.

In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli abruptly withdrew in late September, and former senator Frank Lautenberg stepped in to face Republican Douglas Forrester.

In Georgia, incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland faces a strong challenge from Republican Saxby Chambliss. Negative ads from both sides filled the airwaves in the days leading up to the election.

But Republicans also are vulnerable in several Senate races.

Arkansas is the most likely state in which a Republican Senate seat could go Democratic.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the first GOP senator from Arkansas since Reconstruction, ran in 1996 on a campaign stressing "family values" and was elected with support from the Religious Right. Afterward, he divorced his wife of 29 years and married a Senate aide. Hutchinson faces Democratic state Attorney General Mark Pryor, son of former Sen. David Pryor.

Colorado's Senate race is a rematch between Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland, the U.S. attorney for Colorado. Allard came out ahead in the 1996 race by 5 percentage points. Tuesday's contest is seen as a tossup.

Either party could take New Hampshire, where incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Smith was defeated in the primary by third-term congressman John Sununu Jr. Sununu faces three-term Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

And to add some spice to the Senate race gumbo, four candidates are running in Louisiana.

First term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces not one but three Republican challengers: Louisiana State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, third-term congressman John Cooksey and state Rep. Tony Perkins.

If none of the four captures more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates face a runoff December 7.

If Tuesday's balloting leaves the Senate evenly divided, the nation might have to wait another month and watch Louisiana to find out which party controls the Senate.

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