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Races to Watch

Aired November 5, 2002 - 12:02   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now with a list of some of the races to watch tonight, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times.
Ron, let's talk about Minnesota right now. Walter Mondale vs. Norm Coleman, what does it look like?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as Bob said, I really think it is too close to call. Some polling at the very end had Coleman inching ahead. He seemed to have benefited over the last week by a sense of backlash in the state that the memorial for Wellstone may have gone too far in morphing into a political rally.

But this is a very close state, and if the turnout is high, that's an added note of unpredictability, because in most places, it's not going to be a very high turnout.

BLITZER: Let's whip through some of the other...


BLITZER: ... key Senate races right now. Only one seat obviously could make the decisive difference. South Dakota, a huge race, Tim Johnson, the incumbent Democrat, against John Thune, the Republican challenger.

BROWNSTEIN: It's been the heavy-weight fight of this cycle, Wolf, it really has been a 15-round title fight. These two have been going at each other for over a year with negative ads, sharp rhetoric, high-profile visibility of big, national figures like Tom Daschle and President Bush.

And yet remarkably, after all of this, I'm told that both of them still have favorable ratings in the 60s, which means that most people in the state might be satisfied with either as their senator -- a really close race.

BLITZER: New Hampshire, we've got Jeanne Shaheen -- she's the governor -- against John Sununu Jr.


BLITZER: That's a key race.

BROWNSTEIN: I just got back from there late last night. The sense is that the momentum and the final hours have moved a little bit toward Sununu, but that Shaheen historically has been better at getting out her vote. She has a very strong get-out-the-vote operation, which is really what Democrats are hoping nationwide.

And there is some evidence in the polling of a tilt toward the Republicans at the very end in a number of states, but even the Republican National Committee has said in the last two cycles Democrats have out-organized them on Election Day, which is why a lot of these races remain too close to call.

BLITZER: Missouri, another key battleground state, Jean Carnahan, the incumbent, facing a challenge from Jim Talent.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, most people give the edge I think right now to Talent as the challenger. He's a very sharp former congressman, was an effective member of the Republican minority here, ran for -- of the majority, ran for governor last time. I think most people give him a slight edge heading into the final hours.

BLITZER: Arkansas, David Pryor (sic) challenging the incumbent Tim Hutchinson.

BROWNSTEIN: Mark Pryor, the son of David Pryor.

BLITZER: I mean, Mark Pryor, yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. It's been one of the most effective challenges anywhere in the country this year. He has run a very centrist and populist campaign. He's a clear favorite I think both sides see in the final day.

BLITZER: And in North Carolina, a lot of focus on Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles, who was once the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton.

BROWNSTEIN: Has really closed it up toward the end, a state where the Democrats have a shot, but he may still be a little short. Wolf, it's one of four open seats in the south, four long-time Republicans who are vacating their seats. These are really a once-in- a-generation opportunity for Democrats. If they can't take any of these, it's going to be hard, because Republican incumbents get elected almost all of the time in the south in the Senate.

BLITZER: And it's an extremely close race in Georgia with the incumbent Max Cleland facing a challenge from Congressman Saxby Chambliss.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, another -- you know, another example of almost all of the competitive states this year are red states, states that Bush won, where Bush's support and the national security themes the Republicans are emphasizing are most valuable.

Chambliss will use both of those to really close the gap. Most people give Cleland a slight edge, but this could go either way.

BLITZER: In Louisiana, Mary Landrieu is facing a challenge from three Republicans. She's obviously going to win, but not necessarily right now. BROWNSTEIN: Here the issue is: Does she get to 50 percent? Under Louisiana law, if she does not get to 50 percent, we have, in effect, a runoff on December 7. And if the Senate is tied and Landrieu does not get 50 percent, November could be an astonishing month in Louisiana with unprecedented sums spent by both parties, and what is, in effect, a national campaign for control of the Senate.

BLITZER: It could be worse. You might have to spend some time...

BROWNSTEIN: In Baton Rouge and New Orleans, you know, nothing against Tallahassee, but all things being equal, I'd rather be in Baton Rouge.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some key governor races. Florida, obviously an enormous amount of attention, Governor Jeb Bush facing Bill McBride, the Democrat.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a close state, it's a 50-50 state, but you have to give Bush a clear edge. McBride really has not been that forceful of a challenger. In the last debate, he really wasn't able to explain how he would pay for his program without raising taxes. I think Jeb Bush has controlled the debate in the campaign's final days. And as I said, though, it's a close state, I give him a clear edge.

BLITZER: He narrowly defeated Janet Reno, as a lot of our viewers remember.

In New York State, the incumbent George Pataki and Carl McCall, this is not that close in New York State.

BROWNSTEIN: No, after 9/11, Pataki really -- you know, his approval really rose and never really has been threatened since. I don't see this as particularly close.

BLITZER: Is it close in California where Bill Simon is challenging the incumbent Gray Davis?

BROWNSTEIN: This has been a car wreck of a campaign. Davis is clearly vulnerable. Voters have been unhappy with his performance, and yet, Simon has not had the ability to harvest that discontent. There have been questions about his business ethics, on issues like guns and abortions, I've heard him (ph). Davis probably limps through.

BLITZER: And in Maryland, where you and I both voted earlier this morning...


BLITZER: ... there's a key race, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend facing a challenge from Bob Ehrlich.

BROWNSTEIN: I can tell you, democracy is alive and well up at West Brook (ph) Elementary School -- a lot of people online today. That is an unusual contest. The Republican has been very competitive. She has been hurt somewhat in the same way as Carnahan has, by doubts about whether she is really up to the job.

The outgoing governor, like many outgoing governors, has struggled with the economic downturn. There's a bit of a backlash there, which may help Democrats in other states, like Pennsylvania and Michigan. But here in Maryland, it's really put the Republicans in the hunt.

BLITZER: When I voted this morning in Montgomery County, Maryland, we had the touch screen, and it worked great.

BROWNSTEIN: It worked great. There were a lot of people online, there were a lot of people turning out. It was good to see.

BLITZER: You could do it in English, you could do it in Spanish.


BLITZER: And there were people there to help, and it went very quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I was thoroughly impressed. Why didn't they do this years ago?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, it's going to be in a lot of states this year. And one of the questions is going to be: Are our electoral systems built for the level of competition we are seeing? I mean, it's almost as if the margin of victory is greater in state after state, is smaller than the margin of error built into the system.

And Bob Franken mentioned, Minnesota is a place where you can have a lot of questions raised if this is a very close race.

BLITZER: All right, Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times," you're going to be staying up late tonight.

BROWNSTEIN: I'll be up late.

BLITZER: I will, too.

BROWNSTEIN: All right, thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.


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