Senate Races to Watch

At least 15 hotly contested US Senate races are shaping up this fall, including six where Repub-licans hope to unseat a Democratic incumbent, five where Dems have a shot at beating a GOP incumbent and four where D's are competitive to pick up an open seat given up by a Republican. They include:

• Arkansas, where Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R)'s image as a "family values" politician took a beating with his divorce and marriage to a former staff member. Recent polls show Attorney General Mark Pryor (D), son of a former senator and governor, leading.

• Colorado, with a rematch between Sen. Wayne Allard (R) and lawyer Tom Strickland (D). Six years ago Allard beat Strickland by 5 points and Strickland, though trailing in polls, is hammering at Allard's corporate ties.

• Georgia, where Sen. Max Cleland (D) faces Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R), who argues that Cleland's voting record is too liberal for Georgia. But Cleland, who was crippled in Vietnam, "sits atop a deep well of sympathy," National Review notes.

• Iowa, where Rep. Greg Ganske (R) challenges Tom Harkin (D). Though Harkin always seems to run close races, Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen noted Sept. 7 that Ganske "has a tough sell to make when he asks Iowans to get rid of their investment in Harkin," who is chair of the Ag Committee and ranking Democrat on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee of Senate Appropriations.

• Maine, where recent polls show progressive former state Senate President Chellie Pingree (D) gaining ground on Sen. Susan Collins (R).

• Minnesota, where Sen. Paul Wellstone, who broke his pledge to seek only two terms (for good reasons as far as progressive populists are concerned) is in the fight of his political life (once again). The White House recruited former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Democrat-turned-Republican, to challenge Wellstone. Polls show the race is tight and may boil down to the effectiveness of Wellstone's grassroots campaign.

• Missouri, where Sen. Jean Carnahan (D) faces former US Rep. Jim Talent (R), who lost the 2000 race for governor but remains a formidable challenger in a tight race. Carnahan is serving the unexpired term of her husband, who as a dead man beat John Ashcroft.

• New Hampshire, where outgoing Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) faces Rep. John Sununu, who ousted Sen. Bob Smith 54-45% in the GOP primary Sept. 10. Sununu, the White House favorite, was seen as the stronger GOP candidates for the general election, as polls show the Shaheen/Sununu matchup deadlocked.

• New Jersey, where Republicans hope to steal a seat after Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) got an an Ethics Committee rebuke, but Douglas Forrester (R) faces flak for heading a company that manages prescription drug benefits.

• North Carolina, where former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles (D) will face Elizabeth Dole (R) for Jesse Helms' old seat. Bowles won in a nine-person primary field that included former state House Speaker Dan Blue, who rallied the black vote, and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. At least they forced Bowles to disavow fast track trade authority. Dole is leading in polls, but she's never run for public office except for a brief presidential bid and she's been criticized for her stealth campaign style.

• Oregon, where Sen. Gordon Smith (R) is in a tough race with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D).

• South Carolina, where Alex Sanders (D), a popular ex-judge, ex-legislator and college president, faces US Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. for the seat given up by Strom Thurmond.

• South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson (D) is in a tight race with Rep. John Thune (R) in a proxy war between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Bush didn't help Thune when he denied aid to drought-stricken farmers.

• Tennessee, where former Gov. Lamar Alexander (R) is favored against conservative Rep. Bob Clement (D), but the gap could close.

• Texas, where former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) could become the first black senator from Texas against colorless Attorney General John Cornyn (R). In addition to a large black turnout Kirk and other Dems will be helped by an expected major turnout of Hispanic voters for gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez.

Longer shots are the Democrats' hopes of beating Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Republican designs against Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Max Baucus, D-Mont. -- Jim Cullen

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