In the End, Pivotal Races Tipped to Democrats
Updated 11/9/06, 11:32 a.m.
Dissatisfaction with Bush administration policy in Iraq and scandals that have plagued the Republican Party drove voters to the polls Tuesday, and some venerable Republicansfrom Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to 13-term Florida Rep. Clay Shawout of office.
Democrats savored a pickup of about 30 seats in the House (they needed 15 for a majority) and, with two close victories in Montana and Virginia, have also won back control of the Senate.
The 19 races followed this campaign season by reporters at U.S.News & World Report largely followed the nationwide trend, with a few notable exceptions. In a nationally watched race, Republican Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, a longtime supporter of the Iraq war, defied expectations and won a 10th term in a squeaker. And in Ohio, Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce appears to have shaken off criticism for her role in the digraced House GOP leadership and pulled out a win.
The races, almost to a one, were hard fought and nasty. Record sums of money were spent nationallyan estimated $3 billion alone on advertisingand heavyweights from both parties fanned out across the country. In the end, the results hinged not on local issues but on frustration with what voters saw as a culture of corruption, a badly managed war, and dissastisfaction with the direction of the national economy.
A morning-after view of our targeted races can be found here:
Montana: It's Not Over Till It's Over
Democratic challenger Jon Tester hung on to beat Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, whose series of verbal blunders and ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff put his 18-year incumbency in jeopardy.
High turnout, equipment glitches, and a recount in Yellowstone County held up the vote tally more than eight hours after polls were scheduled to close.
Recent polls had given Tester leads ranging from 2 to 9 percentage points. But Burns almost closed the gap in the last two weeks by tapping into a war chest of $7.4 million and bombarding the airwaves with ads that painted Tester as a liberal out of touch with Montana. Yet Tester's folksy attitude and populist stance appealed to many Montanans, and his campaign worked hard to turn out Democratic voters. Tester "was able to keep in voters' minds the things they didn't like about Burns ... and not let Burns define him," says Christopher Muste, a political science professor at the University of MontanaMissoula.
Burns had seen his approval ratings tumble this year, reflecting the sour mood of voters nationwide toward Republicans and also Burns's association with Abramoff. Recently Burns was also mocked for having said President Bush had a secret plan for victory in Iraq that he was not sharing with Democrats. He later said he misspoke. Danielle Knight
Missouri: Rural Voters Swing Race for McCaskill
In a crucial win for Democrats, state Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Jim Talent, riding a wave of dissatisfaction with the president and concern about kitchen table issues. McCaskill's 3 percentage point victory, many said, hinged on her strategy of courting outstate Missouri voters.
During the campaign, McCaskill crisscrossed rural parts of the state in her blue RV, reaching out to counties long ignored by Democrats. Her win was foreshadowed early Tuesday evening when results for Greene County came in. Talent had hoped to break 60 points in that traditional Republican stronghold in the southwest of the state. In a last-bid effort to court his base, he appeared in the county last week with President Bush, who told supporters Democrats "don't have a plan to win" the war in Iraq.
But Talent carried only 54 percent of the vote in Greene County, 5,000 votes fewer than he'd taken in his narrow 2002 victory. McCaskill, who'd been beaten 2 to 1 in some rural areas in her narrow 2004 gubernatorial loss, captured 43 percent of the vote in Greene and captured 4-to-1 margins in urban areas.
Exit polling showed that 83 percent of voters said the economy was "extremely important" or "very important" in determining their vote. Iraq came in second at 62 percent. There was also a high correlation between approval of Bush and support for Talent. Bush's approval rating in the Show Me State is in the low 40s.
"The headwind was just very, very strong this year," Talent said last night. McCaskill told her supporters that "the great state of Missouri" has spoken" and "... they said, 'We want change.'" Angie C. Marek
Tennessee: Democrats Make Inroads but Fail to Capture Seat
Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a moderate scion of a famed political family, performed better than some expected, but fell short in his bid to capture the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Majority Leader Bill Frist, a two-term Republican.
Though Ford climbed back from a double-digit handicap in most final polls, it wasn't enough to defeat Republican Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who ran more television adsmostly negativethan any candidate nationwide from August to November. The most incendiary featured a blond woman boasting of meeting Ford "at a Playboy party," and another accused Ford of wanting to give "abortion pills" to schoolgirls. The Democrats attacked Corker with ads questioning whether emergency calls had gone unanswered during his mayoral reign.
"I love my country more than I love this process," Ford said in his Wednesday morning concession, "... I still think there's a better way for America ... to conduct its campaigns."
Exit polling showed that Ford's strategy of courting religious votershe decried gay marriage, discussed Jesus Christ, and ran an advertisement filmed in his childhood churchwas not as successful as he might have hoped. A majority of churchgoers supported Corkerincluding roughly 61 percent of those who said they worshiped more than once a week. Voters in counties in and surrounding Nashville, however, supported Ford in numbers greater than pundits had predicted.
Frist, on hand election night with Corker in Chattanooga, praised the Republican for being a "citizen legislator." Corker, a self-made millionaire, built a successful construction company before going into politics. Angie C. Marek
Pennsylvania: Big Loss for High-Ranking Senate Republican
Sen. Rick Santorum, a staunch conservative seeking a third term, became one of the first Republican senators to fall to the Democrats. Bob Casey Jr., a soft-spoken moderate and son of a popular former governor, became the first Pennsylvania Democrat elected to a full six-year U.S. Senate term since 1962.
For much of the election year, Sen. Rick Santorum, the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership, has been one of the most embattled Republican senators, sometimes trailing behind Casey by double digits in the polls. Santorum tried to position himself as strong on national security, but his unwavering support of Bush and the Iraq war as well as his conservative firebrand style led to low approval ratings.
Like Santorum, Casey is an antiabortion Roman Catholic who opposes gun control and withdrawing troops from Iraq. But Casey called for more accountability in Iraq and campaigned hard on issues of key concern to the middle class: healthcare and education. Jennifer Duffy, a Senate election analyst with the Cook Political Report, says the Casey campaign was "brilliant" by remaining low key, not holding many debates, and not taking well-defined positions on some issues. "Santorum," she says, "was never really able to draw sharp contrasts with Casey."
The race was one of the costliest in Pennsylvania's history. But the $22 million raised by Santorum (compared with Casey's $16 million) was still not enough. Santorum's loss is expected to open up a battle in the Senate for Republican whip, a post Santorum was likely to fill. Possible contenders include Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Danielle Knight
Ohio: Sen.-elect Brown First Dem Since 1992 to Win Statewide Office
Long seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate, two-term Republican Mike DeWine fell yesterday to Sherrod Brown, the first Democrat to win statewide office in Ohio since 1992. With more than 67 percent of precincts reporting, Brown, a seven-term congressman, led DeWine by 54 percent to 46 percent. According to exit polls, Brown, who voted against the Iraq war, won overwhelming support from voters who disapproved of Bush and the Iraq war. Those voters accounted for more than half of the Buckeye State electorate.
DeWine's bruising defeat was most likely also due to local factors, including the loss of more than 160,000 Ohio manufacturing jobs since 2000 and scandals that have plagued the GOP, which has controlled the state legislature for more than 15 years. Outgoing Republican Gov. Bob Taft has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, while U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, resigned after pleading guilty to charges in connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff earlier this year.
Leaving the news media to cover the stories of Republican corruption and the bad news from Iraq, Brown's campaign focused its ads on the economy, trumpeting the candidate's opposition to free trade agreements, the subject of his 2004 book Myths of Free Trade. He vowed to raise the minimum wage and showcased his votes to increase funding for college loans. "So many have stood up for the middle class and together we're going to turn around Ohio," Brown told supporters Tuesday night.
DeWine tried to sell himself as an "independent fighter for Ohio families," but his ads went increasingly negative in the campaign's final days, undercutting his image as a mild-mannered moderate. Dan Gilgoff
New Jersey: Democrat Menendez Holds Off Famous-Name Opponent
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez protected his Senate seat yesterday, capitalizing on disapproval of President Bush and the Iraq wardespite a hard push by challenger, state Rep. Tom Kean Jr., whose competitive campaign won him an influx of National Republican Senatorial Committee cash late in the game last week.
Votes on each side were neatly predicted by voters' position on Bush and the war: According to CNN exit polls, 89 percent of voters who strongly disapprove of Bush's handling of his job voted for Menendez, while 89 percent of voters who strongly approve of the U.S. war in Iraq voted for Kean. Voters drew the connection despite Kean's positioning himself as an "independent reformer," not a Bush Republican. Kean was the first Republican to call for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, and he continued to do so throughout the campaign.
New Jersey voted for Kerry in 2004 and elected a Democrat governor in 2005, and the state seems only to be getting bluer. In exit polls, 52 percent said they want Democrats to control the Senate, compared with just 50 percent who said they voted for Kerry in 2004.
Kean, a state senator whose father was a popular governor in the 1980s and served on the bipartisan 9/11 commission, ran against that trend by attempting to tie Menendez to notoriously dirty New Jersey politics. The charge seems to have workedin exit polls, 61 percent of voters said Menendez does not have high ethical standards, compared with just 47 percent for Keanbut only to a point. Even voters who said ethics issues were "very important" in their vote supported Menendez.
The win makes Menendez the first Latino elected to the Senate in New Jersey. Jon Corzine appointed him to the post last year after Corzine was elected governor. Elizabeth Weiss Green
Maryland: Democrat Claims Win, but Republican Won't Concede
A handful of news outlets called the Maryland Senate race for Democrat Ben Cardin relatively early yesterday evening, but with incomplete returns showing Republican Michael Steele to be ahead at some points, Steele refused to concede. "You have worked too hard ... for us to slow this train down now just because some TV station wants to make a projection with 1 percent of the vote in," Steele told supporters last night. "... They don't call me Steele for nothing."
As the clock ticked passed midnight, however, with 85 percent of precincts reporting, Cardin held a commanding 54-to-45 point lead. Shortly after Steele made his remarks last night, Cardin claimed victory, vowing to fight for bread and butter Democratic causes like affordable healthcare and education, while pledging to treat changing the course in Iraq as "priority No. 1."
A career politician who has served 10 terms in the U.S. House, Cardin's campaign showcased his vote against the Iraq war and lashed Steele, Maryland's current lieutenant governor, to the policies of President Bush. The first African-American elected statewide in Maryland, Steele built his campaign on innovative ads that overlooked his party affiliation and positioned him as a Washington outsider. He also tried hard to reach black voters, who make up nearly 30 percent of the electorate, to capitalize on what he saw as black disenchantment with Cardin, who is white and who bested former NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume in the Democratic primary. But Steele's candidacy, in an overwhelmingly Democratic state in a year when anti-GOP sentiment is high, was always a long shot.
Steele spokesman Doug Heye said that with an estimated 400,000 absentee ballots still to be counted, the campaign might not cede defeat for some time. "They're basing this on exit polling, but as we've seen in the last two, four, six years, exit polling is not always accurate," he said of Cardin's victory speech. "We'd like every vote to be counted." Dan Gilgoff
Rhode Island: Moderate, Antiwar Republican Loses in Northeast
Moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a member of one of Rhode Island's most famous political families, succumbed to a wave of discontent with the GOP and lost to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a former attorney general in the state.
Chafee, who campaigned on having opposed the war in Iraq and not even voting for President Bush, lost by 6 percentage points, 53 percent to 47 percent. Come January, it will be the first time in three decades that Rhode Island hasn't sent a member of the Chafee family to the U.S. Senate.
Despite high approval ratings and positions well in line with the liberal Ocean State, Chafee could not overcome the "R" next to his name and defeat a well-financed Whitehouse campaign, which saw frequent support from Democratic heavyweights President Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
"For the last two years, I've expected a very competitive race," Chafee, 53, said to the Boston Globe on Tuesday. "Rhode Island is very hard for Republicans, and this year, it's triply hard." Silla Brush
Connecticut Fourth: Moderate Shays Bucks Trend, Survives a Squeaker
Nine-term GOP incumbent Rep. Christopher Shays proved to be more durable than many expected, becoming one of the only pro-war Republicans to survive the anti-GOP trend that swept the nation Tuesday. In what had been a too-close-to-call race throughout the campaignand as of late Wednesday morning his Democratic opponent, former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, was still not concedingShays successfully drew on his historically moderate roots and close relationships in the Fourth District, where he was born and raised.
"It was an amazing political race," Shays told the Associated Press Tuesday. "We ran against a tidal wave against Republicans. I believe the people of this district have re-elected me because of what I have done in 19 years."
Farrell, who lost to Shays in a close race two years ago, built her campaign around Shays's unwavering support for the Bush administration's military intervention in Iraq. She proved an aggressive and appealing campaigner, tapping into the district's deep disapproval of President Bush and his policies and receiving copious help from national Democratic operatives.
But Shays, despite some odd forays during the campaign (at one point he referred to abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison as a "sex ring" perpetrated by National Guard troops), continued to battle, leavening his Iraq position by calling for benchmarks in anticipation of withdrawal and even following Farrell in calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Long a critic of negative campaigning, Shays lashed out at his own party for blanketing the district with negative mailers targeting Farrell.
With the House now controlled by Democrats, Shays will see the value of seniority diminished but, as a surviving GOP moderate, could find himself playing a crucial role if the Democrats make good on Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi's pledge to reach across the aisle to make policy. Liz Halloran
Ohio 18th: Democrat Zach Space Wins in a Landslide
With one of the widest margins of victory in the country last night24 percentage pointsZach Space, a political neophyte and local law official, vanquished disgraced Rep. Bob Ney's handpicked replacement, Republican State Sen. Joy Padgett.
On a night when voters ranked corruption among their top concerns at the ballot box, it was little surpriseeven in a Republican-heavy districtto see Democrats retake a seat held by the first congressman to resign after pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff-influence-peddling probe. Space retook a seat controlled by the GOP for 30 years with 62 percent of the vote to Padgett's 38 percent.
"I will do everything within my power to earn your trust and your respect," Space told supporters at the VFW Hall in New Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press.
The district had been on most political analysts' watch lists from the get-go because of the Abramoff links, and both parties spent heavily to win control. But in the end, it was just too difficult for Padgett to overcome the corruption taint. Silla Brush
Ohio 15th: A GOP Bright Spot?
In what could be one of the Republican's few bright spots of Election 2006, Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce was leading Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy by more than 3,600 votes in unofficial returns.
Pryce's victory is still unresolved, though, in a district where 200,000 people voted. Election officials have yet to count nearly 20,000 absentee votes, and as of 6 a.m., CNN reported that Pryce led by 11,000 votes, or 4 percentage points.
Pryce had carried the district in 2004 by 20 percentage points, but her position in the GOP House leadership dogged her throughout the bruising 13-month campaign. Neither candidate faced a primary challenger.
"The provisionals are in precincts where we believe I would do well," Kilroy said, according to the Associated Press. "Plus, the Democrats did a big push for early and absentee voting and mail-in voting. So, it's very critical to see what happened with those absentee and early-voting votes. I owe it to the people of the district to wait this out." Silla Brush
Florida 22nd: Longtime Republican Incumbent Shaw Gets the Boot
After 26 years in the House, Florida Rep. (22 District) Clay Shaw was shown the door. Entering the campaign season, the veteran Republican incumbent told U.S. News that his race against the well-financed lawyer Ron Klein would be "more expensive" than previous races. But that was all.
"Every time I run, I have led the ticket," he said, grabbing in 2004 even more district votes than the president and his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. But Shaw didn't foresee the anti-GOP wave sweeping the country. His challenger did.
Klein, who served as minority leader in the state Senate, doggedly tied Shaw to Bush, and by extension, to GOP woes, in what widely has been characterized as one of the fiercest and most costly races in the nation. The candidates spent $8 millionwith millions more pouring in from national parties and advocacy groups. Shaw moved to the middle, touting his environmental record in restoring the Everglades. When former President Clinton came to town, he launched a radio ad reminding voters of his willingness to work across the aisle.
But voters responded to Klein's claim that Shaw hadn't done enough to challenge the administration on its Iraq policy. Indeed, after making a visit to Iraq this summer, Shaw said little publicly about the experience. Capitalizing on the district's tops-in-nation population of those 65 and older, Klein slammed Shaw for his support of the prescription drug plan. At 49, Klein's relative youth and energy also provided a sharp contrast to the grandfatherly approach by Shaw, 67.
The loss is particularly sore for Republicans. The party reshaped the district when Shaw nearly lost in 2000, giving him a staunchly Republican swath of Palm Beach County to the north. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Klein won with 51.1 percent of the vote. Shaw garnered 46.9 percent. Bret Schulte
Illinois Eighth: "Most Endangered" Democrat Wins Re-election in Illinois
The conservative Eighth District of Illinois was one of the few places this year where a Republican could dare to proudly be a Republican, and David McSweeney was a very proud Republican. His campaign events brought in everyone from the president to former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. But one of the GOP's few hopes for a pickup went the same way as most of their hopes Tuesday, as Rep. Melissa Bean won a second term with 50 percent of the vote to McSweeney's 44. Bean had been targeted by the GOP before the campaign as the Democrats' most vulnerable House member.
"The Democrats have taken the majority of the House, and the best news is, I get to be in it," Bean told supporters at a local Marriott Hotel, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The remaining votes went to third-party-candidate Bill Scheurer, whose threat to take antiwar voters disenchanted with Bean's support of the war in Iraq and labor voters angry about her vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement never fully materialized.
Bean, who received every major newspaper endorsement, portrayed herself as a social moderate and fiscal conservative during the race, a claim bolstered by the endorsement of the right-leaning Chamber of Commerce. Ads describing Bean as a "Nancy Pelosi wannabe" never rang true, and the nearly $2.5 million that McSweeney, a former investment banker, put into the race ultimately came up short. Will Sullivan
Indiana Ninth: One-Term GOP Incumbent Goes Down Despite White House Help
Indiana Republican incumbent Mike Sodrel's legacy proved brief. In 2004, he was the only Republican to take a seat away from a House Democrat without the benefit of redistricting, slamming his opponent Baron Hill on cultural issues that had been propelling Republicans to Congress since the 1994 GOP revolution.
The formula may have lost its power. Hill, back to challenge Sodrel, this time took this rural, conservative district by about 6,000 voteseclipsing the Sodrel's 1,500 edge two years ago. A social and fiscal conservative who was previously outflanked by Sodrel, Hill took the offensive in the race, airing the first "social values" ad of the season, which called marriage between a man and a woman "sacred." Two years ago, Sodrel criticized Hill for failing to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage while in the House. Hill says that while he believes gay marriage is wrong, it's a decision best left to the states.
With the two having faced off in three consecutive elections, the race was intensely negative and personal. And in this inexpensive media market, more than $9 million was spent, evidence of how crucial both parties view the district. President Bush staged a rally in late October, as did the first lady.
Ultimately, though, it was unhappiness with the status quo that helped put Hill over the top, swinging the state's delegation from seven Republicans and two Democrats to five Democrats and four Republicans. At a celebration party last night in Seymour, Hill said, "The people of the Ninth District are going to get the change they deserve."
Though the combatants engaged in such frequent squabbling that Libertarian candidate Eric Schansberg accused them both of "acting like 4-year-olds," Hill gained traction by separating himself from Sodrel on such hot button issues as raising the minimum wage and staging an exit strategy for Iraq. Hill supports deadlines for Iraqis and a staged withdrawal. With 98.9 percent of precincts reporting, Hill had 49.3 percent of the vote. Sodrel had 46.2 percent. Bret Schulte
Ohio Sixth: Democrat Wilson Easily Wins Vacant House Seat
Ted Strickland won the governorship of Ohio and the Democrats were able to easily hold his vacant congressional seat, as Charlie Wilson beat Republican Speaker pro tem Chuck Blasdel. Wilson took 61 percent of the vote. With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Wilson was up by 45,000 votes.
The district sits on the eastern edge of Ohio in the critical nexus of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Wilson carried all nine counties, polling especially well near cities including Steubenville and East Liverpool.
After stumbling early in the primary and having to run as a write-in for his party's nomination, Wilson never looked back. Polls had predicted a Wilson victory, though by a considerably smaller margin. Wilson benefited from endorsements from popular state Democrats, while Blasdel struggled to make his messages on illegal immigration and the economy resonate with voters. Wilson outspent his opponent, raising $1,742,264, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Blasdel raised $1,061,136. Alex Kingsbury
Pennsylvania Sixth: Republican Incumbent Gerlach Wins Close One in Rematch
The national electoral map may have changed, but Pennsylvania's Sixth District stayed pretty much the same. By early Wednesday morning, with votes still being counted, Congressman Jim Gerlach appears to have held off Democrat Lois Murphy by around 3,000 votes. Gerlach is no stranger to squeakers. He won his first race for state representative by a mere 23 votes and edged out Murphy by fewer than 6,000 votes in 2004.
According to available results, as predicted, the difference was Berks County and the city of Reading, where Gerlach led Murphy by 6,000 votes. Gerlach also appeared to carry the key areas around Coatesville and Phoenixville, while Murphy won some 60 percent of the vote in Montgomery County, including Norristown.
This had been one of the nation's closest races and was expected to fall to the Democrats if the party swept the House. Early returns suggested that Murphy might maintain a few thousand-vote lead. But as Tuesday stretched into Wednesday, Gerlach surged.
It was a particularly tough campaign, with Murphy and Gerlach trading attack ads throughout the election season. Gerlach emphasized his independence from President Bush and managed to win the backing of the teachers unionsa valuable pickup for a Republican in the state.
The suburbs around Philadelphia and the former industrial centers like Reading were thought to be fertile ground for Murphy's message of change in Iraq and a raise to the minimum wage. She gave the national Democratic radio address before the election, an indication of the party's hopes for the race. But the district's unique geographythe result of extensive gerrymanderingcoupled with heavy advertising may have given the edge to the incumbent.
"The culture of corruption charges simply didn't stick to Jim Gerlach," says Mark Campbell, Gerlach's political director. "When you win by a couple thousand votes, it's tough to say what swung the results in the end. This race was decided last January when we decided to go hard charging all the way against Lois Murphy; the Dems probably didn't expect that." Berks County was key, though it didn't stop him from staying awake until 7:30 this morning to wait for the final certification. Alex Kingsbury
New Mexico First: Democratic Challenger Appears to Stumble in Left-Leaning District
Though up by only about 1,000 votes, Rep. Heather Wilson confidently predicted last night that her supporters would be toasting with breakfast orange juice in the morning. If she is correct, it would make Wilson one of only a handful of Republicans remaining in districts won by John Kerry in 2004. And her opponent, Democratic state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, would have the distinction of being one of the few competitive Democrats who missed the wave sweeping the party into office.
Going into Election Day, nearly all recent polls put Madrid narrowly ahead, and the left-leaning district seemed ripe for a Democratic win. Madrid attacked Wilson as a rubber stamp for President Bush, and Wilson's efforts to depict herself as an independent voice were undermined by her unwavering support for the war in Iraq.
But Madrid stumbled. Her efforts to link Wilson to the "culture of corruption" because of donations associated with Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay were not nearly as potent as Wilson's counterpunchclaims that Madrid had failed to investigate corruption in the state treasurer's office and then risked derailing federal prosecutions of state officials. Madrid consented to only one televised debate, and her awkward pause when asked a question about taxes provided Wilson with an effective last-minute ad that might have brought her across the finish line. Will Sullivan
West Virginia First: Heavily Outspent, GOP Challenger Loses to Incumbent Mollohan
Despite heavy campaigning by Republicans for Chris Wakim, incumbent Rep. Alan Mollohan was re-elected to a 13th term.
"Democrats really rallied to defend one of the few Democratic incumbents in trouble," says Robert Rupp, professor of political science at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Last year, a Mollohan win was considered inevitable. Popular for bringing back millions in federal dollars to fund high-tech projects and create jobs in this poor coal and steel district, Mollohan won by 68 percent of the vote in 2004. But Republicans were emboldened this year by a controversy surrounding allegations that Mollohan gave millions of dollars in earmarks to groups staffed by his friends and business partners while his personal wealth soared. Mollohan has denied the charges, but national Republican heavyweights, including Vice President Dick Cheney, came to the district to stump for Wakim, a state house delegate and graduate of West Point.
State Democrats and Mollohan fought back hard, claiming that Wakim owned a bar that illegally paid winnings on video poker machines. Wakim's campaign said the practice was commonplace, but negative advertisements eroded the Republican challenger's momentum.
Mollohan also had a clear fundraising advantage. He raised about $1,173,000, while his challenger raised about $585,000. Political observers say it's very likely, however, that Mollohan could face a strong challenge again two years from now, especially if the ethics controversy heats up again. Danielle Knight