By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON – Republicans appeared on the way to extending their six-year reign in the Senate, even as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton swept to a history-making victory by capturing a Senate seat in New York for Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton swamped Republican Rep. Rick Lazio to become the first presidential spouse elected to Congress. Despite her victory, Democrats were left having to sweep all seven Senate races that were still undecided this evening.
The GOP had won enough contests to put it one seat away from retaining its hold on the chamber. Republicans held a 54-46 edge before the voting.
Even so, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota predicted additional victories and said he was not giving up hope that he would be majority leader in the next Congress.
“We’ve got a lot to look forward to tonight,” he said on CNN.
Holding the majority would give the Republicans their first eight-year stretch of Senate supremacy since the 1932 elections ended 14 years of unbroken GOP control.
Veteran Democratic Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia, Republican Sen. Rod Grams of Minnesota and William Roth, the long-time Delaware Republican, all were toppled from office.
Roth, 79, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, lost his bid for a sixth term to Delaware Democratic Gov. Thomas Carper.
Roth’s age had become a factor in the race after he stumbled twice publicly. Of the 40 percent of voters who said Roth’s age would hinder his ability to serve effectively, nearly nine in 10 said they voted for Carper, according to exit interviews by Voter News Service, a consortium of the AP and television networks.
Striking back for the GOP, Republican George Allen, the former governor of Virginia, ousted Robb after two terms in the Senate. Robb, son-in-law of President Lyndon Johnson, was the last Democrat holding statewide office in the GOP-trending Old Dominion.
“It would be a major disappointment to me if the results of this race mean the difference” in Republicans keeping control of Senate, Robb said in his concession speech.
But in a remark that every victorious candidate would assuredly second, Allen told cheering supporters, “Tonight we begin moving forward and it sure is sweet.”
In Minnesota, department store heir Mark Dayton used millions of his own money to defeat the conservative Grams, who served a low-profile single term and was beset by a divorce and other personal problems.
Perhaps the evening’s most poignant drama involved the race for for Republican John Ashcroft’s Missouri seat.
Ashcroft’s opponent, Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in an Oct. 16 plane crash. His widow, Jean, said she would accept the new governor’s offer to appoint her if her husband outpolled Ashcroft.
At the request of Democrats in Missouri, a judge ordered a three-hour extension of voting in Democratic-leaning St. Louis as voters jammed polling places. But a three-judge panel later ordered those polls to close.
Democrats got a boost in New Jersey where Democrat Jon Corzine, after spending more than $60 million of his own fortune, held onto a seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Corzine, a former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, outspent four-term GOP Rep. Bob Franks by 10-1, making it the costliest two-candidate Senate race in history. Franks’ effort to make Corzine’s record-setting expenditures an issue fell short.
In Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson, the state’s insurance commissioner, grabbed the seat of Republican Sen. Connie Mack, who is retiring. Nelson defeated GOP Rep. Bill McCollum, who was a manager during President Clinton’s impeachment trial and spent his campaign trying to moderate his conservative image.
But former Republican Rep. John Ensign nabbed the Nevada Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan. Ensign, who narrowly lost a 1998 Senate bid, easily defeated Democrat Ed Bernstein.
Mrs. Clinton’s expensive battle against Lazio, the upstart four-term congressman from Long Island, became an expensive contest that drew donors from across the country in what was partly an emotional proxy referendum on Bill Clinton and his presidency.
Underlining how Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy polarized voters, about half of Lazio’s supporters said in interviews that they were mainly voting against Mrs. Clinton. But despite Lazio’s efforts to cast Mrs. Clinton as an out-of-state carpetbagger, half of voters interviewed said the issue didn’t bother them, and strong majorities of women, blacks and Hispanics supported her.
Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., appointed to replace the late GOP Sen. Paul Coverdell, easily won the remaining four years in Coverdell’s term. By capturing more than half the vote in a field of seven candidates, the popular former governor averted a Nov. 28 runoff.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s running mate, won easy re-election to his Senate seat. But a Gore victory would make Lieberman vice president, opening the door for GOP Connecticut Gov. John Rowland to name a Republican to replace him in the Senate.
A victory by George W. Bush, the GOP presidential contender, would make Dick Cheney vice president, in line to break any tie votes in the Senate. Either way, Democrats needed 51 Senate seats to be assured of a majority.
Based on history, neither party expected the presidential candidates to have much impact on the Senate struggle. The last time a winning presidential candidate’s party also gained Senate seats was Ronald Reagan’s 1980 GOP landslide.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi breezed to re-election, as did three committee chairmen: Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana, Health and Education Committee Chairman James Jeffords of Vermont and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah.
And a Democratic icon, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, first elected in 1962, won his seventh full term.
Also winning re-election were Republican Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Bill Frist of Tennessee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Other incumbents re-elected included Democrats Kent Conrad in North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico and Herb Kohl in Wisconsin, and Republicans Craig Thomas in Wyoming and Jon Kyl in Arizona.
Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was elected to his own six-year term a year after being appointed to the seat after the death of his father, John, who had been a revered institution in the state’s political scene.
In one of the day’s least suspenseful contests, Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia cruised to his eighth 6-year term. The Senate’s longevity record is the 45 years, 3 months served by Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who is still in the Senate.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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