Regional Election Summary: The Midwest
Republicans extended their quarter-century claim on the governor's mansion with the election of Secretary of State George Ryan (R), who positioned himself in the moderate tradition of retiring Gov. Jim Edgar (R) to defeat state Rep. Glenn Poshard (D) with 52 percent of the vote.
Poshard, from rural downstate Illinois, was supported by organized labor, but had a hard time selling his name and his more conservative positions in the Chicago area. Poshard opposes abortion and some gun control measures, while Ryan portrayed himself as a moderate, even angering some conservative Republicans with his support for gun control.
Ryan had promised that just over half of every new state dollar would go to education and job training. Poshard, by contrast, had said he would reduce tax breaks to businesses to find resources to improve education.
The race that drew the most attention outside the state was the defeat of Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D), the first female African American to serve in the Senate. She was dogged throughout the campaign with questions about her personal and campaign finances and about a 1996 visit to the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha.
The victor, state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, is a wealthy conservative who spent heavily from family funds to remind voters of Moseley-Braun's "six years of scandal and controversy," keeping Moseley-Braun on the defensive and blunting her criticism of his antiabortion, pro-gun positions. He drew 51 percent of the vote, compared to Moseley-Braun's 47 percent.
Among the notable House races was a rematch between Rep. Lane Evans (D) and former television anchor Mark Baker, with Evans winning 52 percent of the vote. Evans, who has held the seat for 16 years, barely defeated Baker in 1996.
The House seat vacated by Poshard will be filled by state Rep. Dave Phelps (D), a well-known gospel singer whose conservatism includes opposition to abortion. Phelps defeated Brent Winters (R), who had enjoyed conservative support in his third attempt to enter the House.
Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D) held on to his seat, despite being named an unindicted co-conspirator in an investigation that convicted his former business partner of fraud. The seat vacated by Rep. Harris W. Fawell (R) goes to state Rep. Judy Biggert (R), who emphasized her moderate positions on social issues and her economic conservatism.
The seat held 34 years by retiring Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D) will be filled by state Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D), who proved herself a strong campaigner and fund-raiser.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R), who will lead impeachment hearings against President Clinton in the coming weeks, easily beat his opponent, Thomas Cramer (D), a consultant in health care issues, who had hoped to benefit from new Democratic-leaning voters registered through the motor-voter law.
Evan Bayh (D), whose popularity after two terms as governor gave him an easy victory, will fill the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Dan Coats (R). With 63 percent of the vote, Bayh defeated Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke (R), who struggled to raise funds.
Bayh's victory returns the family name to the Senate, where his father, Birch Bayh, served until 1980. The young Bayh fostered a reputation as a moderate. He opposed tax increases and courted businesses to move to his state during his tenure as governor, which ended in 1996.
The southern district House seat being vacated by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D) will be occupied by former state representative Baron Hill (D), a basketball All-American and former Senate candidate. Hill was seen as a sure thing until recently, when former state senator Jean Leising (R) came on strong in polls. She barely lost to Hamilton in 1994, ran against him again in 1996, and came within 3 percentage points of Hill Tuesday.
Rep. John N. Hostettler (R) was considered vulnerable earlier in the race, but ended up defeating Evansville city Councilwoman Gail Riecken (D) by 52 percent to 47 percent. Rep. Julia Carson (D) easily held on to her suburban seat with help from Bayh, despite what had appeared to be a serious challenge from jeweler Gary Hofmeister (R).
Democratic state Sen. Tom Vilsack pulled off a major upset by defeating former representative Jim Ross Lightfoot (R) for the Iowa governorship. Vilsack, hampered by a shortage of funds after a hard-fought primary, ended a 30-year GOP lock on the state's top job. He will replace Terry Branstad (R), who retired.
To boost his name recognition, Vilsack used late-campaign televised ads and walked dozens of "Main Streets" in towns across the state. Education was a major focus for him, and in the late stages of the campaign, abortion rose as a critical issue. Vilsack supports abortion rights, while Lightfoot campaigned on a strong antiabortion platform. Lightfoot had been favored to win, given his surprisingly strong showing against Sen. Tom Harkin (D) two years ago and because he had solid Republican support in this bipartisan state.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R) sailed to a fourth term against former state representative David Osterberg (D).
Rep. Leonard L. Boswell (D), a one-term member who had barely captured the district two years ago when Lightfoot challenged Harkin, hung on to his seat and kept the Iowa House delegation bipartisan. He beat back a challenge from Republican state Sen. Larry McKibben, who had attacked him on free trade issues, important to the state's farmers.
Gov. John Engler (R) easily defeated Democrat Geoffrey Fieger, known less for his record than as the defense lawyer for the controversial assisted suicide crusader Jack Kevorkian. Engler won a third term with 62 percent of the vote, reflecting not only his weak opponent, but his popularity in a state with a strong economy and declining welfare rolls. Engler was barely bruised by the vocal slurs hurled at him by Fieger, who had won the Democratic primary in an upset.
Democrats in House races also survived withering campaigns. Rep. Sander M. Levin (D), who has held his seat for 16 years, defeated political newcomer Leslie Touma (R), a former Engler adviser and moderate who supports abortion rights.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D) defeated state Rep. Michelle McManus (R) in his Upper Peninsula district, one of the races where Republicans hoped for an upset. Another GOP target was Rep. Lynn Nancy Rivers (D) of Ann Arbor, challenged by Tom Hickey (R). Rivers got 58 percent of the vote.
The most spirited third-party candidacy in the United States produced the most stunning result: Reform Party candidate Jesse "The Body" Ventura defeated state Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III (D) and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman (R) for governor.
Humphrey, the presumed front-runner with the most prominent political name in the state, refused to debate Coleman unless Ventura was present, assuming that Ventura's anti-big government message would siphon votes from his Republican opponent. Humphrey finished third with 28 percent of the vote, Coleman had 34 percent and Ventura drew 37 percent.
The new governor, 47, is a former professional wrestler, Navy SEAL, actor, talk show host and suburban mayor. He won with a populist, get-the-government-off-your-back message. He has been vague on how he would carry out his platform, but has said he wants to cut taxes, pare state government and reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in public schools.
"We shocked the world," he said yesterday. His election shows that people with "regular jobs" -- not just professional politicians -- can perform public service, he told NBC's "Today" show. "All it says in the rule book is, be over 25 and live in the state for one year. I'm qualified," he said.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R) had his usual close race with the usual result: He won, defeating Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) to win another six years in Washington. Nixon alienated some key black leaders early on, and the rift never healed. Exit polls reported by CNN showed that Bond picked up a remarkable 45 percent of the black vote. Freshman Republican Reps. Jo Ann Emerson and Kenny Hulshof substantially improved their narrow 1996 margins against weak opponents.
Gov. George V. Voinovich (R) won an easy victory to the U.S. Senate over former Cuyahoga County commissioner Mary Boyle (D), as retiring Sen. John Glenn (D) watched from space. Voinovich, a popular two-term governor and 10-year mayor of Cleveland, had been defeated in a 1988 run for the Senate. Boyle struggled unsuccessfully to raise enough money to make her potentially competitive with the fiscally conservative governor running on a strong education platform.
Secretary of State Robert A. Taft II (R) was elected governor over former attorney general Lee Fisher (D). The race was too close to call throughout the last few weeks, but Taft, heir to the state's most famous political name, pulled out a narrow victory with just 50 percent of the vote.
Incumbents won two hard-fought races for the House in southern Ohio. Rep. Ted Strickland (D) defeated Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister (R) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R) beat Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D). In Cleveland, Stephanie T. Jones (D), the first woman and first African American to be elected prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, won the seat vacated by retiring 15-term congressman Louis Stokes (D).
Popular three-term Gov. Tommy G. Thompson (R), the first governor to make welfare reform a hallmark of his tenure, sailed to easy victory in Wisconsin. He defeated Ed Garvey, the former head of the NFL Players Association.
The cliffhanger race in Wisconsin was for the Senate. There, Sen. Russell Feingold (D) defeated two-term Rep. Mark W. Neumann (R) in a race decided late in the night by 3 percentage points. This election was billed as a test case of differing campaign finance practices. Feingold, sponsor of the campaign finance reform legislation that has been blocked by a Senate filibuster, refused to accept "soft money" contributions from Democratic groups. Neumann, a millionaire real estate developer, received extensive outside support that enabled him to air about 20 television ads before viewers saw the first TV spot for Feingold.
In the end, Feingold's generally liberal record offered the state a better fit than Neumann's socially conservative Christian message. And although Neumann had gained national visibility as one of the GOP's staunchest protectors of the dwindling Social Security trust fund, exit polls showed that most voters who placed Social Security at the top of their concerns chose Feingold.
In House races, state Rep. Mark Green (R) defeated freshman Rep. Jay Johnson (D) in one of the handful of party turnovers. Neumann's district seat was kept in the Republican column when Paul Ryan, 28, a former Senate aide, defeated Lydia Spottswood (D), former president of the Kenosha City Council. In Madison, liberal state Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) defeated moderate former state insurance commissioner Jo Musser (R). Baldwin will become the first openly gay woman in Congress.
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