Regional Election Summary: The South
Alabama's Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman scored a major upset, defeating incumbent Gov. Fob James Jr. (R), one of a string of Democratic successes that challenged Republican dominance in the South.
Siegelman, who becomes the state's first Democratic governor in 16 years, rode to victory on a single promise: a pledge to create a state lottery to raise money for education. James, a champion of school prayer, had hoped to enlist enough support from conservative Christians to win reelection. Instead, James ended up antagonizing the state's business community. Siegelman's victory spread -- 58 percent to 42 percent -- also reflected overwhelming support from Alabama's black voters, according to exit polls.
In legislative races, voters stuck with the status quo. Sen. Richard C. Shelby, in first race since switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party four years ago, handily defeated Clayton Suddith, a retiree who mortgaged his pickup truck to run.
In President Clinton's home state, Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) held onto the governorship he inherited two years ago after Clinton's successor, Jim Guy Tucker, was forced to resign.
A conservative minister, Huckabee had been the state's lieutenant governor when Tucker stepped down after he was convicted in a fraud case stemming from the Whitewater investigation. Running for the state's top office in his own right, Huckabee defeated attorney Bill Bristow (D) with 60 percent of the vote.
But Republicans' hopes of picking up a second Senate seat were dashed. Former House member Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D) won the state's open Senate race with 56 percent of the vote and will return to Washington two years after she decided to leave Congress after learning she was pregnant with twins. Lincoln, who developed a centrist record during her two terms in the House, defeated conservative Fay Boozman (R), a state senator who had gained strength -- and raised GOP hopes -- in the campaign's closing weeks.
In the state's most closely watched House race, freshman Rep. Victor F. Snyder (D) easily defeated state Sen. Phil Wyrick (R).
Republican Jeb Bush, the youngest son of former president George Bush, was elected governor of Florida, solidifying a family political dynasty and claiming the victory that had eluded him by the barest of margins four years ago.
Bush's victory over Lt. Gov. Buddy Mackay (D) was the Republican Party's only new conquest in gubernatorial races in the South. Together with the reelection of Bush's brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, it also marks the second time in U.S. history that siblings will occupy executive mansions of two states at the same time. Only the Rockefeller clan achieved the same distinction, when Nelson Rockefeller and Winthrop Rockefeller were governors of New York and Arkansas in the late 1960s.
In Florida's Senate race, Sen. Bob Graham (D) handily defeated state Sen. Charlie Crist (R) to earn a third term.
Democrats also won the state's most closely watched House race. Despite worries that Rep. Corrine Brown (D) was vulnerable because of allegations of financial improprieties, she won 56 percent of the vote to defeat Republican challenger Bill Randall, a minister and official of the NAACP.
Voters delivered a mixed message in Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich's home state, electing a Democratic governor and reelecting a GOP senator by almost identical margins.
Roy Barnes, a folksy Democratic state legislator, defeated temp agency founder Guy Millner to replace the outgoing and popular Gov. Zell Miller. Millner, who put $11 million of his own money into the race, had led the Democrat by as much as 20 points early in the contest. A late barrage of campaign ads attacking Barnes for supporting affirmative action failed to swing the election in Millner's favor.
But Republicans were successful in the state's Senate contest, returning Sen. Paul Coverdell (R) to a second term despite a strong challenge from Democrat Michael Coles. The founder of the Great American Cookie Company, Coles unsuccessfully sought two years ago to unseat Gingrich.
A former baseball great, Rep. Jim Bunning, squeaked past a strong Democratic rival as one of election night's cliffhangers went to the Republicans.
Bunning, who served six terms in the House, defeated fellow Rep. Scotty Baesler by just 7,000 votes to earn the right to replace retiring Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D). Bunning, who as a major league pitcher once hit 19 batters during a single season, repeatedly hammered Baesler over his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, a strategy that apparently paid off in blue-collar communities.
Democrats and Republicans battled to a draw in House contests. In Bunning's northern Kentucky district, Democrat Ken Lucas unseated incumbent Rep. Gex "Jay" Williams (R), a religious conservative who had held the post for 32 years. But in Baesler's home district, conservative former state representative Ernest Fletcher (R) easily defeated state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone (D), becoming the first Republican to win the seat since the Civil War.
Sen. John Breaux (D) coasted to a third term, winning 64 percent of the vote in a race against Republican Jim Donelon, a relative unknown with little money to devote to his campaign.
In the state's most closely watched House race, veteran Rep. Richard H. Baker (R) survived his toughest challenge since he first was elected to represent the Baton Rouge district in 1986, narrowly defeating Democrat Marjorie McKeithen.
During the summer, polls suggested Baker held a commanding lead over McKeithen, an attorney with a name well-known in Louisiana political circles. But Baker was hurt by allegations in August that his congressional staff members had improperly contributed to his campaign -- a charge the candidate denied -- and by recent efforts by Breaux to help turn out the vote of the district's African American community, which was substantially enlarged by redistricting two years ago.
Democrats capitalized on a rare chance to gain a House seat in the Deep South with a win by Highway Commissioner Ronnie Shows in the state's southwestern 4th District.
Shows, a conservative populist, defeated Jackson attorney Delbert Hosemann, capturing the seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Mike Parker for 10 years, giving Democrats a 3-2 advantage in the state's congressional House delegation for the first time since 1995.
Republican Reps. Roger Wicker and Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. easily won reelection, as did Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor.
As in Alabama, Democratic challenger Jim Hodges ousted an incumbent Republican governor, defeating Gov. David M. Beasley with 54 percent of the vote. And like his Alabama counterpart, Hodges found a winning formula by promising to establish a state lottery to pay for college scholarships.
The former leader of the South Carolina state House, Hodges managed to dodge barbs by Beasley, who accused his challenger of accepting too much money from gambling interests and accused Democrats of spreading false rumors that the governor had an extramarital affair.
But voters favored incumbency in the state's Senate race. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, the senior Democratic senator from the South, was reelected with 53 percent of the vote to the seat he has held for 32 years, despite a strong challenge from Rep. Bob Inglis (R).
Inglis conducted what he labeled a "courteous campaign," eschewing PAC money and sending his opponent advance copies of his press releases. But Hollings derided what he branded his challenger's self-righteousness, at one point calling Inglis a "goddamn skunk."
Republican incumbent Gov. Don Sundquist galloped to a landslide victory over John Jay Hooker, a political gadfly and onetime head of the Minnie Pearl's Chicken restaurant chain.
Hooker conceded the election five minutes before the polls closed. Hooker, who won the Democratic nomination after party leaders failed to convince any elected official to challenge Sundquist, ran his campaign on a budget of $7,500 from his own bank account.
In House races, Democrats failed in their high-profile bid to reclaim the 4th District seat they lost to Republicans four years ago. Incumbent Rep. Van Hilleary withstood a strong challenge from veteran Democrat state Sen. Jerry Cooper on a night when all nine of the state's incumbents won reelection.
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