The news that Tim Kaine is likely to run for Virginia’s open Senate seat in 2012 sets up a clash of political titans as the former Democratic governor will likely face off with former senator and governor George Allen in the general election.
It’s a real rarity — and a special treat for political junkies — when two major figures in their respective parties decide to square off. And, oftentimes, these races produce races that political junkies talk about for years after the final votes are cast.
Using our Fix hive mind — that includes the two deputy Fixes as well as the Post’s Paul Kane and Ben Pershing — we have put together a list of some of the most famous Senate clash of the titans races.
But this is only a starter list. We need your help to make it better and more comprehensive. So, offer your nominations in the (new and improved) comments section below.
The Fix’s Senate Clash of the Titans races (in chronological order)
Massachusetts 1952 — Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R) vs John F. Kennedy (D): This is the race where one dynasty ended, and another began. (Books, literally, have beem written about this contest.) Lodge was the grandson of the legendary former senator Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. and had served on and off in the Senate since the mid 1930s. Kennedy was six years into his political career, having won a House seat in 1946. (The two families had squared off once before when Lodge Sr. beat Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald way back in 1916.) Kennedy, then only in his mid 30s, took a grassroots approach — touring the state to prove he was more than just Joe Kennedy’s son. Lodge, on the other hand, paid little attention to the race; he devoted much of his time and energy to convincing Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to run for president. Lodge succeeded in that mission but failed to grasp the brilliance of Kennedy’s small-bore strategy, put in place by none other than campaign manager Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy won narrowly; eight years later he was president of the United States.
North Carolina 1984 — Sen. Jesse Helms (R) vs Jim Hunt (D): This race between Helms, the iconic Senate conservative for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and Hunt, the immensely popular governor of the Tarheel State, may well be the greatest Senate race of all time. (It made its way onto the Fix’s list of the 10 nastiest Senate races over the last 30 years too.) Hunt had spent much of the early 80s positioning for the race against Helms and when he entered the contest had a large leade over the controversial Helms. But Helms wore down Hunt with attacks on — among other things — his ideology and sexuality. Combined, the two men spent $25 million, an unheard of sum in those days. Helms won 52 percent to 48 percent and went on to serve all the way through 2002. Hunt finished out his term as governor and then was re-elected to two more terms between 1992 and 2000.
Massachusetts 1996 — Bill Weld (R) vs Sen. John Kerry (D): Weld, coming off of a 1994 gubernatorial re-election race where he won with 71 percent, decided to take on Kerry who hadn’t had a serious race for Senate since winning the seat in 1984. Both men carried high popularity ratings and the race was suprisingly cordial given the amount of national attention it drew. (Jay Carney, now the White House press secretary but then a reporter for Time magazine, wrote a piece about the race entitled “The Good Fight”.) Kerry benefited from the Democratic undpinnings of the Bay State and the sweeping victory — 61 percent — President Bill Clinton won there. The Democrat won a third term by seven points in a race that cost the two men upwards of $21 million.
Nevada 1998 — John Ensign vs Sen. Harry Reid (D): After just two terms in the House, Ensign, widely regarded as the brightest light in Nevada Republican politics at the time, challenged Reid. Reid, as is his trademark, went after Ensign hard — painting him as out-of-touch with Nevada voters. Total candidate spending topped $10 million (and far more was spent by the two national party committees). The race, which began close, stayed that way throughout. On election day, Reid was ahead by 459 votes; a recount cut the margin to 428. Ensign quickly rebounded from the loss to win an open seat Senate race in 2000. Reid went on to become the most powerful Democrat in the Senate.
New York 1998 — Sen. Al D’Amato (R) vs Chuck Schumer (D): In a state with a long history of great Senate races (and great Senators), this was one for the ages. D’Amato had built his political reputation on his relentless attention to constituent service — he wasn’t known as “Senator Pothole” for nothing” — and savvy political skills. Schumer had spent nearly two decades in the U.S. House, biding his time for just the right race. He found it in 1998 when he simply outworked — and out fundraised — two better known opponents (including 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro) in the primary and then stood toe to toe with the Republican incumbent in an epically nasty race. The contest turned when D’Amato was caught calling Schumer a ”putzhead” in a private meeting with a Jewish group. D’Amato spent $24 million, Schumer $16 million but the Democrat won by a surprisingly large 11-point margin. Schumer went on to lead his party back to the Senate majority as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006 and 2008.
Delaware 2000 — Sen. Bill Roth (R) vs Tom Carper (D): For decades, a small group of politicians — Democrats and Republicans — had occupied the state’s handful of statewide offices under an unspoken understanding that they would never run against one another. (This is a phenomenon not unique to Delaware but far more common in smaller population states where all the politicians know one another.) That tradition was broken when Carper, the sitting governor, decided to take on Roth, who had spent nearly three decades in the Senate. The race was decidedly non-confrontational — this is Delaware, after all — but Carper subtly made Roth’s age (he was 79) an issue, and the incumbent played into that narrative by twice fainting on the campaign trail. In the end, the race wasn’t alll that close as Carper prevailed by 12 points. To this day, allies of Rep. Mike Castle (R) — another political titan in Delaware — insist that Roth should have retired prior to the 2000 election, opening the door for Castle to run in an open seat. Instead, Castle waited another decade and then lost a Senate primary to Christine O’Donnell.
Missouri 2000 — Sen. John Ashcroft (R) vs Mel Carnahan (D): On paper, the race between Ashcroft, a former governor and current senator, and Carnahan, the sitting governor of the Show Me State, was good. In reality, it was even better as it was clear from the start neither man liked the other and the two spent the better part of two years on the attack. That all changed on on Oct. 16, 2000 when a small plane carrying Carnahan as well as several of his top campaign staffers crashed — killing everyone on board. It was too close to the election to pull Carnahan’s name from the ballot but acting Gov. Roger Wilson (D) made clear he would appoint Caranahan’s widow, Jean, to the seat if the late governor wound up winning posthumously. He did — by three points. Jean Carnahan went on to lose the race for a full six-year term to Jim Talent (R) in 2002.
Virginia 2000 — George Allen (R) vs Sen. Chuck Robb (D): This was a matchup between a fading star (Robb) and a rising one (Allen). When Robb was first elected to the Senate in 1988, he was widely touted as a potential presidential candidate for Democrats. Robb saw those hopes disappear amid an early 1990s sex scandal -- Tai Collins, anyone? --but managed to squeak out a victory in 1994 thanks to the diviseness of the candidacy of Oliver North. Robb wasn’t so lucky in 2000 when Allen, who had served as governor of the Commonwealth from 1993 to 1997, entered the race. Allen led for the entirety and, at times, Robb seemed to be disinterested. The final result — Allen 52 percent, Robb 48 percent — was surprisingly close, perhaps an early indication of Virginia’s emergence as a swing state in elections to come.
New Hampshire 2002: John Sununu (R) vs Jeanne Shaheen (D): The race pitted Sununu, the son of the legendary former governor, against Shaheen who had been governor of the Granite State since 1996. Sununu had momentum thanks to his primary defeat of Sen. Bob Smith who had puzzingly — and briefly — left the GOP to pursue a quixotic bid for president in 1999. Sununu wound up beating Shaheen by five points. But, the Democrat gained her revenge six years later when she ousted Sununu by seven points in a rematch.
South Dakota 2004 — John Thune (R) vs Sen. Tom Daschle (D): Thune, a former three-term Member of Congress, was less than two years removed from a stunning loss at the hands of Sen. Tim Johnson (D) when he decided to take on Daschle, who was the highest ranking Democrat in the Senate. Thune, learning the right lessons from the 2002 loss, sought to shorten the campaign against Daschle and bashed him as looking out for Washington rather than South Dakota. The spending was stratopsheric; Daschle dropped almost $20 millionto Thune’s $15 million — staggering figures for a state with a population as small as South Dakota’s. Thune was the beneficiary of a strong Republican performance at the top of the ticket (George W. Bush won the state with 60 percent) and edged Dashle 51 to 49 percent. Daschle was the first Senate leader to lose a bid for re-election since Ernest McFarland (D-Ariz.) way back in 1952.