Continuing with the theme of yesterday that God must be a Republican, look at the United States Senate. The Republicans won almost every challenger contest, except perhaps one they could have.
Most of the Senators who were on the “watch list,” such as Kit Bond of Missouri, in the end had no problem. Then there is Jim Bunning. The Kentucky Senator, who was the only player to have pitched a no-hitter in both the American and National Leagues, seemed to have no problem being re-elected. Democrats, deprived of their scandal-ridden former Governor Paul Patton, who had intended to run, put up an obscure State Senator as the sacrificial candidate. Then Bunning, whom I personally admire a great deal, began to say unusual things, such as his opponent reminded him of one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. The Louisville Courier Journal, which hates Bunning because of his beliefs, suggested that perhaps the Senator had become mentally ill. He continued to stay ahead, but by a reduced majority, until he was asked to comment upon that contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq who refused an order to drive their trucks on what they claimed was a suicide mission. The troops insisted that they had tainted fuel and other problems. Many of those troops are from Kentucky. Bunning said he didn’t know about the incident, which was a huge story for at least a week as the media tried to embarrass the Administration. Bunning said he no longer watched television or read the newspapers. That did it. His support dropped like a cast-iron pancake. An upset was in the making.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately pumped $800,000 into Kentucky for media. Daily tracking was not terribly encouraging. Republicans got their oar in the water by defining Bunning’s opponent as a Kerry clone. Senator Mitch McConnell, Bunning’s senior colleague, campaigned with the endangered Senator to answer the question about Bunning’s mental stability.
In the end, as I told political analyst Stu Rothenberg, I smelled an upset. I spoke with Dan Allen, the Communications Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, when all but 15% of the vote was counted. His perspiration was evident even over the telephone. He didn’t know where the votes were coming from, and at that moment Bunning was about tied with his Democrat opponent. Well, not to worry. The last 15% came from Bunning’s former House of Representatives District where they knew and loved him. He ended up with a margin of 30,000 votes. Hey, that was better than the 4,000 margin he had six year ago. I heard over and over again the day after the election from Republican officials “we knew that one was gone” and “we braced ourselves for an upset”. But the Lord knew better. Bunning’s wife, by the way, has been active in Operation Rescue.
Mel Martinez in Florida first had to win a tough Republican primary, defeating no less than six opponents. His chief rival was the 2002 nominee against now-Senator Bill Nelson, former Congressman Bill McCollum. Martinez suggested that McCollum was soft on homosexuals because he had supported hate crimes legislation. That changed the dynamic of the race. Martinez moved from being slightly behind to being slightly ahead. After Martinez won a convincing primary victory, McCollum refused to endorse Martinez. Eventually he came around and even campaigned with Martinez, the former Housing Secretary in the Bush Cabinet. Martinez then had to face Betty Castor, former President of the University of South Florida, who defended her controversial actions in handling a professor with alleged terrorist connections. In the end Martinez managed a victory. The fact that President Bush carried Florida by a solid margin didn’t hurt him. Unlike Presidents Nixon and Reagan, who were selfish in their re-election bids in 1972 and 1984 respectively, President Bush raised money and helped to ID the vote for candidates like Martinez.
At first Castor refused to concede, even though Republicans had a huge margin in the absentee ballots which had not been counted. In due course reality set in and she threw in the towel. Martinez is strongly pro-life and will be an excellent pro-family addition to the Senate.
Another of the five Southern States where Democrats retired was North Carolina. John Edwards was a one-termer. He ran for President and lost to John Kerry. Kerry, in the end, caved into Party pressure and picked Edwards as his running mate. Usually when someone from a State is on the national ticket it means that State will vote for the national ticket. Not North Carolina. Democrats had a very credible candidate in Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles. Bowles had run for the seat of retiring Jesse Helms in 2002. Former Reagan and Bush ’41 cabinet member Elizabeth Dole was the Republican nominee. Helms strongly backed Dole. She defeated Bowles convincingly.
Bowles ended the race with some positives and he decided to go at it again. He is a wealthy businessman with the money to do so. For months he had a lead of 10 percentage points. Then in the three weeks before the election, Congressman Richard Burr (who was not well known outside of his Congressional District) really came on strong. First, he reminded voters of Bowles’ ties to Clinton. Clinton remains extremely unpopular in the State. Then he explained to voters how he was the author of a tobacco buyout program which was very popular in that State. His campaign peaked at precisely the right time for a four-point victory. The National Republican Senatorial Committee said this could be done all along, but without God’s guidance, I’m not sure how everything could line up just right to make it happen.
The most amazing race in the South was Louisiana. The State had not sent a Republican Senator to Washington since the Gilded Age. Louisiana has a unique system whereby all candidates, regardless of party, run together. If no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, a runoff would have taken place on December 5th. Two House Districts will have runoff elections in that State on December 5th. We won’t know the final composition of the House until those elections take place. Congressman David Vitter (the State legislator who was elected to Congress to take Bob Livingston’s place when he resigned over a self-inflicted scandal just as he was about to become Speaker of the House) ran as the only GOP candidate. The Democrats had several, the most important of whom was Congressman Chris John. In extensive interviews with observers on all sides, I could not find anyone (even the most partisan Republican) to say that this race would be won without a runoff. The expectation was that there would be a Vitter-John runoff. Republicans were nervous about a runoff as well. They lost a Senate runoff in 2002 and a Governorship in 2003. Both times Republicans came close but did not win. They told me privately that, although Vitter was an excellent candidate, they were not sure they could win a runoff in which the Democrats could concentrate all of their resources in a single location. They need not have worried. Vitter won outright with 51.5%. I spoke with a pro-family activist in the State who said prayer groups had been organized to intercede with the Lord to ask Him for that kind of victory. The Lord heard and answered their prayer.
Perhaps the most important victory from a national standpoint came early Wednesday morning in South Dakota. That was when former Congressman John Thune declared victory over Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. God, being the author of life, had an interest in that race. Daschle not only voted against pro-life issues every chance he had, but in 2002 he signed a fund-raising letter for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the most radical of the pro-death groups. That letter caused one of the Roman Catholic Bishops to tell Daschle that he should no longer call himself a Catholic. Daschle claimed that Thune had a character problem because he said the Minority Leader was pro-abortion. Thune then produced the NARAL letter.
The same thing happened on the issue of same-sex marriage. Daschle blasted Thune for saying that Daschle favored same-sex marriage. Thune then produced the vote upon which Daschle led the filibuster against the Constitutional Amendment which would have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
My South Dakota expert, Dr. Allen Unruh, told me that Thune ran a near-perfect campaign, the best Republican campaign South Dakota ever witnessed. Unruh said that for the first time the real Tom Daschle was finally exposed to South Dakota voters.
Daschle was the architect of the strategy to filibuster the President’s judicial nominees and many sub-cabinet appointees, as well as several legislative issues, such as the energy bill. The defeat of Daschle, along with the addition of four new conservative Senators, may well mean the end of the filibuster-everything strategy. Senators looking at Daschle’s scalp hanging up on the wall may well think, “I don’t want to be up there next.”
Thune is a strong Christian. He fits South Dakota better than any recent Senator. His 500-plus loss in 2002 to Senator Tim Johnson turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Thune graciously conceded, even though there was ample evidence that the election had been stolen. He did not put the State through a difficult recount and criminal investigation. That set him up perfectly for the run against Daschle. A victory against Tim Johnson would have been nice, although Johnson has lived in Daschle’s shadow. Almost no one has heard of him outside of his State. But the defeat of Daschle is an extraordinarily important victory.
The Lord knows better what is best for us. That was the attitude of Thune when he lost in 2002. The Lord rewarded that faithfulness.
Finally, a word needs to be said about the victory of former Congressman Tom Coburn in Oklahoma. He won by a comfortable majority for the seat being vacated by four-term Senator Don Nickles.
Mike Schwartz took a leave of absence from Concerned Women for America to run the race. Schwartz is an alumnus of the Free Congress Foundation. Also lending expert advice to the campaign was R. Marc Nuttle. Nuttle is also a Free Congress alumnus. A great deal of credit also goes to Neil Bradley, who is a policy advisor to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. (Blunt’s 33 year old son, by the way, was elected Governor of Missouri in this election.) A former Coburn staffer, Bradley oversaw the Coburn race from beginning to end. Without his wise counsel, I’m not sure Coburn would have made it.
On the other hand, I don’t want to take anything away from Coburn, who is an excellent candidate. He is so honest and truthful that he tends to get into trouble in this politically correct society.
Coburn was opposed by Congressman Brad Carson (D-OK). Carson took Coburn’s place when he kept his word and retired after three terms. Again the right to life became an issue in this campaign. It is complicated but Carson actually claimed that he was the pro-life candidate and Coburn was the pro-abortion candidate. Oklahoma Right to Life went crazy. They said Carson’s effort to paint the very principled Dr. Coburn as being pro-abortion was the single most deceptive statement they had ever seen since the issue was thrust onto the political scene more than 30 years ago.
Again, the Lord, being the author of all life, oversaw this race. After that episode, Carson who at one point was five points ahead of Coburn, began to fade. He was a genuine hopeful for the Democrats. His lies did him in.
Here is one final word about the race which should have been won, Pete Coors vs. Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar. There were many factors in this race which made it an uphill climb for Coors, whom I have known for 34 years. He is a fine man. Unfortunately he never connected with social-issue conservatives.
Former Congressman Bob Schaffer ran a spirited campaign against Coors in the primary on values issues. Schaeffer lost but received close to 40% of the vote. Schaffer helped Coors and even campaigned with him but Coors was not known by the values voters in suburban Denver, where the race was lost. Twice an effort was made to get Coors to meet with the leadership of the social conservatives. Coors himself was all for it. However, as sometimes happens in a campaign, a key meeting opportunity did not take place. That was by no means the only factor but I can’t stop wondering whether Coors might have won the race had he tried to connect more effectively with values voters. I fear God was not in this race as much as others although Pete Coors is 100% pro-life. Hopefully he learned something from this campaign.
Already there is speculation that Coors will run for office again. Perhaps for Governor in 2006 when Governor Bill Owens will probably not run for re-election, or perhaps in 2008 should Senator Wayne Allard step down, which is unlikely. I really feel very badly about this election. It is one, I believe, which could have been won. The Coors family are good folks, even though some members on occasion will give in to pressure. What is done is done. Salazar painted himself as a moderate Democrat. We’ll see how he actually behaves.
This was a remarkable set of races. I could comment on others as well. Now it will be up to the majority leadership to produce on values issues. They can begin by seeing to it that Arlen Specter is not the Chairman of Judiciary. His threats to the President, telling him not to send pro-life judges to be considered, were outrageous. He has now back-peddled on those comments. But let us recall that the Pittsburgh Post Gazette endorsed him for re-election on the grounds that he would keep pro-life judges off of the Supreme Court. Pro-life George Bush and pro-life Senator Rick Santorum saved Arlen Specter in his primary. Heavy use of their voices on Christian radio was the key to the narrow, narrow victory over Congressman Pat Toomey. This is how Specter repays those who saved his political life. If values voters, through their groups in Washington, tolerate this, they deserve to have what they will get. That is not tolerable. We will see how much these victorious values-centered campaigns will mean. And we may see it almost immediately. Meanwhile, there is tremendous pressure on Senator Specter, which he deserves.