Features

The home stretch

Politics | A dozen states hold primary elections, setting up a crucial November

Issue: "The Road to Damascus," Sept. 21, 2002

PHOENIX, Ariz.—Nobody expected Sept. 10 to be a big night for parties in Phoenix. On the eve of a grim anniversary, who would really want to celebrate anything? Even the skies reinforced the general gloom, blowing in a blinding storm just as thousands of commuters started their evening rush hour.

But Matt Salmon's supporters were determined to party. Arizona was one of 12 states to hold primaries on Sept. 10, marking the busiest voting day of the year thus far. Mr. Salmon, the former two-term congressman now making a bid for governor, had endured a bruising primary battle against Betsey Bayless, secretary of state and a protégé of maverick Sen. John McCain. If Mr. Salmon could pull off a win, his supporters were going to celebrate regardless of the calendar or the weather.

They didn't have to wait long. On a day when low turnout magnified the power of the GOP's conservative wing, Mr. Salmon swamped his more moderate opponent by better than 20 points. Come November, he'll face Janet Napolitano, state attorney general, in what promises to be one of the closest gubernatorial races in the country.

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If there was a party scheduled at Janet Reno's headquarters in Florida, it was put on hold-much like the election itself. Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno found herself battling both a wealthy lawyer and the state's notorious voting machines in her bid to become governor. Bill McBride, her little-known challenger, came on strong in the campaign's final weeks after many Democratic pros decided he stood a better chance of defeating incumbent Jeb Bush in November. Although Ms. Reno trailed narrowly most of the night, she hinted at a possible court challenge after ballot machines malfunctioned across the state and hundreds of voters reportedly were turned away from the polls.

Another Clinton alumnus, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, had an easier time than Ms. Reno. After securing the Democratic nod on Tuesday, he's set to face former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, who swept a crowded Republican field vying to replace retiring Sen. Jesse Helms in North Carolina.

Not all the famous names were so successful, however. In Maryland, two Kennedys experienced different outcomes. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend easily won the Democratic nomination for governor, while a cousin, Mark Shriver, lost a close primary for the vulnerable House seat now held by GOP Rep. Connie Morella.

The Kennedys weren't the only political dynasty that suffered a defeat on Tuesday. In Arizona, rancher Morris Udall couldn't win a Democratic nomination for Congress despite having one of the most famous last names in the state. (The Udall clan has produced four congressmen, a secretary of the interior, a solicitor general, two Arizona chief justices, and two mayors of Phoenix.)

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a longtime conservative icon, lost his gubernatorial primary bid to Craig Benson, a millionaire businessman who was criticized for his past support of Democratic candidates. A still bigger upset came in New Hampshire's Senate primary, where Rep. John Sununu, whose father was chief of staff to the first President Bush, ousted incumbent Sen. Bob Smith. Mr. Smith, an outspoken conservative, angered the GOP faithful when he briefly bolted the party in 1999 to run for president as an independent. He returned to the fold in a matter of weeks, but many Republicans in New Hampshire never forgave his defection. He becomes the first incumbent senator in a decade to lose a primary race.

Several candidates featured in earlier WORLD articles also were on the ballot Tuesday. In Madison, Wis., evangelical pastor and former firefighter Ron Greer easily defeated his primary opponent, Phil Alfonsi. The win sets up a November brawl with Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian member of the House. Mr. Greer first rose to national prominence in 1998 when his complaints about alleged lesbian favoritism ended in his being fired from the Madison Fire Department.

In Arizona's newly created first congressional district, an area nearly the size of Pennsylvania, conservative commentator Sydney Hay lost to insurance executive Rick Renzi, who spent more than $500,000 of his own money convincing voters that his recent move from Virginia didn't make him a carpetbagger.

And in New Hampshire, state Rep. Jeb Bradley pulled off a surprise win in the state's more conservative congressional district-surprising because he supports tax increases, abortion, and needle-exchange programs. Businessman Sean Mahoney and state Rep. Fran Wendelboe largely split the conservative vote.

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