"This is Hubert Humphrey," the caller said last Friday afternoon. My head was swirling with the news of Sen. Paul Wellstone's death and the rumor that Walter Mondale might be making a comeback. So with my brain squarely focused on the '70s, it started to seem plausible that HHH might well be on the phone.
It turned out to be the former senator's grandson, Hubert III, now running for Minnesota Secretary of State, calling to tell us that his dad, Hubert II (aka Skip), was flying back from Rome and would be available for "Face the Nation." By Sunday, it was clear that Fritz Mondale would indeed be back in the saddle. After all, at 74, he was four years younger than Frank Lautenberg, who had answered the New Jersey Democratic Party's call a month earlier. So how could Fritz refuse?
The Democratic bench was deep, but the Republicans came up with a blast from the past, too. Newt Gingrich come out of hiding to become the lead attack dog (what else?) on Mondale, throwing out the idea that the former vice president, who the GOP was gearing up to bash as an old fashioned tax 'n' spend liberal, was for privatizing Social Security.
That's how the week started. By week's end, we had seen the spectacle of Paul Wellstone's memorial being turned into a wild political rally. And Republican candidate Norm Coleman going back on the campaign trail by giving interviews in front of the same type of plane in which Wellstone was killed. (The Republicans say the "Today Show" made him do it!)
Campaign 2002 started out of kilter and never seemed to find its groove. A record-breaking $1 billion has been spent on political advertising – ads which have been more meaningless than harsh. My colleague Walter Shapiro has dubbed this the "Seinfeld campaign" – the campaign about nothing. Democratic pollster Peter Hart says the only thing this campaign has been about, is that it's "close."
Well, close it is. As we enter the final weekend, a time when we usually reduce the number of toss-up races, we're about to add a few more.
It now looks like instead of six races that the public polls and campaign sources believe could go either way, there are now nine. This week, Georgia and North Carolina both came into what campaign consultants call the "danger zone," while Texas, which looked like it was becoming safe for the Republicans, was back in play. That's in addition to previous toss-ups in Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota. There's also Louisiana to keep an eye on; Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is hovering just under the 50 percent she needs to avoid a run-off on Dece. 7.
Here's a look at how the 34 Senates races stack up:
Strong Democrat (7): Delaware - BIDEN (D) vs. Clatworthy (R), Illinois - DURBIN (D) vs. Durkin (R), Massachusetts - KERRY (D) has no GOP opponent, Michigan - LEVIN (D) vs. Raczikowski (R), Montana - BAUCUS (D) vs. Taylor (R), Rhode Island - REED (D) vs. Tingle (R), West Virginia - ROCKEFELLER (D) vs. Wolfe (R).
Likely Democrat (0)
Lean Democrat (3): Iowa - HARKIN (D) vs. Ganske (R), Louisiana - LANDRIEU (D) vs. Three GOP Opponents, New Jersey - Lautenberg (D) vs. Forrester (R).
Toss-Up (9): Arkansas - HUTCHINSON (R) vs. Pryor (D), Colorado - ALLARD (R) vs. Stricland (D), Georgia - CLELAND (D) vs. Chambliss (R), Minnesota - Mondale (D) vs. Coleman (R), Missouri - CARNAHAN (D) vs. Talent (R), New Hampshire - Shaheen (D) vs. Sununu (R), North Carolina - Bowles (D) vs. Dole (R), South Dakota - JOHNSON (D) vs. Thune (R), Texas - Kirk (D) vs. Cornyn (R).
Lean Republican (3): Oregon - SMITH (R) vs. Bradbury (D), South Carolina - Sanders (D) vs. Graham (R), Tennessee - Clement (D) vs. Alexander (R).
Likely Republican (1): Maine - COLLINS (R) vs. Pingree (D).
Strong Republican (11): Alabama - SESSIONS (R) vs. Parker (D), Alaska - STEVENS (R) vs. Vondersaar (D), Idaho - CRAIG (R) vs. Blinken (D), Kansas - ROBERTS (R) has no Democratic opponent, Kentucky - MCCONELL (R) vs. Weinberg (D), Mississippi - COCHRAN (R) has no Democratic opponent, Nebraska - HAGEL (R) vs. Matulka (D), New Mexico - DOMENICI (R) vs. Tristani (D), Oklahoma - INHOFE (R) vs. Walters (D), Virginia - WARNER (R) has no Democratic opponent, Wyoming - ENZI (R) vs. Corcoran (D).
These campaigns have actually been more "normal" than the congressional contests.. Governors have specific mandates and voters are usually more pragmatic than ideological in making their choices about state and local leaders. Policy positions on issues like taxes, roads, schools, and the environment have direct consequences in voters' lives.
This year, Democrats are in particularly strong position to pick up a number of governor's seats, not because there's a liberal wave sweeping the country but because the Republican dominance of the statehouses in the '90s appears to be giving way to natural desire for change. The budget shortfalls that have affected most of the states are one factor hurting the incumbent party, and the Democrats have come up with particularly strong candidates in a number of states. There are 10 women running in nine states; in Hawaii both the Republican and Democratic candidates are female.
Here's a look at the gubernatorial contests:
Strong Democrat (1): Michigan - Granholm (D) vs. Posthumus (R).
Likely Democrat (5): California - DAVIS (D) vs. Simon (R) vs. Camejo (Green), Georgia - BARNES (D) vs. Perdue (R), Illinois - Blagojevich (D) vs. Ryan (R), New Mexico - Richardson (D) vs. Sanchez (R), Pennsylvania - Rendell (D) vs. Fisher (R).
Lean Democrat (4): Kansas - Sebelius (D) vs. Shallenburger (R), Maine – Baldacci (D) vs. Cianchette (R) vs. Carter (Green) vs. Michael (Independent), Oregon - Kulongoski (D) vs. Mannix (R), Rhode Island - York (D) vs. Carcieri (R).
Toss-Up (15): Alabama - SIEGELMAN (D) vs. Riley (R), Alaska - Ulmer (D) vs. Murkowski (R), Arkansas - HUCKABEE (R) vs. Fisher (D), Arizona - Napolitano (D) vs. Salmon (R) vs. Mahoney (Independent), Iowa - VILSACK (D) vs. Gross (R) vs. Robinson (Green), Florida - BUSH (R) vs. McBride (D), Hawaii - Hirono (D) vs. Lingle (R), Maryland - Townsend (D) vs. Ehrlich (R), Massachusetts - O'Brien (D) vs. Romney (R) vs. Stein (Green) vs. Howell (Libertarian), Minnesota - Moe (D) vs. Pawlenty (R) vs. Penny (Independence) vs. Pentel (Green), South Carolina - HODGES (D) vs. Sanford (R), Tennessee - Bredesen (D) vs. Hilleary (R). Vermont - Racine (D) vs. Douglas (R) vs. Hogan (Independent), Wisconsin - McCALLUM (R) vs. Doyle (D) vs. Thompson (Libertarian), Wyoming - Freudenthal (D) vs. Bebout (R).
Lean Republican (4): Connecticut - ROWLAND (R) vs. Curry (D), New Hampshire - Fernald (D) vs. Benson (R), South Dakota - Abbott (D) vs. Rounds (R), Texas - PERRY (R) vs. Sanchez (D).
Likely Republican (2): New York - PATAKI (R) vs. McCall (D) vs. Golisano (Independence), Oklahoma - Henry (D) vs. Largent (R) vs. Richardson (Independent).
Strong Republican (5): Colorado - OWENS (R) vs. Heath (D), Idaho - KEMPTHORNE (R) vs. Brady (D), Nebraska - JOHANNS (R) vs. Dean (D), Nevada - GUINN (R) vs. Neal (D), Ohio - TAFT (R) vs. Hagan (D).
All year long the two parties have focused on about 50 of the 435 House races. And coming into the final weekend, CBS News believes that 38 contests are still competitive.
Our take now is that 207 Republican seats are strong for or likely to go to the Republicans, 190 strong for or likely to go to the Democrats, 14 lean Republican, 10 lean Democratic and 14 toss-ups. This would put the GOP in good position not only to retain control of the House but to pick up seats.
If all the 14 races now leaning Republican went their way, they'd have 221 seats; and if three of the 14 toss-up contests went their way, they'd be on their way to the history books. Only in 1934 and 1998 did the White House incumbent's party pick up seats in a midterm election.
So we're about to bid farewell to Campaign 2002. But the campaign that never found its groove may still take a few twists and turns. An election in which more and more people voted early may wind up being characterized by lengthy and litigious counting.