In a ceremony more somber than celebratory, former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller was sworn in Thursday to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Paul Coverdell.
Prior to taking the oath from Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the president pro tem, Miller watched from the gallery as senators eulogized Coverdell.
Miller's first floor speech was dominated by memories of his Republican predecessor. The new Democratic senator acknowledged the emotional response by senators last week when word spread that one of their colleagues had died.
"I thank you for your words, your tears and your testimonies for one of Georgia's finest sons," said Miller, who was lieutenant governor when Coverdell was a state senator. "You who served with Paul knew him well. I served with Paul and knew him well also."
Coverdell's unexpected death July 18 following a stroke made for a low-key swearing-in ceremony. Fellow senators welcomed Miller warmly, applauding lightly after he officially became the state's junior senator, cutting the Republican majority to 54-46.
"He knows we have heavy hearts," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "We appreciate the way he has approached this already. He is one of our colleagues."
"I will serve no single political party, but rather seven-and-a-half million Georgians," Miller said. "And every day I serve, I will do my best to do so in the same spirit of dignity, integrity and bipartisan cooperation that were the hallmarks of Paul Coverdell's career."
Miller, carrying a Bible, was escorted into the chamber by fellow Georgia Democrat Max Cleland.
After the oath, senators lined up to shake his hand.
Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Coverdell and Miller have many similarities, despite their political differences. "Like Paul Coverdell, Zell Miller builds bridges, not walls," Daschle said, adding that Miller "didn't seek this job. In fact, he didn't want it."
There were a few procedural votes scheduled on the Senate calendar Thursday, and Miller said he was thankful no enormous measures were being considered during his debut. The Senate goes into a monthlong recess Friday, giving the newcomer a chance to catch up on policy matters.
"One of the things I admired about Sen. Coverdell was he was always prepared," Miller said in a brief news conference after posing for cameras in the old Senate chamber. "I need a little more preparation. I'm the new kid on the block here, and I know that."
But even before his swearing-in, Miller was introduced to Washington's fund-raising scene. A full room attended a breakfast to raise money for his campaign for the Nov. 7 special election, which will determine whether Miller or somebody else will serve out the remaining four years of Coverdell's term.
Fellow Georgia Democrat Max Cleland, who also attended the fund-raiser, said Miler is under a time crunch to prepare for an expensive campaign.
"He's got 100 days, and then it's the election," Cleland said.
When Miller arrived in Washington Wednesday night, six of Georgia's eight GOP congressmen were meeting to try to reach a consensus on who should oppose him.
Republicans are trying to make sure they don't have multiple candidates on the ballot, which is open to anyone who submits the $4,100 filing fee.