On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2002, an estimated 39 percent of voting-age citizens turned out to the polls in elections across the nation. With all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 seats in the Senate, and 36 state governorships as well as various local officials up for election, this year’s election has shaped up to be one of the most important mid-term elections in recent years.
Here in Wisconsin, the most tightly contested race at the state level was the race for governor. For the first time in nearly two decades, this gubernatorial race saw the absence of Tommy Thompson, who resigned his position to join George W. Bush’s cabinet as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The major party candidates, Democrat Jim Doyle and Republican Scott McCallum, ran a race that turned very negative as Election Day approached.
The major issue, according to Christian Grose, professor of government at Lawrence, was the budget and taxes. Wisconsin faces a three billion dollar deficit and a lagging economy.
Both McCallum and Doyle ran with promises not to raise taxes. In fact, the two candidates were running on very similar platforms, a fact that may have contributed to the negativity of the campaign. As a way to distinguish themselves from one another, the two began to increase the mudslinging as the margins in the polls began to shrink.
McCallum quickly latched onto a recent bingo party at a home for mentally ill residents that was sponsored by a Doyle volunteer. McCallum claimed that the party was an attempt to bribe the patients to vote for Doyle.
McCallum also alleged that the party violated election regulations. This allegation was dismissed because the prosecutor said that he would be unable to prove any violations beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Democrats accused McCallum of using a state plane for campaigning and of having aides campaign for McCallum on state time.
When the votes were tallied Tuesday night, Doyle came out ahead with 45 percent to McCallum’s 41 percent. Ed Thompson, Libertarian and brother of Tommy Thompson, garnered 11 percent.
With the Senate split — 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 independents — and in the House the Republicans clinging to a slim 11-seat majority, the control of the legislature was up for grabs for both sides.
After the election, there are now 51 Republicans and 46 Democrats, making President Bush only the third president of the 20th century to see gains in his respective party in the midterm election. The other two were Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 and Bill Clinton in 1998.
Minnesota saw a rather unusual race shape up in the last days of the campaign, due to the tragic death of the incumbent senator, Paul Wellstone. Governor Jesse Ventura appointed Independent Dean Barkley to fill the temporary vacancy, as is required if the Senate is in session.
Longtime politician Walter Mondale replaced Wellstone on the ballot. The vigil that Wellstone supporters held in remembrance of the late Senator turned into a full-blown political rally. According to Grose, this fact might have created a backlash against the Democrats. Mondale lost the Senate race to former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman, 48 to 50 percent.
Of particular concern to students at Lawrence was the problem the Minnesota situation created for absentee voters. If absentee voters had voted for Wellstone before his death, they could request a new ballot and, if they could return it to Minnesota election officials before the voting deadline, their new vote would be counted.
Also of interest was the Minnesota Gubernatorial race, in which Republican Tim Pawlenty beat out Democrat Roger Moe and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny. Penny, the candidate from Governor Jesse Ventura’s party, tailed off late after a strong showing early.
The Illinois gubernatorial race pitted Republican Jim Ryan against Democrat Rod Blagojevich. The race was marked by true Chicago politics, with barbs traded over Blagojevich’s Chicago connections and Ryan’s role in overturned capital cases in Illinois. In the end, Blagojevich pulled ahead with 52 percent to Ryan’s 45 percent.
Another Illinois race that attracted attention was the attorney general race, which pitted Republican Joe Birkett against Democrat Lisa Madigan. Birkett was accused of being part of the DuPage County Republican administration that was connected to the “licenses for bribes” scandal, and Madigan was accused of being part of “Chicago politics.”
Madigan beat out Birkett for the position.
Blagojevich and Doyle’s wins follow Grose’s predictions for the Midwestern states with sizable industrial bases. He said, “Retiring Republicans are creating openings for the Democrats” in the races for governor. Michigan also followed this trend, with Jennifer Granholm taking the gubernatorial victory.