WASHINGTON — Democrats pressed toward their goal of regaining control of the Senate on Tuesday night, seizing leads in three key races where Republicans held Senate seats.
All three networks and the Associated Press named Gov. Bob Graham the victor over Sen. Paula Hawkins in Florida. ABC, NBC and CBS also said Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) won the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Charles McC. Mathias.
Former Democratic Gov. Terry Sanford apparently defeated Sen. James T. Broyhill of North Carolina, CBS and NBC reported, based on surveys taken as voters left polling places. ABC reported Sanford leading with 52.3% to 47.6% with 7.9% of the vote tabulated.
Expected to Win
Graham and Mikulski were expected to win, but the early projection of their victories, coupled with Sanford's possible triumph in what had been seen as a close race, buoyed Democratic hopes for overturning the GOP's 53-47 margin in the Senate.
Republicans continued to count on strong showings in close races in Western states to pull them through.
Further fueling Democratic hopes, exit polls nationwide showed Democrats turning out at the polls in substantially greater numbers than Republicans.
And early returns gave little comfort to the GOP as it struggled to reduce the Democrats' substantial margins in the House of Representatives and among the nation's governors.
In Florida, Graham ran strongly among liberals and moderates and carried the men's vote by roughly 12 percentage points and the women's vote by 10 percentage points, according to NBC, which projected Graham would poll 56% of the vote to Hawkins' 44%.
Mikulski was running strongly against Linda Chavez, a former White House aide and one-time U.S. Civil Rights Commission official. ABC projected Mikulski to get 55.4% to Chavez's 44.5%.
Chavez ran one of the most negative campaigns in a year marked by such stumping: She described the Maryland congresswoman as "a San Francisco Democrat," emphasized that Mikulski was single, accused her of being "anti-male" and challenged her to "come out of the closet" and debate.
In Missouri, NBC projected that former Gov. Christopher S. Bond would wrest a seat from the Democrats by besting Democratic Lt. Gov. Harriet Woods in the race for the seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Thomas F. Eagleton.
Close Georgia Battle
In other crucial Senate battles, Republican Sen. Mack Mattingly of Georgia was locked in a close battle with Democratic Rep. Wyche Fowler Jr. and Republican freshman Sen. Jeremiah Denton of Alabama was narrowly leading Democratic Rep. Richard C. Shelby.
Republican incumbents who appeared headed for victory, according to early returns, were Dan Quayle of Indiana, Bob Dole of Kansas, Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire, Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
Among Democrats, early returns strongly indicated reelection for incumbents Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Alan J. Dixon of Illinois, John Glenn of Ohio, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky.
President Reagan campaigned extensively for Sens. Hawkins and Broyhill and other Republican senators who faced serious challenges. Exit polls indicated that although voters still supported the President, they were not swayed by his entreaties to vote for Republican candidates as a way of casting a final vote for him.
Florida voters, for example, gave Reagan a 64% approval rating, according to CBS exit polls, but Hawkins' final vote was expected to be at least 20 percentage points less than that.
Few dramatic changes were expected in the lopsidedly Democratic House, where most incumbents faced relatively mild challenges and almost 70 congressmen had no opposition at all. Both parties had focused most of their attention on a few key battlegrounds, most notably in the South, where the bulk of Republican gains had come during Reagan's landslide reelection two years ago.
The Democrats held a 253-182 advantage in the House going into the election and party officials insisted that they expected to pick up an additional 10 or 12 seats Tuesday.
In South Carolina, Democrats appeared in early returns to be making a strong showing. In the congressional district that had been held by Republican gubernatorial nominee Carroll A. Campbell Jr., the underdog Democrat, State Sen. Elizabeth Patterson, was holding a strong lead over Greenville Mayor William D. Workman. Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Floyd Spence was locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Fred Zeigler. Democrats had also sought gains in the economically depressed farm states, but many GOP incumbents had moved early to distance themselves from unpopular Reagan Administration programs and Democrats were hobbled by widespread uncertainty about where blame for agriculture's ingrained problems should be placed.