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Democrats Take the Election Prize: A 55-45 Majority in Senate

November 06, 1986|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party, finally emerging from beneath the long shadow of Ronald Reagan, took firm control of the Senate and strengthened its grip on the House of Representatives, according to all-but-final returns from Tuesday's elections.

The Democrats, gaining eight Senate seats, turned the Republicans' 53-47 edge into their own 55-45 majority. And they strengthened their 253-180 stranglehold on the House by adding from six to nine new seats, depending on recounts and absentee ballots.

GOP Gained Governerships

Only in the governors' races, where the GOP captured a net eight seats and narrowed the Democratic margin from a lopsided 34 to 16 to a razor-thin 26 to 24, could the Republicans find much comfort.

But the Senate, where Reagan focused his personal campaigning, was the real prize of the election. Its loss was a serious blow to the President's chances of accomplishing much in Congress during his final two years.

Democrats accomplished their stunning takeover by winning all six of the closest contests.

Rep. Richard C. Shelby ousted Sen. Jeremiah Denton in Alabama by barely 11,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast, with both candidates receiving about 50% of the vote. Five other Democratic Senate candidates collected 51% of the vote.

Altogether, Democrats won nine seats occupied by the Republicans in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington. As final returns were tabulated, Shelby and Kent Conrad, the Democratic state tax commissioner who defeated freshman Sen. Mark Andrews in North Dakota, were the la1936990324winners.

In the only Republican gain of a Democratic-held seat, former Gov. Christopher S. Bond defeated Lt. Gov. Harriet Woods in the race for the seat of retiring Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri.

For the Democrats, the Senate election returns erased much of the damage they suffered in 1980, when, in the Reagan landslide, 12 Republicans won formerly Democratic seats.

Of those 12 freshman Republicans, five were reelected Tuesday and six were defeated. The 12th freshman, John P. East of North Carolina, committed suicide earlier this year, and his appointed successor, James T. Broyhill, also fell victim to the Democratic rout.

Gains in South, West

Democrats scored particularly heavily in the South and West, where the President had won his most overwhelming victories in 1980 and 1984. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, Democrats wrested Senate seats from GOP freshmen in Florida and Georgia.

Even former President Jimmy Carter, one of the most unpopular presidents of the 20th Century when he returned to Georgia in 1981 after being crushed in the Reagan landslide, could take comfort in returns from Tuesday's election.

Brock Adams, who served as Carter's transportation secretary, ousted freshman Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in Washington, and Cecil D. Andrus, who served as Carter's interior secretary, was elected Idaho's governor over Republican Gov. David H. Leroy.

Moreover, Florida Gov. Bob Graham, who nominated Carter for reelection at the 1980 Democratic convention only to have that act used against him in his Senate campaign this year, defeated Republican Sen. Paula Hawkins. And Carter's help in bringing out the black vote and lining up the support of his own political operatives was considered a key in Rep. Wyche Fowler Jr.'s narrow victory over Republican Sen. Mack Mattingly in Georgia.

Carter was "ecstatic," said Georgia associate Terry Adamson, when he learned of the election results Wednesday during a telephone call from Afghanistan, where a foundation he heads has started an agricultural aid project.

No Unifying Campaign Issue

Although the campaign lacked a unifying issue, a troubled farm economy turned out to be a common threat to some Republicans senators. It was considered a key to Conrad's victory over Andrews in North Dakota and to Rep. Thomas A. Daschle's victory over freshman Republican Sen. James Abdnor in South Dakota.

At the same time, however, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley won reelection with two-thirds of the vote after distancing himself from Reagan's farm policies. And Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas took 70% of the vote in his bid for a fourth term.

Incumbent Reelection Rate

In contests for the 435 House seats, incumbents won reelection at the highest rate in 40 years. Of 392 incumbents seeking reelection, only one--Rep. Mark D. Siljander (R-Mich.)--was defeated in a primary. And only seven or eight lost Tuesday; Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.) was clinging to a 211-vote lead over Democratic challenger Collin C. Peterson.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Robert A. Young of Missouri, was defeated. The 98% success rate for incumbents compared with a 91% average in the 40 years since World War II.

In addition to Stangeland's district in Minnesota, other races with razor-thin margins included:

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