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BOSTON--Victories by a deceased governor and the current first lady paced the Democratic drive to make significant gains in the Senate, but Democrats fell short of retaking either house of Congress.
Running virtually unopposed, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.) won his reelection battle with ease, but fellow Democratic candidates faced more difficult challenges.
In perhaps the most remarkable victory of the evening, Missouri's recently deceased Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan defeated Republican incumbent John Ashcroft in a very close race. The new Democratic governor of the state is likely to appoint Carnahan's wife Jean to serve in his place.
Democrats also picked up a seat in Delaware, when Thomas Carper, the state's popular governor, defeated five-term incumbent William Roth.
And in New York, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic candidate, preserved the seat for her party by defeating Republican Rick A. Lazio after a bruising campaign.
The GOP won an important victory in Virginia, when former governor George Allen unseated Democratic incumbent Chuck Robb. Both candidates spent millions campaigning, as Republicans felt Robb was the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection.
Overall, Democrats increased their previous 46-person voting bloc in the Senate by at least three seats, but not by enough seats to take control of the Senate.
One race, between Michigan Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham and Democratic challenger Debbie Stabenow, was too close to call at press time, but the Democratic total will not exceed 50 seats.
The House of Representatives will also remain safely in the Republican camp.
The GOP won key elections in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, while the Democrats countered with a pick-up in Oklahoma.
Republicans managed to defend tightly contested House seats in Florida, particularly in the Eighth District, which pitted Republican Ric Keller against Democrat Linda Chapin.
'You're Still the One'
With his reelection never in doubt, Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, relaxed and enjoyed the gala event in his honor last night, a buoyant celebration in Boston's Copley Plaza hotel, complete with local political bigwigs, free-flowing alcohol, bagpipes and hordes of Kennedy siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Despite facing a tough battle in 1994, Kennedy won this election to his seventh term in office overwhelmingly, running against much weaker opponents in a state known nationwide as a bastion of liberalism.
His primary challenger, Republican Jack E. Robinson III, lost the support of the state and national Republican organizations after a series of campaign mishaps and embarrassing personal revelations. Robinson ran the final months of the campaign with no staffers, no headquarters and few donations, making Kennedy's victory a virtual surety.
Robinson received 14 percent of the vote, while Libertarian candidate Carla Howell received 13 percent.
"The best way that I can thank you and all of the millions of Massachusetts people who voted for me is to be the best United States senator, and that I pledge to be," Kennedy told the cheering crowd last night.
Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, Edward Kennedy's nephew and campaign manager, served as the master of ceremonies for a parade of speakers that included some of the state's most prominent political leaders, including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Maxwell Kennedy joked that he was "throwing caution to the wind" in predicting a victory for his uncle, whom he lauded as "the man who I admire more than any other living human being [and] the greatest senator in the history of the world."
Menino praised Kennedy's commitment to the people of the state, especially those in the working class.
"He's been a tireless worker for all of us," Menino said. "On health care, housing, all those issues that affect people's lives."
Kerry, who often works closely with Kennedy, spoke of his colleague's fearlessness and tenacity in the Senate.
"Time and time again, when the floor of the United States Senate is crowded with those who want to destroy the environment...it is Ted Kennedy who comes to the floor to fight the good fight," Kerry said.
Kerry thanked the crowd of supporters for making history with their votes, returning Kennedy to Washington for his 39th year in office.
"You have sent Kennedy back to the Senate for the longest tour of duty in Massachusetts history," he said.
Following a parade of Kennedy's nieces, nephews, children and grandchildren, as well as his sister Patricia Kennedy, his son, Teddy Jr., introduced the 68 year-old senator as the song "You're Still the One" came over the loudspeakers.
After thanking his supporters, Kennedy delivered a traditional stump speech, touching on the progressive themes that have made him a favorite in his home state.
"I will fight for the working families of the middle class," Kennedy said. "I want to return to the Senate because we have a lot to do to protect the environment, defend civil rights...[and] raise the minimum wage."
Kennedy said maintaining a growing economy will be his first priority, but also said he would fight to pass campaign finance reform, a patients' bill of rights and a prescription drug plan.
The party brought together a broad coalition of Kennedy supporters. Campaign workers mingled with college students and local residents.
R. Delores Collins, a 50 year-old resident of Roxbury, attended after she received a phone invitation from Kennedy's campaign staff.
"He's been in office most of my life," she said. "He has his good points--he works for the common person."
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