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Narrow Margins Predominate In 2002 Congressional Elections

The Washington Post -- WASHINGTON

The most competitive midterm election in half a century raced toward conclusion Monday with Republicans running uphill in their bid to retake control of the Senate and Democrats struggling to avoid losing seats to the GOP majority in the House.

President Bush, his personal prestige heavily invested in the outcome of Tuesday’s balloting, blitzed through four states with competitive House and Senate contests as both parties prepared the most extensive get-out-the-vote operations seen in any recent off-year contest.

Nine Senate races -- four held by the Democrats and five by the GOP -- remained in doubt on the next-to-last day of an election in which small shifts will produce a dramatic impact on the balance of power in Washington during the final two years of Bush’s first term. In the House, Democrats will need to win an overwhelming percentage of the close races to gain the six seats necessary to take back the majority for the first time since 1994, with Republicans speaking more confidently about making history by gaining seats.

All 435 House seats are up for re-election this year, along with 34 of the 100 Senate seats. There are 36 gubernatorial elections at stake, with Republicans likely to lose the majority they have enjoyed in the statehouses since the 1994 landslide election.

With so many close races and the expectation that only a few seats will change hands in the House and Senate, Election 2002 appeared likely to become a reaffirmation of the 50-50 split within the country that produced the deadlocked election of 2000.

In the Senate races, strategists in both parties said Arkansas was the most probable candidate for a Democratic pickup, with Missouri as the likeliest gain for the GOP. Other Republican vulnerabilities include Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Texas. The other vulnerable Democratic seats include South Dakota, Minnesota, Georgia and Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu needs to win 50 percent to avoid a Dec. 7 runoff.