Seven New Faces

  • Share
  • Read Later

A Slick Whip Moves Up

This bastion of the old Confederacy has been so willing to re-elect incumbents that Congressman Trent Lott campaigned for the Senate by reminding voters of the seriousness of the occasion: "This is only the second time in 40 years that Mississippi has elected a ((new)) Senator." To replace Democrat John Stennis, 87, who is retiring after 41 years in the office, the smooth, natty Lott won a tight race against a contrastingly folksy Democratic Congressman, Wayne Dowdy. Lott's victory gives the state two G.O.P. Senators for the first time since Reconstruction.

Self-assured, quick witted and highly conservative, Lott, 47, has represented the state's relatively prosperous Gulf Coast region in the House since 1972. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he defended Richard Nixon against impeachment charges. By 1980 his ability to keep friends while taking hard-line positions brought him election as Republican whip. Campaigning for Dowdy, Stennis argued that Mississippi would lose clout, especially in keeping its many defense jobs, with two Republicans in a Democrat-controlled Senate. Lott had an apt reply: "We don't need two Senators who are going to cancel out each other's vote."


The Democrats' Charming Hero

In a campaign in which the bumbling incumbent Republican David Karnes declared that Nebraska needs "fewer farmers," and admitted he felt so inexperienced that he considered Dan Quayle an "elder statesman," former Democratic Governor Bob Kerrey did not need great strengths of his own to grab Karnes' Senate seat. Yet the charismatic Kerrey has charm and spontaneity that seem to transcend the issues. In a predominantly Republican state, Kerrey won while opposing SDI, aid to the contras and a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. Admitted Karnes: "He's a personality in this state, someone who turns up in People magazine. It's hard to run against a guy like that."

Kerrey, 45, who won a Congressional Medal of Honor and lost part of a leg in Viet Nam, earned celebrity status by leaving his profitable restaurant and sport-center business in 1982 to knock Republican Governor Charles Thone out of the statehouse. While leading a reform-minded administration, he also dated movie star Debra Winger, then declared before his term ended two years ago that the "feeling is just not there" to seek re-election. Self-effacing and willing to admit mistakes, Kerrey has the kind of appeal that has led women to ask him to autograph their T shirts.


L.B.J.'s Strong Son-in-Law

So popular was Democrat Charles Robb as Virginia's Governor from 1982 to 1986 that when he fixed his sights on Republican Senator Paul Trible's seat, Trible prudently decided to retire. Republican prospects seemed so slim that the party tapped political novice Maurice Dawkins, an energetic black Baptist minister. About all that Dawkins' supporters could find to attack Robb with were unsubstantiated charges that as Governor he had attended beach parties at which cocaine had been used, and allegations that Robb had had an affair with a former Miss Virginia. Robb denied the charges. The race degenerated into a strange contest in which both candidates took and passed drug tests.

A handsome Marine major and bemedaled Viet Nam veteran, Robb, 49, met President Lyndon Johnson's daughter Lynda while assigned to social duties at the White House. He won his first try for elective office, as Lieutenant Governor, in 1978, then followed that with a highly successful four-year term as Governor. Ineligible for re-election, Robb kept his hand in politics as a founder and chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. On defense matters he is expected to follow the lead of a fellow D.L.C. member, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.


The Wind Sock Blows Eastward

Democrats figured they had easy pickings in stumbling Republican Senator Chic Hecht, who once said he opposed a nuclear-waste "suppository" in Nevada and was voted by Senate administrative aides as the upper chamber's least effective member. Still, Governor Richard Bryan, 51, found that he had to struggle to win over voters irritated by his desire to leave for Washington halfway through his second term. After squandering a big early lead, Bryan waged a somewhat wooden, but tireless, campaign to squeak past his foe. Despite his unfamiliarity with national issues, the Governor had one major achievement going for him: a capable administrator, he had taken his state from a fiscal crisis in 1982 to a $100 million surplus this year.

While proclaiming himself a progressive, Bryan seems to be mostly a technocrat and fence-sitter. Reporters call him "Wind-Sock" Bryan because he changes position with the political breezes. Smart and articulate, he tends to be liberal on social issues and conservative on economics. Although he is a firm states'-righter, he rarely turns down a federal handout. That seems a winning combination in a state where rugged individuality often clashes with the policies of Nevada's major landlord: the Federal Government.


A Sleeper Upsets the Bear

A political maverick proud of his liberal stands, Republican Lowell Weicker had consistently angered enough of the old-line Connecticut G.O.P. to render himself vulnerable. In 1982 he had to beat back a primary challenge from George Bush's brother Prescott Jr. This year the William Buckley clan even created a political-action committee just to help Weicker's Democratic opponent, attorney general Joseph Lieberman. While Lieberman scored effectively with a TV ad that portrayed Weicker as a hulking, slumbering bear who missed roll calls vital to his state, it was Lieberman who turned out to be the sleeper. The well-spoken statehouse insider produced one of the election's major upsets by ousting Weicker after three terms in the Senate.

Lieberman, 46, had quietly built coalitions within the Democratic Party as state senate majority leader and a two-term attorney general. He impressed voters with his strong antitrust actions and enforcement of environmental laws. An oasis of consistency compared with Weicker, Lieberman is more conservative on one issue: he favors the death penalty. As the Senate loses a bit of its conscience with Weicker's first defeat in a 26-year political career, Democrats have tightened their grip on one of George Bush's several adopted states.


The Bucks Win A Big One

The ghost of the retiring William Proxmire haunted the race in Wisconsin, where Democrat Herbert Kohl turned Proxmire's legendary frugality on its head, yet somehow convinced voters that he most resembled their departing hero. A multimillionaire bachelor, Kohl, 53, spent $5 million of his own money to defeat Susan Engeleiter, 36, the Republican leader in the state senate. When Proxmire won re-election in 1982, he spent just $145. Yet, like Proxmire, Kohl refused contributions from special-interest groups and ran a populist, soak- the-rich campaign, calling for tax hikes for the wealthy. His affluence, he contended, meant that he would be "nobody's Senator but yours."

In winning on his first try for elective office, Kohl had the state's sports fans on his side. After selling his family's supermarket and department-store chain in the '70s, he bought the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team in 1985 to keep it in the city. Kohl is expected to be tough on the Pentagon, since he urges a 10% cut in defense spending, but he shuns a liberal label, noting his experience as a businessman. He joins a growing club of Senate millionaires, including Pennsylvania's John Heinz, New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg and Ohio's Howard Metzenbaum, all of whom won re-election.


A G.O.P. Maverick Moves Higher

The state is small enough for voters to get to know, and apparently love, the representatives they send to Washington. In this century, Vermont has rejected only one member of its congressional delegation who sought re-election. Thus when moderate Republican Senator Robert Stafford decided to retire after 18 years, the state's lone Congressman, seven-term Republican James Jeffords, 54, immediately was seen as his heir apparent. Jeffords had little difficulty defeating Democrat William Gray, a Burlington lawyer and former U.S. Attorney seeking his first elective office.

Jeffords, who is about as liberal as Republicans get these days, was the only member of his party to vote against the Reagan tax cuts in 1981: he correctly predicted that they would produce large deficits. Since the two candidates differed so little on issues, Gray tried a negative campaign aimed mainly at Jeffords' acceptance of money from groups he helped. Eleven days before accepting $5,000 from a Teamsters PAC in 1987, Jeffords asked Attorney General Edwin Meese not to put the racket-ridden union under federal trusteeship. (Meese did so anyway.) A former state legislator and attorney general, Jeffords kept intact his record of never having lost a statewide election.