Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson rode his party’s numerical advantage and a $13-million campaign machine, fueled by lobbyist and casino contributions, to easy re-election over obscure Republican John Dendahl, whose campaign had only $313,000. But will the win provide more buzz for Richardson’s 2008 presidential ambitions?
Controversial veteran Democrat Jim Baca failed to oust Republican Pat Lyons from the key state lands commissioner post, which oversees 9 million acres of public land. Baca had a record of watchdogging developers, the oil and gas industry and ranchers in previous stints as lands commissioner, mayor of Albuquerque and head of the Bureau of Land Management. But Lyons, friendlier to ranchers and drillers, won with 52 percent of the vote.
Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski weathered a tough challenge from Ron Saxton, a Portland lawyer whose campaign spent twice as much as the incumbent. The race appeared close a month before the election, but Kulongoski won 53 percent of the vote to Saxton’s 42 percent.
Democrats gained control in the state House and kept their majority in the state Senate; they’ll run both chambers for the first time in more than a decade.
The Dem wins run counter to one trend: In voter registration, Oregon Republicans have been quietly gaining for 30 years, and, with the margin now only 3 percent, may soon outnumber Dems.
All occupants of Utah congressional seats (two Republicans and a lone Democrat) won re-election, as did Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch; the party balance in the Legislature also didn’t change (77 Repubs, 27 Dems).
First elected senator 30 years ago, Hatch had a $6 million war chest, while sacrificial Democratic opponent/Internet- access-company owner Pete Ashdown had only $200,000. Ashdown campaigned for more than a year, driving the state in an old RV, but won just 31 percent of the vote.
Voters in the county that includes Salt Lake City — a Democratic stronghold — agreed to tax themselves for a $48 million bond to be spent on open space, wildlife habitat and trails.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell won office by less than .1 percent of the vote in 2000. But this year — helped by a $17 million to $10 million campaign-budget advantage — she rode to a 19-point victory over Republican Mike McGavick, a moderate ex-insurance-company CEO who angered party leaders by criticizing the administration’s Iraq strategy.
Voters decided to keep a state inheritance tax passed last year on estates worth more than $2 million (excluding family farms and timberlands). The proceeds — more than $100 million per year — go for public education. An anti-estate-tax ballot measure got only 38 percent of the vote.
Voters approved a ballot measure requiring large utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal sneaked into office in 2002, taking less than half the vote in a three-way race. This year he won 70 percent of the vote and re-election over lawyer-rancher Ray Hunkins. The victory may have been buoyed by a sense of financial wellbeing; Wyoming has a huge budget surplus, due to more than $1 billion in annual taxes on soaring natural gas production.
Wyoming voters haven’t put a Democrat in their lone House seat in 30 years. But six-term incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin had to dodge an unexpected bullet, beating Democrat Gary Trauner by only about 1,000 votes. Trauner, an ex-Internet-access-company owner whose only political experience was on a Jackson-area school board, traveled the state and knocked on an estimated 10,000 doors. But the National Republican Congressional Committee funded TV ads portraying him as an outsider — because he moved to Wyoming from suburban New York 16 years ago.
This story is a sidebar to the feature article
The West gains traction as a center of power in 2006, and nine more indicators from the midterm elections.