U.S. Senate election, 2004

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Results -- light red represents Republican holds, dark red Republican pickups, light blue Democratic holds, dark blue Democratic pickups.
Results -- light red represents Republican holds, dark red Republican pickups, light blue Democratic holds, dark blue Democratic pickups.

The U.S. Senate election, 2004 was an election for the United States Senate which coincided with the re-election of George W. Bush as president and the U.S. House election, as well as many state and local elections.


Major parties

The Senate, as of the pre-election 108th Congress, was composed of 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 1 independent. (The independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, is allied with the Democratic caucus and has voted with Democrats to give them the majority in the past.) The Democrats, therefore, needed to make a net gain of at least two seats from retiring or incumbent Republicans to gain control of the Senate. In the election, incumbent senators won reelection in all races but one (Democratic leader Tom Daschle, in South Dakota, lost to Republican John Thune). The seats of retiring senators were taken by the opposing party in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In fact, the only retiring senator whose seat was taken by a member of his party was Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who was succeeded by Tom Coburn.

Republicans gained four seats in the 2004 elections, and entered the 109th Congress with a 55-44-1 lead. While such a majority is formidable, it is still less than the 60 seats needed to override a filibuster and completely control the body's agenda and procedures.

108th Congress Senate Composition   109th Congress Senate Composition
Color Key: Republicans Democrats Independent

Third and minor parties

The Libertarian, Constitution, and Green parties contested many of the seats. No candidate from any of these parties received significant support, but some may have affected the outcome of the Alaska and Florida races by drawing votes away from the major party candidates. Of the 34 senate seats up for grabs, the Libertarians ran candidates in 20 of the races, the Constitutions ran 10 candidates, and the Greens ran 7 candidates.

Minor parties in a number of states contested one or more Senate seats. Examples include the America First Party, the Labor Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Socialist Workers Party. None of these parties gained a seat in this election nor received a significant number of votes.

Close races

Close Republican seats

One Republican seat, that of retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald in Illinois, was easily taken by Democrat Barack Obama. In Colorado, retiring Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's seat was narrowly taken by Democrat Ken Salazar. In Alaska, Republican Lisa Murkowski won reelection in a tight race. In Oklahoma, Tom Coburn kept Don Nickles' seat in Republican hands, while in Kentucky, the ailing Republican Jim Bunning won a second term by a very narrow margin.

  • Alaska: Tony Knowles lost by nearly 3% after staying in a statistical dead heat with incumbent Lisa Murkowski in opinion polling throughout the summer. Despite Alaska being a heavily Republican state, popular opinion had swung against the Murkowski family because of a tax increase passed by Lisa's father, Governor Frank Murkowski. Moreover, many voters disapproved of the manner in which Lisa Murkowski entered the Senate: she was appointed to the seat, previously held by her father, after he had vacated that office following his election as governor. Knowles, who preceded the elder Murkowski as governor, had enlisted extensive out-of-state support for his bid to oust the younger Murkowski.
  • Colorado: Democratic attorney general Ken Salazar maintained a small lead in polls over Republican brewing executive Pete Coors through the campaign, and ultimately prevailed. Salazar may have benefitted from an extended (and, by many descriptions, extraordinarily negative) Republican primary campaign between Coors and U.S. Representative Bob Schaffer.
  • Illinois: Democratic candidate Barack Obama, a widely popular Kenyan-American state legislator, ran without serious opposition following the withdrawal of Republican candidate Jack Ryan. After a long search that saw Republicans considering numerous substitutes for Ryan, including former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, former governors, and state senators, perennial candidate and Maryland native Alan Keyes accepted the nomination on August 8. Obama remained a heavy favorite, and won with a margin of more than 40%.
  • Kentucky: While Kentucky, like Alaska and Oklahoma, was a very conservative state, one-term incumbent Jim Bunning's increasingly erratic behavior brought long-shot Democrat Daniel Mongiardo into a dead heat in October, and the lead fluctuated as returns were reported on Election Night. There is widespread speculation that Bunning may retire early in his second term, allowing the Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, to nominate his replacement. If this does happen, Fletcher himself would be a candidate for appointment.
  • Oklahoma: Democratic Congressman Brad Carson had a slight lead in opinion polls over Republican Tom Coburn in the contest for retiring Sen. Don Nickles's seat. Although Oklahoma was a very conservative and Republican state, Coburn was weakened by a vicious primary campaign and a history of making provocative statements. Coburn pulled through with high turnout, eventually winning by a 12% margin.

Close Democratic seats

The Democrats' prospects were weakened by the fact that five of their six incumbent Senators in Southern states were retiring (the sixth, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, easily won reelection). Retiring Georgia Sen. Zell Miller's seat, contested by Denise Majette, was lost in a landslide, as was that of South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings. In North Carolina, Democrat Erskine Bowles lost John Edwards's seat to Republican Richard Burr. Especially close races, in Florida, Louisiana, and South Dakota, all resulted in turnovers to the Republicans.

  • Florida: After a heated primary race on both sides following Bob Graham's retirement, the Florida race was considered to be a tossup, with Democrat Betty Castor leading Republican Mel Martinez in statewide polls by a very slight margin. High Republican turnout brought Martinez to victory.
  • Georgia: Zell Miller's seat was contested as fiercely as Graham's into the primary elections on July 20. Rep. Johnny Isakson won the Republican nomination; Rep. Denise Majette defeated her closest rival, Cliff Oxford, in a runoff for the Democratic nomination on August 10. Isakson, as predicted, won the general election by a comfortable margin.
  • Louisiana: John Breaux's seat was widely viewed as a tossup, although Louisiana's open primary system made it difficult to gauge who had the lead in the race. Only one Republican, Rep. David Vitter, was in the running; he was challenged by three major Democratic candidates, foremost among them Rep. Chris John. Although the Democrats' combined vote totalled 47%, Vitter won the absolute majority needed to avert a runoff election.
  • North Carolina: Richard Burr in North Carolina faced Democrat Erskine Bowles for the seat John Edwards vacated for his vice-presidential bid. Early polling showed Bowles leading Burr by approximately 50% to 40%, largely due to Bowles' wider name recognition from his 2002 Senate run, but his lead evaporated in the weeks before the election, and Burr won by a 5% margin.
  • South Carolina: Although GOP confidence was supported by early polls showing Republican Rep. Jim DeMint to be several points ahead of Democratic nominee Inez Tenenbaum, the race tightened in late September. A factor in the tightening was DeMint's support of a proposal to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, which Tenenbaum heavily criticized. Nevertheless, DeMint defeated Tenenbaum, 54%-44%.
  • South Dakota: Tom Daschle, then the Democratic floor leader, was challenged by John Thune. Daschle was a prime target for Republicans in Washington because he was the federal government's highest-ranking Democrat and because he was perceived to be obstructing Republican President Bush's legislative proposals and judicial nominees. Polls showed a very tight race, with the lead fluctuating. The state's tendency toward conservatism in federal elections, as well as the Republicans' drive, made Daschle's race for reelection more difficult than most incumbents'. When Daschle indeed lost by a very narrow margin, he became the first Senate party leader to do so in more than a half century. (Democratic floor leader Ernest McFarland was defeated by Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1952 Senate elections.) The South Dakota race was the most expensive senatorial campaign in the country, with Daschle and Thune together raising more than $33 million.

Senate contests in 2004

State Incumbent Party Status Outcome
Alabama Richard C. Shelby Republican Re-elected to 4th term Richard Shelby (R) 64%
Wayne Sowell (D) 36%
Alaska Lisa Murkowski Republican Elected to 1st full term Lisa Murkowski (R) 49%
Tony Knowles (D) 46%
Marc Millican (I) 3%
Jerry Sanders (AI) 1%
Jim Sykes (G) 1%
Scott Kohlhaas (L) 0%
Ted Gianoutsos (I) 0%
Arizona John S. McCain III Republican Re-elected to 4th term John McCain (R) 76%
Stuart Starky (D) 21%
Ernest Hancock (L) 3%
Arkansas Blanche L. Lincoln Democrat Re-elected to 2nd term Blanche Lincoln (D) 56%
Jim Holt (R) 44%
California Barbara L. Boxer Democrat Re-elected to 3rd term Barbara Boxer (D) 58%
Bill Jones (R) 38%
Marsha Feinland (PFP) 2%
James Gray (L) 2%
Don Grundmann (C) 1%
Colorado Ben Nighthorse Campbell Republican Retired Ken Salazar (D) 51%
Pete Coors (R) 47%
Doug Cambell (C) 1%
Richard Randall (L) 0%
John Harris (I) 0%
Victor Good (Ref) 0%
Finn Gotaas (I) 0%
Connecticut Christopher J. Dodd Democrat Re-elected to 5th term Christopher Dodd (D) 66%
Jack Orchulli (R) 32%
Timothy Knibbs (C) 1%
Lenny Rasch (L) 1%
Florida D. Robert Graham Democrat Retired Melquiades Martinez (R) 50%
Betty Castor (D) 48%
Dennis Bradley (V) 2%
Georgia Zell B. Miller Democrat Retired Johnny Isakson (R) 59%
Denise Majette (D) 39%
Allen Buckley (L) 2%
Hawaii Daniel K. Inouye Democrat Re-elected to 8th term Daniel Inouye (D) 76%
Campbell Cavasso (R) 21%
Jim Brewer (I) 2%
Lloyd Mallan (L) 1%
Idaho Michael D. Crapo Republican Re-elected to 2nd term Mike Crapo (R) 99%
Write-in for Scott McClure (D) 1%
Illinois Peter G. Fitzgerald Republican Retired Barack Obama (D) 70%
Alan Keyes (R) 27%
Albert Franzen (I) 2%
Jerry Kohn (L) 1%
Indiana B. Evans "Evan" Bayh III Democrat Re-elected to 2nd term Evan Bayh (D) 62%
Marvin Scott (R) 37%
Albert Barger (L) 1%
Iowa Charles E. Grassley Republican Re-elected to 5th term Charles Grassley (R) 70%
Arthur Small (D) 28%
Christy Welty (L) 1%
Daryl Northrop (G) 1%
Edwin Fruit (SW) 0%
Kansas Samuel D. Brownback Republican Re-elected to 2nd term Sam Brownback (R) 69%
Lee Jones (D) 28%
Stephen A. Rosile (L) 2%
George Cook (Ref) 1%
Kentucky James P. Bunning Republican Re-elected to 2nd term Jim Bunning (R) 51%
Daniel Mongiardo (D) 49%
Louisiana John B. Breaux Democrat Retired David Vitter (R) 51%
Chris John (D) 29%
John Kennedy (D) 15%
Arthur Morrell (D) 2%
Richard Fontanesi (I) 1%
R.A. Galan (I) 1%
Sam Melton (D) 1%
Maryland Barbara A. Mikulski Democrat Re-elected to 4th term Barbara Mikulski (D) 65%
Edward Pipkin (R) 34%
Maria Allwine (G) 1%
Thomas Trump (C) 0%
Missouri Christopher S. "Kit" Bond Republican Re-elected to 4th term Kit Bond (R) 56%
Nancy Farmer (D) 43%
Kevin Tull (L) 1%
Don Griffin (C) 0%
Nevada Harry M. Reid Democrat Re-elected to 4th term Harry Reid (D) 61%
Richard Ziser (R) 35%
None of These 2%
Tomas Hurst (L) 1%
David Schumann (C) 1%
Gary Marinch (NL) 0%
New Hampshire Judd A. Gregg Republican Re-elected to 3rd term Judd Gregg (R) 66%
Doris Haddock (D) 34%
New York Charles E. Schumer Democrat Re-elected to 2nd term Charles Schumer (D) 71%
Howard Mills (R) 25%
Marilyn O'Grady (CNY) 3%
David McReynolds (G) 1%
Abe Hirschfeld (B) 0%
Donald Silberger (L) 0%
Martin Koppel (SW) 0%
North Carolina John R. Edwards Democrat Retired Richard Burr (R) 52%
Erskine Bowles (D) 47%
Tom Bailey (L) 1%
North Dakota Byron L. Dorgan Democratic-NPL Re-elected to 3rd term Byron Dorgan (D) 68%
Mike Liffrig (R) 32%
Ohio George V. Voinovich Republican Re-elected to 2nd term George Voinovich (R) 64%
Eric Fingerhut (D) 36%
Oklahoma Donald L. Nickles Republican Retired Tom Coburn (R) 53%
Brad Carson (D) 41%
Sheila Bilyeu (I) 6%
Oregon Ronald L. Wyden Democrat Re-elected to 2nd term Ron Wyden (D) 64%
Al King (R) 31%
Teresa Keane (PG) 2%
Dan Fitzgerald (L) 2%
David Brownlow (C) 1%
Pennsylvania Arlen Specter Republican Re-elected to 5th term Arlen Specter (R) 53%
Joe Hoeffel (D) 42%
Jim Clymer (C) 4%
Betsy Summers (L) 1%
South Carolina Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings Democrat Retired Jim DeMint (R) 54%
Inez Tenenbaum (D) 44%
Patrick Tyndall (C) 1%
Rebekah Sutherland (L) 1%
Tee Ferguson (UC) 0%
Efia Nwangaza (G) 0%
South Dakota Thomas A. Daschle Democrat Defeated after 3rd term John Thune (R) 51%
Tom Daschle (D) 49%
Utah Robert F. Bennett Republican Re-elected to 3rd term Robert Bennett (R) 68%
Paul Van Dam (D) 29%
Gary R. Van Horn (C) 2%
Joe Labonte (PC) 1%
Vermont Patrick J. Leahy Democrat Re-elected to 6th term Patrick Leahy (D) 71%
Jack McMullen (R) 25%
Cris Ericson (M) 2%
Craig Hill (G) 1%
Keith Stern (I) 1%
Ben Mitchell (LU) 0%
Washington Patricia Murray Democrat Re-elected to 3rd term Patty Murray (D) 55%
George Nethercutt (R) 43%
J. Mills (L) 1%
Mark Wilson (G) 1%
Wisconsin Russell D. Feingold Democrat Re-elected to 3rd term Russ Feingold (D) 56%
Tim Michels (R) 44%
Arif Khan (L) 0%
Eugene Hem (I) 0%

Party abbreviations

AI Alaskan Independence
B Builders
C Constitution
CNY New York Conservative
D Democratic
G Green
I (none)
L Libertarian
LU Liberty Union
M Marijuana
NL Natural Law
PC Personal Choice
PFP Peace and Freedom
PG Pacific Green
R Republican
Ref Reform
SW Socialist Workers
UC United Citizens
V Veterans

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