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Three Senate Races Top Primaries in Eight States

September 11, 1996

Former Rep. Dick Swett battled businessman John Rauh in New Hampshire’s Democratic Senate primary Tuesday for the right to challenge Sen. Bob Smith, a first-term Republican viewed as vulnerable by the national Democratic Party.

Two other Senate races were on tap as eight states held primaries in the last big day of voting before November.

Republicans in Minnesota looked forward to officially sending Rudy Boschwitz into a rematch with Sen. Paul Wellstone, the Democrat who unseated him six years ago.

And voters in Rhode Island picked nominees for that state’s first open Senate seat in 20 years.

With 37 percent of precincts reporting in New Hampshire, Swett had 9,735 votes or 55 percent, and Rauh had 8,059 votes or 45 percent. Rauh had led in early returns, but Swett went ahead as votes were reported from Manchester, the state’s biggest city.

New Hampshire hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in two decades, but Smith has drawn heavy criticism for such displays as holding up a plastic fetus and graphic photographs during a speech against partial-birth abortions.

Rauh, who lost a Senate race in 1992, made campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his campaign this time around. He refused special interest money and took only $100 contributions.

Swett, who in 1990 became the first Democrat elected in the 2nd Congressional District in 70 years, called Rauh’s stance ``unilateral disarmament.″ Swett took special interest money and is well-financed, as is Smith.

Two New England governorships were at stake as well.

Vermont Republicans gave conservative businessman John Gropper the unenviable task of taking on Gov. Howard Dean, a popular Democrat whose approval rating hovers at nearly 70 percent. With 49 percent of precincts reporting, Gropper had 4,063 votes or 66 percent and Tom Morse, also a businessman, had 2,089 votes or 34 percent.

In New Hampshire, Republicans hoped to hold onto the office Gov. Steven Merrill is giving up after two, two-year terms. Democrats haven’t elected a governor in 16 years.

State Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won a lopsided Democratic primary victory, racking up 90 percent of the vote against two rivals. In a five-way GOP race, with 23 percent of precincts reporting, Ovide Lamontagne, chairman of the state Board of Education, led with 6,165 votes, or 47 percent, and Rep. Bill Zeliff had 5,512 votes, or 42 percent.

The primary to succeed Zeliff in Congress featured seven Republicans, including political newcomer and businessman John E. Sununu, son of former Gov. John Sununu.

Also Tuesday, Arizona, Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin chose congressional nominees.

Voting came as Democrats, riding high on President Clinton’s double-digit lead in the polls over Bob Dole, seek to recapture control of Congress. Republicans currently dominate the Senate, 53-47.

In Minnesota, where the Senate primaries were seen as strictly a formality, Wellstone _ the only senator seeking re-election who voted against welfare reform _ enters the general campaign as the favorite. A recent newspaper and TV poll found 46 percent of voters favor him, while 37 percent prefer Boschwitz; the poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

In Rhode Island, Republican state Treasurer Nancy Mayer and Democratic Rep. Jack Reed were expected to have little trouble winning their respective primaries in the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell, who is retiring after six terms. The state’s other senator, Republican John Chafee, has been in office since 1976.

In other voting:

_New York’s 19th Congressional District offers a bitter GOP primary rematch between incumbent Rep. Sue Kelly and Joseph DioGuardi. Kelly, who supports abortion rights, has the support of Speaker Newt Gingrich and the House’s GOP leadership, while DioGuardi has campaigned hard on his opposition to abortion and his conservative credentials. In 1994, Kelly defeated DioGuardi and five other men in the GOP primary for the open seat.

_In Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District, Republicans gave Edward W. Munster a third crack at challenging Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson. Munster, with 58 percent of the vote, defeated state Rep. Andrew M. Norton. The incumbent, seeking his ninth term, narrowly defeated Munster in 1992 and 1994 _ the last time by a mere 21 votes.

_Wisconsin Rep. Steve Gunderson, one of only two openly gay House Republicans, is retiring from the 3rd District in the western part of the state. A write-in effort is being mounted by his supporters, although Gunderson has said he does not endorse it.

_Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, the other openly gay House Republican, faces minor primary opposition. Kolbe revealed his homosexuality this summer when a gay magazine said it planned to ``out″ him because of his vote against recognizing same-sex marriages.

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