Wednesday, November 6, 2002

McConnell wins 4th term against Weinberg

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Republican Mitch McConnell easily defeated Democrat Lois Combs Weinberg to win a fourth Senate term Tuesday, putting him on course to become one of Kentucky's longest-serving senators.

Mr. McConnell approached the Republican record for margin of victory in a statewide race, set by his political role model - John Sherman Cooper.

Mr. McConnell was armed with a bulging campaign fund and cited his experience in drawing a contrast with Ms. Weinberg, whose underfunded campaign struggled for attention.

"Much has been accomplished but much is left to be done," Mr. McConnell told jubilant supporters at a hotel in his hometown of Louisville.

Ms. Weinberg was a first-time candidate with a recognizable maiden name. Her father, Bert T. Combs, was Kentucky governor from 1959 to 1963.

Mr. McConnell was oh-so-close to eclipsing his political mentor's record for the widest margin of victory by a Republican in a state that had long leaned toward Democrats. Mr. McConnell had 721,379 votes, or 64.4 percent, and Ms. Weinberg had 399,143 votes, or 35.6 percent.

The most lopsided GOP victory was in 1966, when John Sherman Cooper beat John Y. Brown, 64.5 percent to 35.5 percent.

Less than an hour after polls closed as the results piled up, Ms. Weinberg called Mr. McConnell to offer congratulations.

In her concession, Ms.Weinberg continued to link Mr. McConnell to deep-pocketed interests, a standard criticism while on the stump.

"We stood up to the forces of corporate greed and we said, `Enough is enough,' " she told supporters at a Lexington hotel ballroom.

Ms. Weinberg, an education activist from the Appalachian town of Hindman, stressed improving education, protecting Social Security and getting prescription drug benefits under Medicare for the elderly.

Mr. McConnell is already the fifth-longest serving Kentucky senator, and the completion of a new six-year term would make him second only to Democrat Wendell Ford in longevity.

Mr. McConnell is expected to play a key role in pursuing a federal buyout of tobacco farmers and quota-holders who want to quit growing the crop.

Mr. McConnell also is expected to run for Republican whip, the party's No. 2 post in the Senate.

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