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Roll Call’s 10 Best Senate Races

Huffington, a onetime Defense Department official, moved from Texas to California in 1991 to be with his wife, Arianna, and had quickly used the millions he had made in the oil business to jump-start a political career.

He ousted 22nd district Rep. Robert Lagomarsino in a 1992 Republican primary fueled by $3 million of his own money. He easily won the general election.

Huffington brought that same approach to his race against Feinstein. He dumped millions of his own dollars into a year-long statewide ad campaign that sought to link Feinstein to President Bill Clinton and cast her as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Feinstein didn’t see the writing on the wall until it was almost too late. In the race’s final weeks, Feinstein began running television commercials calling Huffington “a Texas oil millionaire who Californians just cannot trust.”

She survived — but barely. Feinstein received 46.7 percent to Huffington’s 44.7 percent. Huffington wound up spending $30 million — the vast majority of which came from his own pocket — and setting the stage for a host of self-funding candidates in the late 1990s.

1994 Virginia Senate race: Chuck Robb (D) vs. Oliver North (R)

For sheer drama and colorful personalities, no race on this list holds a candle to the 1994 race that saw Robb win a second term against almost insurmountable political odds.

Robb entered his race for a second term badly damaged from allegations that he had attended parties in Virginia Beach where cocaine was used and that he received a nude massage from a former Miss Virginia and Playboy playmate.

North brought to the race his own political baggage as an outspoken participant in the Iran-Contra affair.

Added to that mix were two other candidates: former Democratic Gov. Doug Wilder, whom Robb aides had illegally taped having a phone conversation in 1991 in which he rejoiced in the Senator’s personal problems, and Republican-turned-Independent J. Marshall Coleman.

The charismatic but polarizing North drew the bulk of the media coverage and money in the race. His campaign agreed to have a documentary (“A Perfect Candidate”) made about the race; thanks to national direct-mail appeals, he raked in nearly $21 million. Robb spent just $5 million.

Robb appeared to be on the brink of defeat until President Bill Clinton intervened to get Wilder out of the race in its final weeks. Robb received 46 percent, North 43 percent and Coleman 11 percent. Robb’s victory only staved off the inevitable: He was ousted by then-Gov. George Allen (R) six years later.

2004 South Dakota Senate race: Tom Daschle (D) vs. John Thune (R)

In the year following his 524-vote defeat at the hands of Sen. Tim Johnson (D), Thune was hounded about whether he would challenge Daschle.

By the time he finally entered the race in January 2004, Daschle had been on statewide television for six months touting his accomplishments for the state during his 18 years in the Senate.

Thune held his fire for several more months before beginning his own advertising effort. He believed that the primary reason for his loss in 2002 was the non-stop, 18-month campaign he and Johnson waged.

As expected, the race shattered all previous fundraising records in the state. Daschle brought in $20 million; Thune raised $16 million in just 10 months. Those totals don’t include the millions spent by independent groups seeking to influence the outcome.

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