Washington, 30 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Voters will elect 34 U.S. Senators on Tuesday in balloting across America that Republicans hope will give them enough power in the upper chamber to push through their agenda over the objections of the opposition Democrats.
The Republicans currently control 55 seats to the Democrats' 45. If the Republicans pick up five additional seats, boosting their total to 60, they would be able to cut off Senate debate and bring bills up for a "yes" or "no" vote.
Says Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss): "I think the 60 would be a stretch (eds: overestimate) based on the numbers at this time."
The Senate has 100 senators, two from each state regardless of its size. Roughly a third of the Senate gets elected every two years.
The Senate's distinct function is to give the president of the United States its advice and consent. It alone can approve the nominations of high officials such as Cabinet appointees or ambassador-designates. And it is the only legislative body that is required to ratify treaties with foreign nations.
Along with the House of Representatives, the Senate is required to approve or reject each piece of legislation.
Of the 34 Senate seats being contested, 18 are currently held by Democrats and 16 by Republicans. The states where Democrats are seen as vulnerable include Illinois, California, Kentucky, Nevada and Ohio. All these five seats being contested are currently controlled by Democrats.
The last time the Democrats held the majority of the U.S. Senate was before the 1994 election.
Here is a look at five Senate races Republican see as their best chance to unseat incumbent Democrats or succeed retiring Democrats.
First-term Democratic Senator Carol Moseley-Braun faces millionaire Republican state Senator Peter Fitzgerald, a conservative. Moseley-Braun is America's first black woman senator. Personal controversies and liberal label are seen as a negative. Widely criticized for visiting Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha two years ago. Allegations of using campaign contributions for personal purposes. Critics say she is an ineffective senator.
Moseley-Braun says: "I know I have made some mistakes and disappointed some people. But I want you to know that I have always tried to do what's best for Illinois."
Barbara Boxer, is currently one of two Democratic women senators from California. Daughter married to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother. Boxer was an outspoken critic in 1991 of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexual harassment. Polls say Boxer has been hurt by President Bill Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky because of her reluctance to speak out. Seen as too liberal for California. Republican Matt Fong has pulled ahead of her in recent polls.
Popular Democratic Senator Wendell Ford is retiring. Republican James Bunning, strongly backed by the National Republican Campaign Committee, challenges Democratic party candidate Scotty Baeseler.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Harry Reid faces strong challenge from Las Vegas-area Congressman John Ensign.
Incumbent Democratic Senator John Glenn, 77, the astronaut, is retiring. Republican Governor George Voinovich is seen as the front-runner against Democrat Mary Boyle.
The Democrats say the states of Indiana, North Carolina and New York provide them their strongest chance to capture from Republicans.
In New York, three-term Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato is being challenged by Democrat Charles Schumer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is an expensive race in which both candidates have relied on negative television campaign ads.
(Another in RFE/RL's series previewing 1998 general election in the US)