Gramm retirement stirs mid-term stew


The 2002 mid-term elections got even more interesting on Tuesday, as Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) announced his plans to retire when his term expires in January 2003.

Gramm has been a Senator since 1984. Gramm's announcement follows on the heels of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who announced his retirement in August. The leading contender for Gramm's seat is Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who would be the first Hispanic U.S. Senator if he wins. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) also plans to retire, leaving the Senate with three open Republican seats.

Republicans have 20 spots up for grabs next year, while Democrats only have 13. That will make it hard for Republicans to win back the Senate, where the Democrats are now in the majority by one seat.

Gramm was chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee until the Senate went Democratic in June, after Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) left the Republican party to become an independent. - Paige Albiniak