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Democrats Seem to Be Gaining Strength in South : GOP Holds House Losses to a Minimum

November 05, 1986|KAREN TUMULTY and PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Despite a Democratic takeover of the Senate and the historical jinx of an off-year election, House Republicans held their losses to a minimum in Tuesday's elections.

Early today, it appeared that Republican losses would not exceed 10, even though the party in the White House has typically lost more than 40 seats in the mid-term election six years into a President's term.

Few analysts had expected this year's election to follow that trend. The Republicans were already a badly outnumbered minority in the House, with few seats to lose, and House campaigns lacked the national themes that had marked previous off-year elections.

As a result, there will be little change in the balance of power in the next Congress. Democrats already held a 253-180 majority, with two vacancies.

Democrats appeared to be picking up strength in the South, a key battleground, where Republicans had made their biggest gains two years ago. Many in both parties had seen this year's House races as a test of whether the trends that had fueled Republican claims to a broad party "realignment" were merely an offshoot of President Reagan's huge election victories.

Democrats scored their most important gains in states where the economy has lagged behind the rest of the nation. North Carolina, where Republicans had gained four seats in Reagan's 1984 landslide but whose textile industry has since been ravaged by imports, produced some of the most dramatic finishes again this year.

Democrat James Clarke appeared to have scored the state's biggest upset, when ABC News declared him the winner in his effort to regain the seat he had lost two years ago to Republican Bill Hendon. It was the third match between the two candidates.

In addition, Democrat David E. Price unseated North Carolina Republican Bill Cobey. The race had been marked by a controversy over a Cobey campaign letter asking religious fundamentalists to support him "so our voice will not be silenced and then replaced by someone who is not willing to take a strong stand for the principles outlined in the word of God."

In another show of Democratic strength in the South, South Carolina state Sen. Elizabeth Patterson defeated William D. Workman, the Republican mayor of Greenville, for the seat vacated by Republican Carroll A. Campbell Jr., who resigned to run for governor--and won.

It remained unclear how strong Democratic House gains would be in the depressed Farm Belt. But, in one bellwether race, former Iowa Democratic Chairman Dave Nagle won the seat vacated by Republican Cooper Evans.

In a rematch of 1984's most bitter House race, Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey was holding a slim lead over Republican Richard D. McIntyre, whom McCloskey beat two years ago by four votes after several recounts. The dispute over that election preoccupied the House for five months at the opening of the 1985 session and culminated in a brief Republican walkout when the Democratic-controlled House declared McCloskey the winner.

President Reagan went to Indiana to stump for McIntyre last week in his only campaign appearance of the season exclusively for a House candidate.

Another widely watched Indiana race seemed to belie the value of bigger and bigger campaign spending, which has characterized congressional politics for more than a decade.

Ten-term Democratic incumbent Andrew Jacobs Jr., who has intentionally avoided raising a large campaign war chest and spending large amounts on advertising, appeared to be winning an easy victory over real estate manager Jim Eynon, a Republican who outspent him by almost 70 to 1. Spending by Eynon and by the American Medical Assn. on his behalf reached $540,000, but Jacobs spent only $8,000.

In one of the most publicized comeback attempts of the year, former New York Democratic Rep. Bella Abzug--moving from her roots in Greenwich Village to suburban Westchester County--failed to unseat incumbent Republican Joseph J. DioGuardi. Abzug, known for her floppy hats and vocal feminism, had surprised most political analysts with her victory in the four-way Democratic primary, but the colorful image that made her a national figure was seen as her biggest liability in sedate Westchester.

Familiar Names

Among the incoming congressional freshmen will be several whose names are already familiar. But celebrity alone was no guarantee of success.

Joseph Kennedy, the 34-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, won over GOP candidate Clark Abt, a Cambridge entrepreneur, in the race for Massachusetts seat being vacated by retiring Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. But, even as her brother was claiming victory in Massachusetts, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend appeared to have lost in her bid to unseat Maryland Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

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