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Republicans Score a Sweeping Victory : Elections: The party wins majorities in the Senate and House. Voters shun Clinton's activist government message.

November 09, 1994|ROBERT SHOGAN and DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In a victory of historic proportions, Republicans on Tuesday seized control of the Senate and the House, setting the stage for a frontal collision between a resurgent conservative Congress and a battered Democratic Administration.

Voter repudiation of the Democrats only two years after the party regained control of the White House marks a sharp turn away from the message of activist government on which President Clinton had campaigned in 1992.

Republicans, who started Election Day behind in the Senate, 44 to 56, wound up with at least a 52-48 advantage. In the House, where Democrats had been in the majority since 1954 and held a 256-178 majority going into the election, the Republicans were on track to pick up at least 50 seats, with the results depending on final vote counts.

Indeed, the depth of Republican strength was such that, as of late Tuesday, no GOP incumbent had lost a bid for reelection to any major office: the Senate, the House or governorships.

Republicans scored large majorities among the growing number of voters who believe that government cannot solve the nation's problems, according to exit polls. The result is certain to restrict Clinton's legislative ambitions further, forcing the President and his advisers to drastically reshape their plans for the rest of his tenure in office.

The balloting, said Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who is in line to become the next Senate majority leader, was a "vote of no confidence in the Clinton agenda."

Clinton made no statement. He plans a nationally televised press conference today at 11:30 a.m. PST. But White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers signaled what part of the President's response would be--insisting that Republicans, having captured a majority, would now have to deliver actual legislation. "The burden of government is now on them," she said.

If projections for Republican control of the House are borne out, the GOP would take charge of all the legislative committee apparatus in both houses, giving its leaders far-reaching power to curb Clinton's legislative agenda and to put him on the defensive by conducting investigations and rejecting nominations. In short, the Republican-controlled 104th Congress would be able to hinder Democrat Clinton much as the Democratic 102nd Congress hampered Republican George Bush in the last two years of his presidency.

The losses included some of the most prominent Democrats in the country. Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, one of his party's liberal icons, lost his office. So, too, did Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee until his indictment earlier this year on charges stemming from the House post office scandal, conceded defeat to his opponent, attorney Michael Flanagan.

Despite his indictment, Rostenkowski had been so confident of reelection that he had barely bothered to campaign, not even printing campaign literature--an act of hubris that had stunned even operatives in Chicago's once-legendary Democratic political machine.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) was trailing in a tight race, according to early returns and exit polls. With 60% of the vote counted, Republican challenger George Nethercutt had 52% to Foley's 48%. No House Speaker has been unseated since before the Civil War.

Voters nationwide also decided on a number of ballot initiatives. Two measures aimed at limiting protections for gays and lesbians appeared headed for defeat in Nevada and Oregon. Ballot measures to impose term limits on members of Congress appeared headed for success in at least three states.

Republicans piled up their Senate majority initially by winning races in six states where retirements by incumbent Democrats had left their party vulnerable--Maine, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona.

They got two more, enough to take control, by knocking off Democratic incumbents in Tennessee, where their candidate, physician Bill Frist, a physician, defeated incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser and Pennsylvania, where Rep. Rick Santorum ousted Democrat Harris Wofford. One of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate, Sasser had hoped to become majority leader after Sen. George J. Mitchell of Maine announced his retirement.

In the contest for governorships, the GOP, in addition to winning New York, also wrested Texas and Pennsylvania away from the Democrats, with George W. Bush defeating incumbent Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Republican Thomas Ridge winning the vacant governor's seat in Pennsylvania over Democrat Mark Singel. Former President Bush's other son, Republican candidate Jeb Bush, was defeated in his bid to unseat Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.

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