On the final day of their final campaigns, President Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole presented their closing arguments to the American people Monday as they streaked across the country in a wearying finale to a 16-month electoral drama.
Polls showed Clinton continuing to hold the seemingly insurmountable lead over his Republican challenger that he has maintained all year, but dozens of Senate and House races remained too close to call, and the partisan makeup of the new House, in particular, hung in the balance.
California, with at least six congressional seats too close to call, will be a major factor in determining that balance. The state's voters will also resolve expensively contested statewide ballot initiatives, including controversial measures to end state affirmative action programs, to change rules for managed care health systems and to limit campaign spending.
The most attention and controversy have revolved around Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action measure backed by Gov. Pete Wilson and the state Republican Party.
The many close House races include one in Orange County, where Democrats believe that after years of trying, they may be in position to unseat the controversial Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
In Los Angeles County, both parties are battling over two seats left open by retirement--one covering the Glendale and Pasadena areas, the other the western San Fernando Valley and parts of Ventura County. Democrats also hope to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Horn in a Long Beach-area district.
Polls statewide are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Confident of victory and now eyeing history, Clinton has set his sights on winning at least 50% of the popular vote, hoping to shake the label of "minority president" that has rankled him since he won the White House with only 43% of the vote in 1992's three-way contest.
Like a gambler betting on a lopsided game, Clinton now is looking not at the result, but at the point spread.
"It's up to you to decide," Clinton told a large, cheering throng at Cleveland State University, his eyes puffy with exhaustion and his voice weakened with the emotion of the final days. "You must seize the day."
Dole, for his part, worked to solidify support among traditional Republican voters with a continuing assault on the ethics of the president and his "arrogant" White House inner circle.
His throat raw from 70 hours of nonstop campaigning but still full of righteous fury, Dole told voters in Alamogordo, N.M., "My voice may change but I still keep my word."
Ross Perot, whose vote total may complicate matters for both Clinton and Dole, unleashed what he termed a "saturation bombing" of the airwaves with the broadcast of $2 million in 30-minute campaign advertisements on the major networks. Polls in recent days have shown Perot's support inching upward as he rides a late surge of voter anger generated in part by revelations of Democratic fund-raising irregularities.
"We cannot allow this behavior to continue for one more minute. We should--we must--demand the highest ethical standards in the White House," he said during a speech in San Antonio.
Clinton was confident enough of carrying California to cancel a planned rally Monday night in Los Angeles to campaign elsewhere, but statewide, many other races are tight, with not only Congress at stake, but also the state Assembly, where Republicans now enjoy a one-seat majority.
Two area House races are among the closest in the nation: in the Santa Barbara area between Republican Rep. Andrea Seastrand and Democrat Walter Capps, and in San Bernardino between Democratic Rep. George E. Brown Jr. and California Circuit Court Judge Linda Wilde.
Californians also will face 15 statewide ballot measures, including three bond issues totaling more than $2 billion for water facilities, jails and for veterans' home loans.
A dozen other measures were put on the ballot by initiative petition dealing with health care, taxes, campaign finance, legal reform, auto insurance, the state minimum wage and the medical use of marijuana.
Locally, in Los Angeles County, the major battles were for district attorney, between the incumbent, Gil Garcetti, and John Lynch, the deputy in charge of the Norwalk office, and the seat on the county Board of Supervisors being vacated by Deane Dana.
Elsewhere, upsets appeared to be brewing in a number of closely watched Senate races, including in Iowa, where two-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin appeared to be slipping against Republican Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot. Both Clinton and Dole scrambled their schedules to make last-minute appearances in Iowa to stump for their parties' Senate candidates.
In North Carolina, polls indicated that the abrasively conservative Senate veteran Republican Jesse Helms was losing ground against former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African American whom Helms beat six years ago.