YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Republicans' Majority Tinged With Melancholy


WASHINGTON — After months of turmoil and turbulence, Tuesday's election seems unlikely to produce much more than a ripple of change in the numerical balance of power on Capitol Hill. But it could change the psychological atmosphere in Congress enormously--particularly on the question of whether President Clinton should be impeached and removed from office.

After earlier expecting that a backlash against President Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky might produce significant gains, Republicans were almost certain to lose seats in the House, which would mark the first time since 1934 that the party not holding the White House had lost House seats in a midterm election. In the Senate, where Republicans earlier hoped to pick up the five seats they need for a filibuster-proof majority, the GOP failed to add a single seat.

Democrats also dramatically reasserted themselves in the South:recapturing governorships in South Carolina and Alabama, holding a governorship in Georgia that Republicans had expected to win and taking back a North Carolina Senate seat after a bitterly fought race.

At the same time, victories by Democrats in the night's two most closely watched contests--the battle for the California governorship and the Senate seat in New York--could signal systemic problems for the GOP in heavily suburban battlegrounds that likely will decide the presidential election of 2000. "There is a serious problem with California," said GOP pollster Frank Luntz.

The evening hardly provided a Democratic sweep. Barring an unexpected turn in the final results, Republicans will maintain their majorities in the House and Senate--sustaining their control over legislative chambers that Democrats held almost by birthright for a full generation.

Even with the apparent victory for Democrat Gray Davis in California, Jeb Bush's win in Florida means that Republicans will continue to control the governor's mansions in seven of the eight largest states. And in Texas, Gov. George W. Bush instantly anointed himself as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 with the night's single most decisive victory.

'Terrible' Results for Republicans

But, despite those assets for the GOP, the unexpected congressional results left Democrats cheering and Republicans stunned. "Watch the body language: Democrats will come away looking like they've won and Republicans will come away looking like they've lost," said Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg.

Social conservative leader Gary Bauer, who is contemplating a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, had a more succinct verdict on the early results: "terrible," he said.

In Washington, the most immediate question will be whether the results change the prospects of the House advancing impeachment proceedings against Clinton. Judgments will not come until final counts are available in congressional races.

But many Democrats immediately saw in the early returns signs of a backlash against the impeachment effort. Exit polls indicated that a large turnout of African Americans--Clinton's staunchest supporters--boosted Democrats in several key states, including Georgia, South Carolina and Maryland. In New York, Democratic Rep. Charles E. Schumer unabashedly trumpeted his opposition to impeachment in his stunning victory over seemingly indestructible Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato. And in North Carolina, Democrat John Edwards won convincingly, despite Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth's relentless efforts to tie him to Clinton.

Given the large financial advantage that Republicans enjoyed and the natural tendency of the party outside the White House to gain seats during midterm elections, an impeachment backlash "is the only way you can account for this election," argued Greenberg.

Republicans refused to concede that point. But GOP pollster Bill McInturff acknowledged that the congressional move to launch impeachment proceedings lent energy to Democratic voters in a way that diluted the turnout advantage Republicans had expected earlier in the year, when anger over Clinton's behavior had depressed his party.

"From late September on, Democrats did a very good job of telling core Democrats, 'Don't look at the man behind the curtain, look at the other guys,' " said McInturff.

Exit polls themselves offered somewhat mixed messages on the scandal's direct impact on the election. Most voters surveyed Tuesday by Voter News Service said that Clinton's problems had not affected their vote; 18% of those remaining said they were voting to express support for the president, while 21% said their vote reflected opposition to him, according to CNN.

Los Angeles Times Articles