Republican majority in jeopardy
A national tilt rightward four years ago carried Ronald Reagan into the White House and the Republican Party to its surprise takeover of the United States Senate.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the fight in 1984 for control of the upper chamber of Congress is shaping up as a series of battles in the political hills and valleys of 33 states.
Republicans have most of the liabilities. They are losing majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who is retiring. Nineteen of the GOP's 55 seats are up for grabs, and several of these are listed by both sides as vulnerable. The Democrats must defend only 14 seats, and their prospects look bright in almost every case.
Even if President Reagan, with his current popularity, wins handily, he may offer little aid in Senate races. Democrats are quick to point to Republican Richard Nixon, who won a reelection landslide in 1972, while his party lost two Senate seats.
''People are afraid of what an unconstrained Ronald Reagan will do'' in foreign affairs, argues J. Brian Atwood, director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He says the public will want Democrats on Capitol Hill as a balance.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, holds limited hopes for Reagan coattails. ''I think Reagan will win big,'' the Indiana senator says and adds that he expects an election-day surge that will help Republicans in close races.
The GOP has trumpeted the call to arms - or at least to donations - for the challenge to their newfound control of the Senate, and the dollars have poured in. The Republican senatorial committee plans to have $25 million to spend, while the Democratic senatorial committee will have only about $5 million.
But the keynote for Republican Senate races this year is neither the President nor campaign money. It is the economy. After a deep recession, with its month-by-month drumbeat of worsening unemployment, the current economic news is music to GOP ears.
Republican senators with only so-so approval ratings now have an economy to hitch their campaign wagons to.
''The recovery is firmly under way,'' an upbeat Sen. Roger W. Jepsen told a recent Kiwanis Club meeting in Des Moines. The first-term Iowa Republican has had low approval ratings and criticism for his undistinguished performance in Washington. He is considered beatable.
His message to Iowa is simple: Now that the economic picture is improving, the worst thing voters can do is change directions in midstream. Which, of course, means that the best thing to do is keep Republicans like Mr. Jepsen in office.
Even in hard-pressed Illinois, Republican incumbent Sen. Charles H. Percy points to improved conditions. The state has faced double-barreled woes, with the decline of its heavy industry and a crop-devastating drought. But unemployment, still higher than national levels, has now dipped below 10 percent in Illinois.
Times are still rough in pockets across the state. In tiny downstate Windsor, the walls of the Country Kitchen dinette recently displayed two posters advertising sales of farm machinery, the latest in a long chain of bankruptcy auctions. Local factories are operating on reduced shifts, and some have shut down permanently.
But hopes for recovery are reaching some areas of Illinois. ''Are you better off than three years ago?'' said Senator Percy, echoing a Reagan campaign theme recently as he spoke to home builders meeting in the prosperous Chicago suburb of Naperville. He then listed the administration's successes in reducing inflation, trimming the rate of government growth, and cutting taxes.