New Congress Looks Like Old One
More women and minorities gain seats, but most incumbents win and neither party gains
WASHINGTON — THE new Congress will be very different - and very much the same.
As expected, it will have more women and more minorities than ever and the House of Representatives will have a freshman class of 103 members. Of the incumbents who ran, 93 percent were reelected, only slightly lower that the rate two years ago.
But in terms of party affiliation, it will closely resemble the last Congress, to the chagrin of Republicans who hoped to gain more seats in the House than the 10 they picked up.
The Democrats will boost their solid 57-seat Senate majority by one.
And after all the talk of voters set to cast their entrenched members of Congress out into the cold, one of the truisms of politics held: Voters tend to support their individual lawmakers, even if they hold the institution as a whole in low esteem.
"The anti-incumbent mood was not as strong as it was thought to be," says political scientist James Thurber of American University. When 91 members stepped down or were defeated before the general election, the mood softened somewhat, he adds.
Some of the most vulnerable members, such as those with large numbers of overdrafts at the infamous House bank, were already out by the time Tuesday's vote came, allowing fresh faces to come in and take advantage of their outsider image - and, they hoped, preserve the seat for their party. Flood of new faces
But just as the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue will have new occupants, Capitol Hill will see a flood of new faces come January, and it will decidedly buck Congress's image as a white male club.
Record numbers of women and minorities won seats in both the House and the Senate Tuesday, reflecting two factors: the public's anger over business as usual; and the redistricting of seats to force representation that more accurately reflects society.
The Senate gets its first black woman with Carol Moseley Braun (D) of Illinois and its first full-blooded Native American with Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D) of Colorado.
The House gets its first Puerto Rican woman, Nydia Velasquez (D) of New York; and its first Korean-American, Jay Kim (R) of California. But a Native American woman, Ada Deer (D) of Wisconsin, lost.
Women had won or were leading in 48 House races and blacks had won or were leading for 38 seats.
In the last Congress, women held 28 seats and blacks held 26 seats. Hispanics won 17 seats, compared with 11 in the 102nd Congress. Four new women are poised to take seats in the Senate, bringing the total of women senators to six - twice the current number. Besides Ms. Braun, they are: Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California and Patty Murray (D) of Washington.
"This isn't the year of the woman, it's the decade of the woman," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority.
Of course, seven of the women nominated for Senate did not win, including Pennsylvania Democrat Lynn Yeakel, who was narrowly defeated by incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (R), and Geri Rothman-Serot (D), who lost to Sen. Christopher Bond (R) in Missouri.
But, Ms. Smeal points out, nominations of women hit a record high this year for both houses - 11 for the Senate and 108 for the House, a 64 percent increase over 1990.
Several Democrats won close Senate races, showing that Gov. Bill Clinton had coattails, Democratic analysts say. Days before the election, Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio - his "right stuff" image damaged by the Keating Five scandal - appeared on the verge of losing to Republican Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine. But Senator Glenn managed to pull off a victory.
So did Ms. Boxer. Initially ahead in the polls by 20 points, she saw Republican opponent Bruce Herschensohn pull even by last week, only to defeat him on Tuesday.
Republican analysts call it a case of "negative coattails."
"When the top of the ticket falls way below, it's not surprising" that other party members lose, says Republican consultant Brad O'Leary. "If you followed the tracking polls [for Mr. Herschensohn], it all took a turn for the worse last Friday, when the [Casper] Weinberger indictment [in the Iran-contra case] came down."
Attention now turns to President-elect Clinton's first 100 days, which will be "fairly dramatic," says Democratic consultant Vic Kamber.
Many Democratic bills, stalled by divided government, now will breeze through, including the family leave bill.
Clinton and the new Congress can also set about immediately to reform campaign finance and simplify voter registration.
But Congress is unlikely to enact a health-care reform bill, a tax bill, or an economic package during the first 100 days.
"Dan Rostenkowski and Lloyd Bentsen are not going to roll over and play dead," says Mr. Kamber, referring to the two most influential House and Senate members on fiscal matters. "They have their own agendas."
From the Republicans' point of the view, the first 100 days could be a disaster, an opportunity to undo 12 years of Republican White House rule. Questionable mandate
On election night, Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, the Senate minority leader who just won his own reelection campaign, came out with what will clearly be a Republican theme: Because Clinton did not receive a majority of the popular vote, he has no mandate.
In fact, Senator Dole explained in a television interview, if the vote totals of Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot are added, they together have the majority mandate.
Democrats fire back with their own spin on the "M-word." Vic Kamber says: "The Republicans will try to be feisty, but they have no mandate."