WASHINGTON — HALEY BARBOUR'S wife had some advice after this week's huge Republican election victories: Don't gloat.
Still, it was difficult for Mr. Barbour, the Republican national chairman, not to crow just a little. At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Thursday, he called this ``the best political atmosphere for Republicans in which I have ever been involved.''
The proof: new Republican mayors in New York and Los Angeles, new Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia, new Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Senate and the Pennsylvania Senate.
After being staggered by the loss of the White House in 1992, Republicans are regaining their political momentum, Barbour says.
Two issues are working best for the GOP - taxes and crime.
President Clinton's passage this summer of what Barbour calls the biggest tax increase in history energized the Republican base.
``Fund-raising is extremely good,'' Barbour says, with the number of contributors up 50 percent over 1992.
Meanwhile, widespread fear of violent crime has given Republican candidates a wedge issue that is working even in Democratic strongholds such as the nation's largest cities.
The series of Republican victories could presage a highly competitive political season in 1994. The entire United States House of Representatives is up for election next year. So are 34 US Senate seats, 36 governors, and thousands of legislative seats.
GOP victories are helping the party recruit top candidates for '94, Barbour says. ``Our candidate recruiting already has been very good,'' he notes. ''Now it will get even better.''
The biggest problem for Republicans face may be the legal challenges facing Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas, and Sen. David Durenberger (R) of Minnesota.
Senator Durenberger, charged with submitting false expense claims to the government, will retire. Senator Hutchison is under investigation for possible misuse of her office as Texas state treasurer while running for the Senate (she says the charges are politically inspired). Senator Packwood is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee for alleged sexual misconduct.
Barbour and other Republicans are focused on this week's victories, however. Rep. Rod Grams (R) of Minnesota bragged on the House floor: ``If the Republicans can win in New York City, we can win anywhere.''