Democrat Says Economy Will Boost Party Prospects

THE jingle of cash registers during the Christmas season is a merry tune for Democrats, who see a rising economy as their best hope in the 1994 elections.

David Wilhelm, the Democratic national chairman, admits that without help from the economy, 1994 could be a tough year for President Clinton and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The party that controls the White House traditionally loses 23 House seats and three Senate seats in the off-year election - enough to stymie Mr. Clinton's aggressive programs in Congress.

Mr. Wilhelm told a Monitor breakfast meeting with reporters on Dec. 14 that recent polls showing the Republican party making gains in congressional campaigns are ``troubling.'' But a growing economy could fix that, he says.

Wilhelm says Democrats are well-aware that Clinton won only 43 percent of the vote in 1992. ``We are the governing party,'' he says, but ``not yet the majority party.''

The key during the next year will be to ``govern well,'' Wilhelm says. Eventually, Clinton can overcome widespread cynicism among voters, many of whom believe that government no longer works.

Wilhelm suggests that one problem for the president is that he moves so fast that the public has trouble keeping up. For example, with the president's prodding, Congress has rapidly passed emergency family medical leave, North American free trade, handgun control, direct student loans, and an earned income tax credit, which cuts taxes for millions of Americans.

``It is a year of great success that ... is not totally understood,'' Wilhelm says.

One problem that may fade in 1994 for Clinton is opposition from Texas billionaire Ross Perot, Wilhelm says:

``[Mr. Perot's] great strength has always been that he was somehow above politics.... His performance during the course of the year has been very political.... His motivation has been ... designed to advance himself,'' he says.

Perot's strength rises in times of gridlock, Wilhelm says. Breaking gridlock diminishes Perot's importance.

Did the White House learn anything in 1993? Yes, Wilhelm says: ``Not to begin the year with gays in the military'' - a reference to the president's early move to end the ban on gays serving in the armed services.

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