Contest for Capitol Hill Grabs Political Spotlight
GOP quietly makes gains that may keep it in majority
(Page 2 of 2)
One ranking has the GOP leading in five open Democratic districts in the South - Alabama's Third and Fourth, Mississippi's Third, Oklahoma's Third, and Texas' 12th - while four others are tossups - Florida's 11th, Louisiana's Fifth, North Carolina's Seventh, and Texas' Fifth.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Meanwhile, a passel of GOP freshmen are fighting for their political lives. Four - Michael Flanagan of Illinois, James Longley of Maine, Fred Heineman of North Carolina, and Randy Tate of Washington - are currently trailing their Democratic challengers. Another 24 contests are even. More Democratic than Republican incumbents are in close races: 13 versus three.
"The House will come down to a half a dozen seats, either way," says Mr. Cook. "We're in for a long night on Nov. 6."
"I think the Democrats will pick up 11 seats - less than needed for the Republicans to lose control," says Ken Rudin of The Hotline daily political report.
Analysts say Washington is a good state to see how the race for the House is shaping up. Two years ago the GOP won big there, gaining six seats and knocking off five Democratic incumbents, including Speaker Thomas Foley. Now one of those GOP freshman districts is leaning Democratic, three are tossups, and two are tilting Republican.
The GOP freshmen, along with several incumbents in marginal districts, have been battered by a year-long, $35 million AFL-CIO ad campaign claiming that "extremist" Republicans, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, want to slash Medicare, cut education spending, and abandon environmental-protection laws - charges the GOP hotly denies. The GOP strategy has been to hold its fire until now, then unleash a multimillion-dollar rebuttal campaign funded by the GOP congressional campaign committees. Business and conservative groups will also weigh in as the election approaches. This, Republicans hope, will turn the tide in some tossup races.
The Republican counterattack, combined with the return of incumbents to their districts to campaign, may already be having an effect. "In late September and early October there was a trend toward the Democrats," says Mr. Rudin. "But the Republicans have reacted, adjusted, and shored up their weak points."
The GOP strategy of waiting until the end of the campaign to counter Democratic and labor attacks has its share of critics within the party. "It's like sending out a patrol after the [enemy] army's gone through," Mr. Kaufman says.
Key is voter turnout
Analysts agree, however, that much depends on voter turnout. Republicans are concerned that their voters may decide to stay home in the face of a lackluster campaign by Bob Dole. Democrats worry about overconfidence.
Cook refutes the notion that Republicans might stay home. He notes that Democrats turned out in large numbers in 1972 and 1984, even though ticket-toppers George McGovern and Walter Mondale were clearly headed for a shellacking.
"Polls are fun," Ann Lewis, deputy manager of the Clinton campaign, said last weekend. "But they don't elect anyone."
And the electorate continues to be volatile - or apathetic - to an unprecedented degree. "More seats are in play now than I've ever seen before," Kaufman says. "But interest is low on both sides ... it's just unbelievable."