The few who remain persuadable

A handful of GOP moderates could decide outcome of impeachment vote.

If President Clinton is to have any chance of avoiding impeachment, he must win over the Repub-lican Range Rovers.

The GOP's pickup trucks - lawmakers from the party's base in the West and South - are solidly against him. But a few centrist lawmakers from districts full of British SUVs could tip the impeachment vote one way or the other.

Members such as Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois, who represents the monied North Shore of Chicago, are swing votes within the category of GOP moderates. In some ways, they are an uneasy fit in today's Republican Party.

But Mr. Clinton's refusal to say "I lied" may have turned this group against him. And constituent calls to Representative Porter, for one, now favor impeachment.

Some callers want to cover "the whole history - from the Federalist papers to Monica Lewinsky. At some point we just have to say, 'I'm sorry sir, but we've got so many other calls coming in,' " says Porter spokesman David Kohn.

Clinton's need for the support of what used to be called "country club Republicans" is an ironic twist in an affair replete with irony.

That's because Clinton won the White House in the first place by defeating George Bush, the embodiment of GOP clubism.

Sure, President Bush was a Texan, and an oil man, too. But that Maine cottage, that powerboat, that preppie syntax - the right wing of the GOP never fully trusted him.

Not all the members to watch in the impeachment debate are from rich, manicured areas.

One of the real bellwethers of Clinton's future will be the vote of Rep. Mike Castle (R) of Delaware, whose district is an entire state.

Castle's kingdom

If Congress is a day-care center, as critics sometimes charge, then Mr. Castle would be adult supervision. A popular and strong-minded former governor, he is a leader of the moderate GOP "Tuesday Group." He has remained mum about his impeachment position. Whatever it is, it will likely sway at least a few of his Republican fellows.

But a number of the votes Clinton will need in his increasingly uphill effort to escape impeachment are from districts where Starbucks are plentiful and the Dow Jones is closely followed.

Take Rep. Constance Morella (R) of Maryland. She's a Republican who represents the booming Montgomery County suburbs of Washington, where Thai takeout is commonplace and Clinton won 57 percent of the vote in 1996.

Whatever she decides about the substance of the charges against Clinton might be complicated by the political calculation that she would need party support for her rumored desire for a Senate bid in 2000.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R) of New York is an eight-term veteran who represents Tarrytown and other affluent Hudson Valley suburbs. He is an old-school, internationalist Republican - he used to negotiate swaps of captured spies during the cold war - and has the stature to sway impeachment votes in the moderate-dominated New York GOP delegation.

Then there's Porter. A member of Congress for 18 years, he is the son of an Evanston judge and thus a native of his prosperous district, a place marked by the light glinting off Lake Michigan and the beauty of rolling hills.

To his fellows, Porter is renowned for his fine suits and his independence. He's fiscally conservative - but also supports abortion rights and gun control. Though he initially announced he would oppose impeachment, he quickly backtracked and is, at time of writing, officially undecided.

Porter has called Clinton's behavior "reprehensible" and called on him to resign. But more recently, the Illinois lawmaker has argued that if, after a trial, the Senate doesn't remove Clinton from office, the president could claim to be exonerated.

That, Porter says, "would send a horrible message to our children."

Now his main local office here gets 1,000 calls a day. A staff of six juggles eight ringing phone lines.

According to his staff, the calls are running about 55 percent for impeachment and 45 percent against.

View from Lake Michigan

But pro-impeachment constituents are turning up the temperature. Two local party groups have passed resolutions calling on Representative Gilman to vote for impeachment. One of them, the Women's Republican Club of New Trier Township, is a powerful gathering of conservatives. Its president, Janet Mizener, echoes the groups's disappointment that their congressman has not yet said he will vote to impeach.

"A lot of [Porter's] base has turned against him because of this," she says.

For Clinton, in any case, it may be too late. A series of Republicans who might conceivably have supported him have come out for impeachment in recent days. One Republican who had previously announced his opposition to impeachment, Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut, has begun to waver.

These moderates may feel that Clinton has done little to provide them cover for an anti-impeachment vote with his continued insistence that he has not lied.

"He needs to say he did not tell the truth," insisted Representative Shays on Dec. 14.

The district office of Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois is getting 1,000 calls a day. Six staffers answer lines.

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