The Midwest Votes for Term Limits, Reelects Incumbents

THE Midwest voted to keep most of its office holders. But in every state where they were given the opportunity, voters limited how long they could serve.

Six of the region's 14 states had referenda on term limits. All six decided their US Senators would have to quit after 12 years. Depending on the state, US Representatives would have to leave after 6 to 12 years. Five of the six states also set limits on state legislators. Michigan's measure also limited the terms of its governor and other executive officers.

For the moment, Midwesterners seemed happy enough with their incumbents. The region, which stretches from Ohio and West Virginia to Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, reelected seven of its eight US senators. The only exception was Sen. Bob Kasten (R) of Wisconsin, who lost to state Sen. Russell Feingold. Senator Feingold, a Democrat and Rhodes scholar, used Elvis ads to poke fun at his primary opponents.

Two other Senate seats had no incumbent. In Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun overcame a troubled campaign to become the Senate's first black woman. A surprise winner over incumbent Sen. Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary, she easily beat Republican Rich Williamson.

North Dakotans, meanwhile, finally did what many had long waited to do - vote into the Senate the state's popular US Representative, Byron Dorgan. He fills the seat of fellow Democrat Kent Conrad, who retired because of a vow that he would step down if he couldn't cut the nation's budget deficit. But Senator Conrad has changed his mind and now is running in next month's special election to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Quentin Burdick.

The Midwest also left its US House delegation fairly intact. Of the region's 98 incumbents up for reelection, only eight were beaten. (Redistricting caused one of those losses. Incumbent David Nagle (D) of Iowa's new Second District lost to Republican incumbent Jim Nussle.)

In all, six House Democrats lost in the region, compared to two Republicans. But Democrats picked up 13 of the 17 open seats, where there was no incumbent running.

The most visible Democratic loss was Mary Rose Oakar, a liberal Clevelander and strong supporter of organized labor. Her reelection bid was hurt by the House banking scandal - she wrote 213 bad checks - and redistricting, which forced her to campaign among unknown voters.

It turned out not to be the Year of the Woman in the Midwest.

Although Ms. Braun of Illinois did win a Senate seat, four other female candidates from the major parties were badly defeated. The only one who came within striking distance was Democrat Geri Rothman-Serot of Missouri, beaten 46 percent to 54 percent by incumbent Republican, Sen. Kit Bond.

In the House, Midwestern women failed to make gains. Two female incumbents were defeated by men - Representative Oakar and Joan Kelly Horn (D) of Missouri. Those losses were offset by two victories also in Ohio and Missouri. Pat Danner (D) of Missouri beat incumbent Republican Tom Coleman. In Ohio's open 15th District, Republican Deborah Pryce beat Democrat Richard Cordray and independent Linda Reidelbach.

Except in the presidential race, where nine states in the region gave Democrat Bill Clinton crucial support, voters didn't seem to favor one party over the other.

Here in Michigan, Democrats were quick to try to pin the Bush loss in Michigan on the state's Republican Governor, John Engler, who headed Bush's campaign effort here. Governor Engler also suffered a setback at the ballot box. His referendum to cut and cap property tax assessments also went down to defeat.

Nevertheless, it appears that, by the smallest of margins, the Michigan House will fall to Republican control for the first time in more than two decades. Some of the House races, however, require recounts.

Winning would give Republicans control of the Michigan House, Senate, and governor's mansion.

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