Lopsided GOP Texas Win Sends Message to Clinton

THE stomping noise that jolted the White House early yesterday morning was the Republican victory in Texas's special election for the United States Senate.

Kay Bailey Hutchison was widely expected to defeat interim Sen. Bob Krueger (D) for Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen's seat. But her margin of victory was a stunning, unforeseen 34 percent. Polls before the election had her ahead by up to 20 points.

Here's where the chips may now fall:

* President Clinton will have a much harder time breaking a Republican filibuster in the Senate. When she takes her seat, Democrats will number 56, but will need 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote. Ms. Hutchison already predicts the defeat of Mr. Clinton's $71 billion energy tax.

* The Senate will have a record seven female members, including five Democrats and two Republicans.

* Texas will have two Republicen senators for the first time since 1875. But that does not mean the state has "gone Republican" or is signaling dissatisfaction with Clinton, as the GOP claims. Robert Stein, a Rice University political scientist, says the state remains competitive.

He also denies that there is any connection between the Democrats' election loss and Clinton or national issues, arguing instead that much of Mr. Krueger's problem owed to the fact that he was a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign.

* Hutchison will have to fight hard in 1994 to keep her job, Dr. Stein predicts. By then, Clinton could have gotten his administration on track and recovered his popularity with the American public.

* The Space Station, the Superconducting Super Collider, and several Texas military bases might be more likely to be cut by Clinton, now that Texas has no Democrats in the Senate to get the president's ear, Stein says. However, Robin Marra, a Southern Methodist University political scientist, does not think Clinton will cut the programs because Mr. Bentsen, Gov. Ann Richards (D), and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, also from the state, matter to him.

* Ms. Richards could mount a tough campaign in 1994 if she gets the state past thorny issues like school finance reform and criminal justice. That may be one reason why she appointed Krueger in January to take on Hutchison in the special election, rather than taking that chance herself while her record invited attack.

Richards should also do well if she runs for the governor's office again in 1994 because of what Stein calls her "rock star" aura. It's hard for Texans not to like a governor who recently vetoed a gun-lobby bill with these words: "They kept putting lipstick on it, and they kept hanging earrings on it, but it is still a pig."

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