The Other Races: Congress ...

With the presidential race dominating the news, it's easy to forget that there are hundreds of other federal offices up for grabs, too. And those seats in the House and Senate could have just as much impact on America's future, and the future of Social Security reform, tax policy, and environmental protection, as who sits in the Oval Office.

There is, in fact, a furious contest for control of Congress. The Republican majority in both chambers is slim. After three straight elections in which Republicans have maintained their edge, the Democrats sense an opportunity to regain the majority they enjoyed for decades. They have been diligently raising money and grooming candidates.

Al Gore's choice of a senator, Joe Lieberman, as running mate jumbled the math a bit. Democrats need a net gain of five seats to reach a majority in the Senate. If Mr. Lieberman became vice president, he would preside over the Senate, casting tie-breaking votes as needed. If he wins both the vice presidency and his Senate seat (he hasn't withdrawn from that race), the Senate post would be filled, at least initially, through an appointment by Connecticut's Republican governor. A special election could come later.

Nineteen Republicans are defending their Senate seats this year, several of them first-termers in tight races.

In the House, the Democrats need to bag seven seats. Here, their hopes are higher. They have a big edge in "open" House slots, with 23 GOP incumbents retiring, compared to seven departing Democrats. At last report, the House Democrats also had a bigger war chest - $37 million versus $22 million for their GOP counterparts.

But calculations about winning Congress are subject to a multitude of district-by-district adjustments. Local issues will figure large. Many races will take decisive shape only later in the fall.

Hardest to forecast is the electorate's penchant for ticket-splitting. Many voters would rather see divided government, on the assumption it helps keep the politicians in check.

Interestingly, some very productive legislative periods have occurred when the presidency and the Congress were in different hands. Remember, for example, the environmental, consumer-safety, and other landmark laws enacted during the Nixon-Ford years when Democrats controlled Congress.

While the just-concluded conventions may have been predictable affairs, the voters hold it in their power to make the final event - make that events, including congressional races - very interesting.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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