Analysis: Impeachment votes could be a factor in some Senate races next year
By Stuart Rothenberg
February 12, 1999
WASHINGTON (February 12) -- Four of the 10 Republican senators who voted "not guilty" in the president's impeachment trial face potentially tough re-election races next year and come from states Bill Clinton carried easily in 1996.
Three of them, Olympia Snowe of Maine, John Chafee of Rhode Island and Jim Jeffords of Vermont, voted "not guilty" on both counts of impeachment. All come from New England states where the president carried a majority of the vote in 1996. The fourth, Washington's Slade Gorton, voted to acquit on the perjury count but to convict on obstruction of justice. Bill Clinton drew just under 50 percent of the vote in Washington State last time.
Six of the other Republican senators most likely to face stiff challenges in the 2000 elections -- including five of them from states carried by the president in his re-election bid -- voted to convict the president.
Minnesota's Rod Grams, Michigan's Spencer Abraham, Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, Ohio's Michael DeWine, and Missouri's John Ashcroft all voted to convict on both counts and will likely find themselves attacked for those votes. Conrad Burns, who also voted to convict and could face a tough re-election race, appears slightly better off, since his state went narrowly (44-41 percent) for Bob Dole in 1996.
Another senator who voted for conviction on both counts, Delaware's Bill Roth, could have a credible challenger, though that is now unclear. It's possible that he might also not seek re-election.
The remaining seven Republican senators whose seats are up next year (Tennessee's Bill Frist, Utah's Orrin Hatch, Texas's Kay Bailey Hutchison, Arizona's Jon Kyl, Mississippi's Trent Lott, Indiana's Dick Lugar, Florida's Connie Mack and Wyoming's Craig Thomas) are either safe or less likely to face stiff Democratic opponents.
In opposing both counts of impeachment, Snowe, Chafee and Jeffords have inoculated themselves from possible Democratic opponents. But Democrats in those states are still likely to make a strongly partisan argument, painting the three moderate Republicans with a broad anti-Republican, anti-impeachment vote. That could be enough to cost any of those Republicans their seat. Of the three, however, Snowe is least likely to have trouble, in part because no top-tier challenger is yet eyeing the race.
Gorton's votes, against the perjury charge but for conviction on obstruction of justice, allow him to argue that his conclusions were not based on partisan considerations or dislike of the president but on a measured reading of the evidence. The senator also sought to short-circuit the impeachment process by proposing, along with Connecticut's Joe Lieberman (D), a process that might have ended the trial far earlier. That may also allow him to claim that he followed a bipartisan approach.
The near-term impact on the likes of Abraham, Santorum, Grams, DeWine and Ashcroft is not so clear. Even without impeachment, all three would have figured to face formidable challengers, so the trial and their votes for conviction only add another problem to their existing concerns. At the very least, the four, as well as other seriously challenged GOP senators, will have a more difficult time attracting the votes of Democrats and independents who regarded the impeachment as a political coup d'etat.
The improved Democratic poll numbers and prospects could well help Democratic recruiting, and it could make it easier for their candidates, both in the House and the Senate, to raise campaign funds.
While Democratic strategists are certain to try to use impeachment to undermine GOP incumbents in Democratic states, the impact of Friday's vote most likely depends on the state of the economy, the success of Congress to pass legislation in high-visibility areas and the course of the 2000 presidential race.
After all, in politics, 20 months is a lifetime.
Friday, February 12, 1999
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