Taking stock as Election Day draws near
Last-minute GOP TV spots inject more questions
By Stuart Rothenberg
The National Republican Congressional Committee's decision to launch a final round of TV spots, some of which make an issue of the president's trustworthiness and the need for a GOP Congress to provide balance to him, add a huge dose of uncertainty into the campaign's final few days.
While the Republican ads don't mention sex or impeachment, they have been treated in the national media -- and in a Democratic response ad -- as "Lewinsky ads." The new Republican spots could either motivate GOP (and other anti-Clinton voters) or energize Democrats and swing voters who fear the impeachment process could upset the economy.
Turnout remains an important unknown, but there is no indication that either party has much of a wind at its back going into the campaign's final days and hours. If that is indeed the case, it's good news for all incumbents, and puts a premium on money, candidate quality and campaign tactics.
Instead of weeding out also-rans and producing front-runners, the campaign of 1998 has actually increased the number of close Senate contests. States which were expected to have merely competitive races, like North Carolina, California, Wisconsin and New York, are in near dead heats, and races expected to be tossups, including Kentucky, South Carolina and Nevada, still remain so.
While Republican strategists were hoping just a few weeks ago that their party could gain the five seats it needs to hit 60 senators next Congress, that goal no longer seems attainable. That's because at least two Republicans, Al D'Amato in New York and Lauch Faircloth in North Carolina, find themselves in very difficult shape, and Kentucky, where the Republicans were thought to have a slight edge, looks even.
Indiana is still certain to be taken over by Democrat Evan Bayh, and John Glenn's open seat in Ohio will be won by Gov. George Voinovich (R). In Illinois, Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D) is likely to fall to GOP challenger Peter Fitzgerald, though some polling suggests the race has tightened.
Two other Democratic incumbents, South Carolina's Fritz Hollings and Nevada's Harry Reid, are also under strong attack, with Republicans increasingly optimistic about knocking off Reid. Sen. Barbara Boxer (R) has a slight lead over challenger Matt Fong (R), but turnout will be critical there, as elsewhere.
In Wisconsin, the Republicans have made good use of their financial advantage, and Democrat Russ Feingold continues to be deadlocked with conservative challenger Mark Neumann.
Democrats continue to hope for upsets in Missouri and in Georgia, while Republicans think an upset in Washington is still not out of the question.
The bottom line still favors a Republican net gain, ranging from just a single seat to as many as three. Democrats are hoping for a standoff, with neither party gaining seats, while Republicans hope that all of the close ones fall their way, which could net them four or five seats.
The House roller coaster is finally nearing its end -- and it's almost back where it began. While some Democrats still publicly predict that they'll gain the 11 seats they need to regain a House majority, and some Republicans talk about gaining more than 20 seats, most observers believe that the GOP is headed for small House gains, probably in the low-to-mid single digits.
Few incumbents look vulnerable at this point, with Republican Bill Redmond (NM 3) and Democrat Jay Johnson (WI 8) topping the list of likely losers. Redmond's district much prefers Democrats, while Johnson's usually elects Republicans, so their defeats would say little about any broad trend.
Between five and 10 incumbents from each party are also thought to be particularly vulnerable, with the list including Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1), Leonard Boswell D-IA 3), Charlie Stenholm (D-TX 11), Rick White (R-WA 1), Steve Chabot (R-OH 1), Helen Chenoweth (R-ID 1) and Vince Snowbarger (R-KS 3).
Most of the excitement remains in the 34 House open seats (17 for each party). The Democrats continue to make a strong push in a handful of ordinarily conservative Republican districts, including Idaho 2, Kentucky 4 and Mississippi 4, while Republicans are challenging in a number of Democratic opens, including Oregon 1, Pennsylvania 15 and Indiana 9.
The Republicans have had a huge national advertising advantage in key races, and that, plus the normal midterm advantage that should help Republicans, make it difficult for the Democrats to gain seats. But Democratic insiders and some neutral observers believe that the GOP's focus on Billl Clinton and Monica Lewinsky could backfire against the Republicans, creating an opening for the Democrats that did not exist just a month ago.
About half of the 36 governors' races are still in play.
While most incumbents appear headed for easy re-election, four or five GOP incumbents and two Democratic incumbents are in trouble. Interestingly, the two Democratic incumbents -- Ben Cayetano (HI), and Parris Glendening (MD) - are in normally solid Democratic states, and two of the Republicans -- Fob James (MS) and David Beasley (SC) -- are in reliably GOP states. Not surprisingly, their troubles reflect personal problems, not a national partisan or ideological wave.
In the top races, California seems destined to switch from the GOP to the Democrats, while Florida is almost certainly headed in the opposite direction. Most of the other big states -- including Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas -- are likely to remain in the Republican column, though the Democrats continue to make credible challenges in Ohio and Massachusetts.
The oddest race undoubtedly is taking place in Minnesota, where third-party nominee Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, has been drawing more than 20 percent of the vote and has thrown the race into chaos.
Both parties have at least a half a dozen good opportunities, and the most likely outcome probably ranges from no change to a GOP gain of a governorship or two.
Monday, November 2, 1998
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Candidates make last-minute pitches
Election attracts some unusual candidates
Justice warns against videotaping voters
Turnout could tell election tale