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A Strong Economy: An Incumbent's Best Friend

By R. Morris Barrett/AllPolitics


WASHINGTON (Nov. 4) -- Across the country on Election Day voters said they're happy -- happy, at least, with the economy. And though Democrats would like to claim credit for America's current prosperity, on Tuesday it helped Republican incumbents sweep to victory in four key races.


Two-thirds of voters in New Jersey said they're happy with the economy, according to exit polls. They gave Christie Whitman another four years in the Trenton statehouse, though their ire over high auto insurance rates gave her a real scare against rival Democrat Jim McGreevey.

About 200 miles south, a whopping 90 percent of voters in Virginia said their state's economy is in excellent or good shape, according to exit polls, and these voters elected Republican Jim Gilmore to take over from term-limited George Allen, another Republican. That's the next best thing to incumbency in the Virginia governor's mansion.


They're even happy in New York City -- imagine that -- almost two-thirds of them, according to exit polls. Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani cruised to re-election in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one.

A few years back, the angry voter was the story. But at least in these states, today, their mood seems to have improved, with the economy as soothing as Prozac. That doesn't mean they can't find something to gripe about, though, like taxes, which are the number one issue for voters in New Jersey and Virginia.

The primacy of parochialism

In an era of micro-politics, many candidates during this campaign identified local concerns, like taxes, and used them to mobilize voters (even if they didn't provide the margin of victory). For Gov. Whitman that meant taxes and the state's economy, her supporters' top issues.


Democratic challenger Jim McGreevey had his own pocketbook issue: auto insurance rates. That was the top issue to his supporters, and that made it a close race.

In Virginia, Republican Jim Gilmore was running against the state's reviled personal property tax on cars, and his supporters said that was their major concern. For Democrat Don Beyer's supporters, the major concern was education.

In the race for Staten Island's 13th congressional district seat, the GOP victor, city councilman Vito Fossella, was buttressed by an $800,000 TV advertising airwar launched by the Republican National Committee. That, plus Giuliani's coattails, proved a great boon, even though the issues that seemed to matter most to Staten Islanders were transportation and garbage dumping.

Democrats and Republicans hoped to spin Tuesday's results as a harbinger for the 1998 mid-term congressional elections. The real victor from yesterday, though, may simply be the status quo.

CNN's Bill Schneider contributed to this report.

In Other News:

Tuesday Nov. 4, 1997

Election '97:
Whitman Notches Another Term
Giuliani Wins With Ease
Gilmore Takes Virginia Governor's Race
GOP Wins Staten Island Congressional Seat
Analysis: A Strong Economy: An Incumbent's Best Friend
N.Y. and N.J. Exit Polls

Clinton Begins Congressional Consultation On Bosnia

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