||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Analysis: Lessons from Election 1999
By Stuart Rothenberg
November 9, 1999
Web posted at: 3:21 p.m. EST (2021 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- For months, most observers ignored the elections of 1999. With few contests at stake, reporters and analysts preferred to focus on the 2000 presidential contest than on the gubernatorial, mayoral and state legislative elections that took place on November 2.
The results, on the other hand, produced a mountain of analysis and Spin -- enough to suggest that people really cared. But if they thought the results were an omen for the future, why didn't they show some interest before Election Day?
OK, so what happened?
The Democrats seem to have won the governorship of Mississippi (pending a vote in the state Legislature), and their candidates defeated Republicans in mayoral elections in Columbus (Ohio), Indianapolis (Indiana) and Philadelphia, to mention the most high profile races.
Rothenberg's most vulnerable open House seats
California 15 (Tom Campbell)
Oklahoma 2 (Tom Coburn)
Washington 2 (Jack Metcalf)
Florida 8 (Bill McCollum)
New Jersey 7 (Bob Franks)
Ohio 15 (John Kasich)
Illinois 10 (John Porter)
Montana at large (Rick Hill)
Michigan 8 (Debbie Stabenow)
Pennsylvania 4 (Ron Klink)
West Virginia 2 (Robert Wise)
The Democrats also took over the Nassau County (New York) Legislature, which has been under the GOP's grip for eternity. And they retained the Kentucky governorship easily, with the GOP virtually writing off the contest.
Republicans took control of the Virginia Assembly (giving them control over both houses of the Legislature), won a special election in a GOP open seat in the Washington State House (to return the body to deadlock), and won the Erie County (New York) executive's race. They retained control of the New Jersey Assembly, though the Democrats gained seats to narrow the GOP's majority, and held onto the Louisiana governorship easily.
So who won?
The Republicans probably have more reason to be disappointed, since they lost two of the three most competitive, high profile elections, in Mississippi and Philadelphia. They were optimistic about both, and spent heavily to assure victories.
Both contests were squeakers, however, and the Republicans normally aren't competitive in Philadelphia. In Mississippi, the Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove, started far ahead in the race, and barely held on to win. So it isn't as if the results suggest a sea change in American politics. Even with polls showing Sam Katz (R) having an excellent chance to win in Philadelphia, it's hard to get excited about the Democrats winning an election that they should win.
The Midwest mayoral results ought to make Republicans worried, since it suggests that the Democrats have learned what kinds of candidates do well in competitive and Republican-leaning areas.
The Virginia results mean the Republicans will have total control of the redistricting process, which should put them in position to make gains in the congressional delegation. The win in Washington State wasn't particularly noteworthy, since the legislative district they retained is reliably Republican. But, as with the Philadelphia race, a win is a win.
Overall, it's hard to see how these results promise anything about 2000. The voters showed political independence and a willingness to make judgments apart from party, but it's impossible to draw grand conclusions about ideology, Al Gore, control of Congress or HMO reform from these outcomes.
The Senate outlook for 2000
While the Republicans continue to be favored to hold the Senate in next year's balloting, the Democrats have at least some reason to hope that they can win a net gain of five or six seats to capture the Senate.
That's because the Republicans have between 8 and 10 seats at considerable risk going into 2000. While the Democrats would need to win almost all of them to re-take the Senate, they have a strong group of candidates.
The Republicans are poised to add Nevada and Virginia to their total, meaning that the Democrats will need at least 7 or 8 (if the Republicans win the White House) to win control of the Senate. And that doesn't include potential Republican gains in New York and New Jersey.
But Democratic prospects in Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and Delaware look good, and Republican seats in Rhode Island, Missouri, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Washington are at risk. Sen. Conrad Burns's Montana seat doesn't belong in the same class with the other GOP seats at risk, but Democrats could threaten it between now and next November.
One huge wild card is the presidential race. With the Democratic nomination now in great doubt, and George W. Bush's lead in the GOP race narrowing, it's possible that one party or both could run a true political outsider/maverick for president. That could change the cycle's fundamental dynamics, impacting the fight for the House and the Senate.