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Final push begins toward 'long, sweaty' election night

Moderate GOP gains seen, but turnout key with many close races

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Candidates across the United States are getting in a last weekend of campaigning, heading for an election day Tuesday that features a whole host of close contests.

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"This is going to be a long, sweaty night for both parties," predicted Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster. "There's a chance that big things could be decided on the basis of very small victories."

At stake Tuesday: all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and governorships in 36 of the 50 states. A whole host of lower-level state offices are also on the ballot, as well as a number of potentially significant ballot questions.

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Turnout, historically low in non-presidential elections, could have a large effect on the results  

Pre-election polls and many analysts are pointing to small but not dramatic gains by Republicans in the House, Senate and governorship races. But many races remain tight, and turnout -- historically low in non-presidential elections -- could have a large impact on the results.

AP survey: GOP dream of 60 Senate seats fading

A pre-election race-by-race survey by the Associated Press indicated that GOP gains in the House would range from single digits to perhaps 20 seats, depending on the outcome of a slew of close races across the country.

In the Senate, Republican dreams of a net gain of five seats, which would have brought the GOP's strength to 60, appear to have faded, but the final margin of gain for Republicans will hinge on about nine close races.

Overall, the AP survey indicated that most incumbents of both parties at all levels can expect to coast to re-election in an era of economic prosperity. That bodes well for Republicans, who already hold majorities in both houses of Congress and 32 of the 50 governorships.

Clinton's problems are election wild card

Hovering over this year's election are President Bill Clinton's personal and political problems, including an ongoing impeachment inquiry. Will all this motivate angry Republicans? Rally loyal Democrats? Or just turn off voters? Analysts are split on the answers.

On Saturday, during a stop at a school in a Virginia suburb of Washington, Clinton derided what he called "extreme partisanship" by the Republicans.

"What we need to do is put the progress of all of our people over that partisanship," Clinton said.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton struck the same theme Saturday as she rallied the Democratic faithful at a campaign stop in Illinois.

"This election poses a fundamental choice between the progress that Democrats will make on Social Security, education (and) health care vs. the continued partisanship of the Republican majority that does not want to spend its time doing the people's business," she said.

But in the Republicans' weekly radio address, Nevada Rep. John Ensign, who is locked in a tight battle for a Senate seat, said the Republican majority in Congress has delivered on pledges to eliminate the budget deficit and other issues important to voters.

"It was the Republican Congress that overhauled the way the IRS does business and exposed their abuses and intimidation tactics," Ensign said. "The GOP pushed through tax cuts, a $500 per child tax credit for every American family, and cut the capital gains tax, creating a $50 billion boost to the economy.

"Democrats believe that tax increases are responsible for the economic boom," he said. "We know better."

Handful of Democratic senators vulnerable

On Tuesday, Ensign will be trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, one of a number of Democratic incumbents in the Senate who find themselves in close races headed into the final weekend of the campaign.

Other Democratic senators in uncomfortably hot contests include Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina, Barbara Boxer of California, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and Patty Murray of Washington state.

Among GOP senators, two appeared in danger of possibly losing their seats: Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and Alfonse D'Amato of New York. And an open seat in Kentucky, now held by a Democrat, is a virtual tossup between Rep. Jim Bunning and Rep. Scotty Baesler.

In a bit of possible good news for the Democrats, a poll released Saturday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV showed that Moseley-Braun -- who was all but written off by many observers two or three weeks ago -- has pulled herself into a statistical dead heat with her GOP rival, Peter Fitzgerald.

On the flip side, though, Republicans were cheered by the news of another poll in California, sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner and KTVU, showing that Republican State Treasurer Matt Fong had caught up with Boxer and was now in a statistical tie.

Perhaps the loudest and nastiest campaign has been in New York, where D'Amato faces Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer in a race that's too close to call.

On Saturday, D'Amato campaigned with popular Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who has crossed party lines to support him. In western New York, Schumer campaigned with the state's other U.S. senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an institution in New York politics.

Democrat ahead for big prize -- California governor

Republicans appear to be ready to add to their dominance of governorships in the largest U.S. states. They are in the hunt to retain the statehouse seat they hold in Massachusetts and possibly pick up seats in Florida and Georgia, adding to expected easy wins in Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But Democrats appear poised to capture the biggest single prize of election night -- the California governorship, where polls show Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis leading GOP Attorney General Dan Lungren. America's largest state hasn't had a Democratic governor in the past 16 years.

Perhaps the most peculiar governor's race is in Minnesota, where polls show that a former professional wrestler, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, running on the Reform Party ticket, may draw 20 percent of the vote, upsetting the traditional two party matchup between Democratic Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III and Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

House Republicans launch final ad blitz

In the House, relatively few incumbents appear to be in jeopardy, which means that most potential gains by either party lie in the 34 open seats where no incumbent is on the ballot.

Only about half of those seats are truly competitive, including two races each in Wisconsin and Kentucky.

House Republicans, eager to exploit a huge advantage they have when it comes to campaign funds, launched an 11th-hour $10 million series of television commercials that will run through the weekend.

Some of those ads touch on Clinton's personal behavior and his truthfulness but do not directly mention his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which is at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

Correspondents Eileen O'Connor, Gary Tuchman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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Sunday, November 1, 1998

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