Americans head to the polls
Lewinsky scandal remains the 'X' factor
ATLANTA (AllPolitics, November 3) -- When Americans go to the polls Tuesday, they will decide the balance of power in the next Congress, pick the next crop of governors and send a message about President Bill Clinton's future, even if they say that's not their intent.
Thirty-four U.S. Senate seats, 36 governorships and all 435 House seats are up in Tuesday's balloting, but no single national issue -- especially not Monica Lewinsky or the pending House impeachment inquiry -- has become the pivotal point on which Election '98 will turn.
Instead, the election is a pastiche of hundreds of local races, with factors like who is retiring, who had the most campaign money for the final push and who can buy the most TV ads likely to affect the final outcome.
Voter turnout could be light, but the question of who turns out is crucial this time, even more than in most elections. Many Americans say they are generally satisfied with the state of the nation, but disgusted with Washington's preoccupation with sex, lies and impeachment.
Republicans hope an energized base of anti-Clinton voters will show up to vote. In a last-minute strategy shift, the Republicans began running TV ads late last week in some targeted districts questioning President Clinton's trustworthiness, hoping that will spur turnout.
Democrats are hoping that Tuesday's electorate includes a sizable bloc of people who wish they had never heard of Independent Counsel Ken Starr or Lewinsky, and want Congress to drop its impeachment inquiry.
If history and the "six-year itch" rule are guides, Republicans will pick up seats in both the House and Senate. The opposition party normally does halfway through an incumbent president's second term.
Now, Republicans control the House 228-206, with one independent, and the Senate 55-45. They also control most of the nation's governorships, 32 to 17, with one independent.
By some estimates, Republican gains could range from one to three seats in the Senate and a dozen to 15 seats in the House. More than that and Republicans will be able to claim real progress in cementing their majorities in Congress and implicitly, voter approval to proceed with the impeachment inquiry.
Less than that and Democrats will be able to argue that they beat the odds because voters were tired of a partisan Republican attempt to undo the 1996 election. Under one scenario, Democrats could even beat the historical odds and gain seats, if the electorate includes a big anti-impeachment faction.
But most voters tell pollsters they will not be trying to send a message about Clinton or the impeachment inquiry when they cast their ballots.
In a final pre-election CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll over the weekend, about one-quarter of likely voters said they would be sending a message of opposition to Clinton and another one-quarter a message of support, but 52 percent said the scandal would not be a factor in their vote.
Enthusiasm about voting has also changed. In late October, 51 percent of Democrats said they were less enthusiastic about voting than usual and only 32 percent said they were more enthusiastic than usual. Now 39 percent of Democrats say more enthusiastic and 44 percent say less enthusiastic. That puts them on a par with rank-and-file Republicans nationwide.
Thirty-nine percent of all Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual and 46 percent say they are less enthusiastic. The number of Republicans who say they are extremely motivated or very motivated to vote has gone down since last weekend, while that figure has held steady among Democrats.
Thirty-one Democrats in the House sided with Republicans to approve the wide-ranging impeachment inquiry. Some, like Connecticut Rep. Jim Maloney, appear vulnerable to GOP challenges, but what happens to those defectors could be another indicator about the voters' mood on impeachment.
In his final comment on the election, Clinton urged voters Monday to elect congressional candidates sympathetic to his "patients' bill of rights" that would impose more restrictions on managed-care organizations.
"This is a big human issue," Clinton said. "Look folks, we've got to fix this."
Outside Washington, in places like Albany, Sacramento and Tallahassee, the election has import, too.
Who controls governors' mansions and state legislatures is even more important heading into the 2000 census, which will provide raw numbers for the ultimate political power struggle: the once-a-decade process of redistricting.
Around the country, there are probably 50 to 60 Senate, House and governors' races where the outcome remains in doubt or there is some national significance in the results.
In California, Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Dan Lungren are battling for the biggest single prize of Election '98, the governorship, with Davis maintaining his lead in the polls. Republican Gov. Pete Wilson cannot seek a third term.
In New York, Republican Sen. Al D'Amato faces a difficult re-election fight against Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer. It's one of the closest, toughest races in the country, and level of discourse dropped another notch when D'Amato recently called Schumer a "putzhead" in a meeting with Jewish supporters.
In Illinois, Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, one of three women elected in the 1992 "Year of the Woman" trails her Republican challenger, Peter Fitzgerald, and appears to be in deep trouble. Two other women senators, California's Barbara Boxer and Washington Patty Murray, also are fighting to win re-election.
Boxer appears to be have succeeded in recent days in making Fong the issue and she is outspending him as well, while the Murray-Smith race still looks tight.
There may even be some clues to pre-2000 jockeying in Tuesday night's results. Texas Gov. George W. Bush is expected to win handily over Democrat Garry Mauro, who tried to push Bush to say whether he was going to run for president or not two years from now.
Other would-be presidential candidates who have a stake in the results are House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, both of whom are considering a run in 2000.
For months, many of these possible year 2000 candidates have repeated variations on the same theme when pressed about their plans:"I'm just thinking about 1998." After Tuesday night, there is no more cover.
CNN's Keating Holland contributed to this report.
Tuesday, November 3, 1998
Democrats enjoy a big night after a hard-to-read election
Democrats hold off Republican super-majority in Senate
Moderates inherit the governor's mansions
Analysis: A small but historic shift for House Democrats
Analysis: Moderation sweeps the Senate
Offices where party control switched
Dems poured big bucks into final get-out-the-vote drive
Turnout approaches 38 percent
Minorities see ups, downs in results
Clinton happy with midterm election results
How voters see Lewinsky scandal