Election '98 Lewinsky factor never materialized
ATLANTA (AllPolitics, November 4) -- It was the great "impeachment election" that never was. Americans shunned the opportunity to turn Tuesday's midterm elections into a referendum on President Bill Clinton's behavior, dashing Republican hopes of gaining seats in the House and Senate.
Leading up to Election Day, the president's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was considered the "X" factor. Would it affect voter turnout? Would members of Congress who voted for the impeachment inquiry be rewarded or punished?
But when the votes were tallied, the presidential investigation appeared to have had little to no impact at all. For the most part, Americans returned their incumbents to Washington, regardless of their position on the investigation.
All members of the critical House Judiciary Committee who were up for re-election were rehired. Twenty-nine Democrats who broke party ranks and supported the Republican proposal for a broad impeachment inquiry also won another term.
Clinton refused to comment Wednesday on whether the election results will slow Republican momentum to impeach, saying only that it is "in the hands of Congress and the American people."
But the president did say voters want lawmakers to get back to work."In yesterday's election, I think the message the American people sent was loud and clear -- we want progress over partisanship and unity over division," Clinton said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the impeachment process is not political and that members of Congress will have to vote their conscience.
If there is any political guidance from the election for lawmakers considering the future of the impeachment inquiry, it is that whatever outrage there was over what Clinton did, it has to a large degree evaporated.
Going into the election, pundits warned that the biggest role the Lewinsky matter could play Tuesday was in voter turnout. The most widely favored scenario had the Clinton scandal angering Republican voters enough to go to the polls, while keeping Democrats home.
But turnout estimates range from 36 to 38 percent, which is typical for a midterm election. And considering the night, a good portion of those voters must have been Democrats.
Once at the polls, most people said the votes they cast were not intended as a message one way or the other on the impeachment question, according to CNN exit polls.
Most voters said they oppose efforts to impeach the president and thought Congress should drop the matter entirely. There was also disapproval for the way Republicans have handled the investigation.
Overall, the effect nationwide appears to be a wash. Dissatisfaction cost both Republican and Democratic candidates votes in individual congressional districts.
A last-minute National Republican Congressional Committee ad campaign, indirectly raising the Clinton-Lewinsky issue, played in 30 competitive districts in the hopes of swinging them toward the GOP.
It was a gamble that didn't necessarily pay off. Fears of a backlash appear to have had some foundation as more of the open House seats went Democratic than Republican.
In the reverse scenario, several Democrats ran "get-off-Clinton's-back" ads to mixed results. Washington's Jay Inslee and California's Chris Kehoe had success with the strategy, picking off Republican incumbents.
Anti-impeachment ads didn't help Democratic candidate Chris Gorman though, who failed to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Anne Northup in Kentucky.
So what's next, now that the Democrats have gained five seats in the House and the balance of power remains the same in the Senate?
The impeachment process isn't about to stop as the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled public hearings for later this month.
But even Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia), one of the president's fiercest critics, now says he must ponder whether the election has taken the wind out of the impeachment sails. "Absolutely, the possibility is there," Barr told CNN.
Democrats were happy to agree and warn Republicans to cut their losses. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "I think this takes the steam out of (the impeachment inquiry)."
Though there was no clear referendum, Democrats consider Tuesday's results a victory and emerge from the election re-energized. Whether that will be enough to save the president is one of the remaining questions from Election '98.
Wednesday, November 4, 1998
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