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What's At Stake: Overview | Governor | Senate | House | Ballot Measures | State Legislatures

What's at Stake: Overview

At stake in the 1998 midterm election are all 435 House seats, 34 Senate seats, 36 governor's mansions, state legislative elections in every state but four and statewide ballot measures in nearly all of the states. The real battle is for control of the House where Democrats need just 11 seats to take back control from the Republicans. In the Senate, Republicans would like to boost their majority to a filibuster-proof 60 seats. And with the 2000 census and resulting redistricting around the corner, Democrats would like to prevent the GOP from making too many gains in both the governor mansions and state legislatures.

At the start of the 1998 election cycle, a good economy, peace and historical precedent suggested a status quo election. Although the Clinton White House has been engulfed with Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for much of the election year it appeared that this was not affecting the election. Both parties faced the dilemma of whether to deal with the scandal or ignore it. The situation was complicated as there was a contradiction in poll numbers showing that while people do not believe President Bill Clinton has been completely truthful, the president continued to enjoy some of his highest approval ratings, similar to those that President Ronald Reagan had during his second term in office. Few if any candidates were willing to touch the scandal. However, all that changed after Clinton failed to give the kind of apology in his address to the nation on August 17 that politicians from both parties wanted.

At first, it appeared that a higher degree of political volatility might help the Democrats take back the House. Now that volatility may help the Republicans increase their majorities in both the House and the Senate, especially if Democratic turnout is lower as a result of Clinton's troubles.

There are a number of secondary themes worth noting in 1998. First, record amounts of money will be spent in races across the country in 1998. Second, issue advocacy campaigns, which have played a greater role in the recent election cycles, could be even more influential in deciding the results. Third, both parties are cognizant of their coalitions not only for 1998 but also as the presidential year 2000 approaches. The GOP continues to make efforts with women and somewhat with African Americans, but Hispanics are the party's greatest concern. The Democrats want to continue to accommodate both the moderate and liberal wings of the party as well as attract more swing voters. Women could hold the key to the 1998 election. All parts of the country, especially the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and the South, are likely to produce some of the most interesting races this cycle.

What's At Stake:
Overview | Governor | Senate | House | Ballot Measures | State Legislatures

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