White House says outcome left some hope Successes are noted despite GOP's losses

November 08, 1990|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, who invested so much energy and prestige in Tuesday's election that his own name might as well have been on the ballot, spent yesterday quietly trying to take comfort in the notion that the results could have been a lot worse.

Despite the president's disappointment at GOP losses that included one Senate seat and nine House seats as well as key governorships in Texas and Florida, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater pointed out that there had been some "sentimental victories" for Mr. Bush as well.

"It was a pretty standard off-year election that has something in it for everybody," the spokesman insisted. "You win some, you lose some."

On the day after the raucous midterm elections, Mr. Bush stayed out of public view, making phone calls to candidates, both victorious and vanquished, and preparing for a few days off in Camp David before beginning an eight-day trip overseas next weekend.

His absence from the spotlight was a sharp contrast to the hectic final two weeks of the campaign, during which he crisscrossed the nation making last-minute pitches for 21 congressional and gubernatorial candidates. Fourteen of them lost.

Democratic leaders sought to portray those losses as a direct slap at Mr. Bush, and particularly at his role in the recent deficit-cutting debacle with Congress.

"I think there was a referendum, and I think he failed that referendum," Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown said in an interview on NBC-TV.

Republican analysts said such readings were unfair because the most that can be expected of stumping presidents these days is to raise money, rally the troops and attract media attention.

"I think he's in the same position he was in before election," said Mark Helmke, a Republican consultant. "Nothing's really changed."

Frank Donatelli, who served as White House political director under former President Ronald Reagan, said the shift of congressional seats from Republican to Democrat "was not nearly so dramatic as some had hoped and some had feared. The Republican Party dodged a bullet."

The dynamics of Mr. Bush's relationship with Congress may be altered, however, as the thinner Republican ranks promise to make his vetoes more difficult to sustain.

Mr. Fitzwater argued that the president "will face essentially the same kind of opposition Congress that he faced in the first two years," and he noted that all 16 of his vetoes had been upheld.

But an attempt to override Mr. Bush's recent veto of a bill banning job discrimination failed by just one vote in the Senate, where the Republicans lost a seat. Having nine fewer members in the House could also make a difference in veto override attempts there, some of which have come nearly that close in the past.

"It's definitely going to hurt," said Nicholas E. Calio, chief White House lobbyist for the House. "Some of the people we lost were good, solid votes."

The president's ability to make his vetoes stick may be his only source of power with a Democratic-led Congress that is expected to come back to Washington with an agenda full of unfinished business from this term and with new concerns about the economy and the Persian Gulf.

Thus, with the election behind them, Mr. Bush and House Republicans are expected to try to heal the rift that began when the president dropped his "no new taxes" pledge and then widened when they rejected his budget deal with the Democrats.

In order to do that, Mr. Bush will probably have to come to terms with House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who will return to Washington after squeaking past a close election challenge himself Tuesday night.

Although the White House wanted badly to keep his suburban Atlanta seat, there would have been no tears shed if Mr. Gingrich had not returned to town. Mr. Gingrich's very-public complaints about Mr. Bush's budget deal contributed to its defeat and to a subsequent 20-percentage-point drop in Mr. Bush's standing in public opinion polls.

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