Divided Government

August 19, 1991

Even the politicians are starting to get the word: Americans, for better or worse, like divided government: the White House in Republican hands and Congress comfortably controlled by Democrats.

While the Democrats hunt desperately for viable presidential candidates to run against George Bush, Republicans are finding it almost as difficult to put together a team that might conceivably recapture the Senate, the only chamber for which they have even an outside chance.

One problem for the GOP is its lack of depth, particularly in the South. All around the country, Democrats dominate city and county councils and state legislatures -- grooming places for upwardly mobile politicians. They have the candidates with name recognition while the Republicans often have to settle for converts (read that traitors) or for candidates looking for an easy way to start at the top.

One reason for this state of affairs has to do with the nature of the two parties. The Democrats believe in government. They have a natural affinity for doing the favors and giving out the goodies -- especially at the state and local levels. Republicans try to control this largess. Their profile is more naturally executive branch.

With Democrats now in charge of the Senate by a margin of 57-43, and with 20 Democrats seats up for grabs compared with 15 GOP seats, 1992 might appear on the surface to be a promising year for Republicans. But professionals in both parties don't believe it. Strong GOP opponents have yet to emerge against four Southern Democratic incumbents, Sens. Wyche Fowler of Georgia; Terry Sanford of North Carolina; John Breaux of Louisiana, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. Elsewhere in the nation, such GOP incumbents as Steve Symms of Idaho; Jake Garn of Utah, and, possibly, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire may pull out. In addition, GOP Sens. Bob Packwood of Oregon and Alfonse D'Amato of New York face stiff challenges.

Does this mean the federal government is deadlocked? No, it means Americans like checks and balances. House Republicans may not like being a permanent minority; Democrats may not like being excluded from the White House. But the United States is a long way from paralysis.

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