Republicans rudely awakened from their dream of retaking the Senate . . .

November 08, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- No wonder George Bush is feeling "depressed."

After this week's election, the president faces a political fate worse than a plateful of broccoli: Democratic control of both houses of Congress extending into a second Bush administration, if there is one.

The defeat of Republican Senate candidate Richard L. Thornburgh dealt what may well be the final blow to Republican hopes for regaining control of the Senate in the 1992 election.

Even before the votes were in, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, had warned of the grim consequences of losing Pennsylvania.

"We cannot and will not win the Senate back" if Mr. Thornburgh is defeated, Mr. Gramm told The Sun in the midst of the campaign. Democrats now hold a 57-43 advantage in the Senate; their margin in the House of Representatives is 102 seats.

Yesterday, Mr. Gramm amended his assessment.

"I don't think one lost battle loses a war," the Texas senator said, saying the GOP could still pick up the seven or eight seats next year that it now needs to control the Senate.

Republican prospects might dim further, however, if the "Wofford factor" prompts more Republican senators to pass up re-election races next year. Already, two conservative Republicans, Sens. Jake Garn of Utah and Steve Symms of Idaho, have announced their retirement, and analysts say Democrats have a reasonable chance to pick up one or both seats.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas has indicated that he, too, might step down rather than spend six more years as minority leader. If he does, his seat would be in danger of falling into Democratic hands.

And a second Republican veteran, Sen. Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire, is nearing a decision on whether he'll call it quits.

"The Republicans already had their backs against the wall. What happened this week only makes it worse," says Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a political newsletter. "Wofford's win in Pennsylvania and the perception that Bush is really going to have a fight on his hands next year is going to make it harder for Republicans to recruit candidates, make it harder for Republicans to raise money and is generally going to embolden the Democratic congressional majority. That is not a formula for a big Republican year in 1992."

With Democrats forced to defend 20 Senate seats next year, against 15 for the Republicans, the Republicans entered the 1991-1992 election cycle with dreams of retaking the Senate. But few, if any, non-partisan analysts are predicting major Republican gains; indeed, in his latest newsletter, published before this week's election, Mr. Rothenberg concluded that the Democrats werepositioned to add Senate seats next year.

For Democratic Party officials, the Wofford campaign turned out to be a brilliant gamble.

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee went more than $200,000 in debt to provide last-minute television advertising money for Mr. Wofford "at some expense to the class that is running in 1992," said Steve Richetti, the committee's executive director. The Pennsylvania victory makes it much easier to retire that debt and improves the fund-raising climate for next year's Democratic Senate hopefuls.

Democratic strategists in Washington were stunned by the scope of Mr. Wofford's victory and by the strong appeal of his bread-and-butter issues, such as health care and jobs, especially among suburbanites.

As late as the morning of the election, officials were careful to qualify their comments about the Pennsylvania campaign with words such as "if" and "hopefully" in discussing a Wofford victory.

"I don't think anyone can predict with any certainty how it will turn out," Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Tuesday.

Twenty-four hours later, the Virginia senator was hailing the significance of the Wofford triumph and marveling at how far the first-time candidate had come.

"He was as green as grass when he started off," Mr. Robb said with a chuckle.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.