House retains its incumbents

November 04, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Incumbent members of the House of Representatives who braved re-election campaigns clung to their jobs yesterday as voters focused their discontent more on ending partisan gridlock than on punishment.

The returns didn't diminish a wave of change wrought by earlier primary defeats and resignations that, together with reapportionment, will bring scores of new members to Congress.

And the new House will include more minorities and women than ever before.

In a historic change, Florida, Virginia and North and South Carolina elected their first black House members since the end of Reconstruction.

Florida voters elected Democrat Alcee Hastings, a black former federal judge who was impeached by the same House he will now join, then convicted by the Senate, a verdict later overturned in court.

But early returns showed most incumbents resisting an anticipated throw-the-bums-out firestorm fueled by voter anger over House bank and post office scandals and congressional perks.

Voter trends compiled by the Associated Press showed 91 percent of incumbents winning, including a number in tough races.

Exceptions included Massachusetts Democrat Nicholas Mavroules, who ran for re-election while under indictment, and at least two members whose bounced checks to the House bank dominated their races: Ohio Democratic Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, who bounced 213 checks, and Texas Democrat Albert Bustamante, who bounced 30 checks.

With Bill Clinton's coattails also proving strong, Republicans were expected to register only modest gains in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Instead, voters appeared above all to want an end to the partisan stalemate between a GOP executive branch and a Democratic-controlled Congress -- an impasse that has blocked attempts to improve the economy.

Tim Wirth, a retiring Democratic senator from Colorado and a Clinton backer, predicted the new president will come in "with the kind of direction the Congress is looking for," an early program to stimulate job creation and a family medical-leave program.

The first big test of the new Congress, retiring GOP Sen. Warren Rudman said last night, will come in February or March when it will vote on raising the debt limit.

Exit polls showed a heavy preoccupation with the economy and jobs, with health care also a big concern.

By 2-to-1, voters told exit pollsters they wanted a Congress and executive branch of the same party, according to polls cited by NBC.

This was reassuring news especially to Democratic incumbents, who had seemed particularly vulnerable this year because of their entrenched majority.

Early returns from Indiana showed Democratic incumbent Jill Long winning by 20 points.

In Kentucky, Romano Mazzoli survived a strong Republican challenge.

Rep. Hal Rogers, an Indiana Republican, won 54 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press.

Some incumbents struggle

Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Pennsylvania Democrat Peter Kostmayer, both predicted beforehand to be in trouble, appeared headed to defeat. Incumbents still struggling last night included Jim Jontz and Frank McCloskey of Indiana.

While the House bank scandal made a number of incumbents vulnerable, it failed to defeat Republican Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, who bounced 430 checks. Texas Democratic Rep. Ronald Coleman survived despite 673 bounced checks. Among closely-watched races of House leaders, Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia was leading last night in a tight and hostile race against Democrat Tony Center.

Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan was caught in a close race against Republican Doug Carl.

New additions to the growing Black Caucus included Florida state Sen. Carrie Meek, who was elected from a heavily Democratic district in Miami, against token opposition. Eva Clayton, a county commissioner, won in eastern North Carolina.

Besides Mr. Hastings, who had been convicted of bribery by the Senate, another surprising black entrant to the House is former Black Panther Bobby Rush of Illinois.

State Sen. Robert Scott was elected in a newly drawn district in Virginia. And in South Carolina, in another district designed to elect a black lawmaker under the Voting Rights Act, state Human Affairs Commissioner Jim Clyburn was elected.

Anti-incumbent fervor

A huge shake-up in the House had been expected this year because of several factors:

* Widespread anti-incumbent feeling among voters that had already forced a sizable number into retirement.

* The House bank and post office scandals, symbolizing an institution that seemed to many to be at once incompetent, pampered and corrupt.

* The strong third-party candidacy of Ross Perot.

* Reapportionment resulting from the 1990 census, which both shuffled House seats from slow- to fast-growing states and ensured the election of at least 11 new black and six new Hispanic members.

So sweeping was the potential shift that Congressional Quarterly counted no fewer than 197 close races for the House, where job security had been legendary.

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