Bad Year Looming for Democrats

June 04, 1993

From coast to coast, 1993 is shaping up as a season of discontent for the Democratic Party. Tomorrow the party is widely expected to lose a Senate seat in Texas in a special election brought about by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen's resignation. The appointed interim senator, Bob Krueger, is trailing badly in some polls in a state where the president is also unpopular.

The Republican nominee is Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the state treasurer. She is ahead in part because she is a woman (and thus can somewhat offset the normal Republican gender-gap disadvantage), in part because she is a better politician than Senator Krueger, and in part because of President Clinton. Senator Krueger is running away from his president. If Mrs. Hutchinson wins, Texas will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction.

Then there is Los Angeles. It votes for a mayor next week. President Clinton went there last month to endorse the Democratic candidate, City Councilman Michael Woo. Mr. Woo was trailing Republican Richard Riordan, a political novice, in the polls before the endorsement by 6 percentage points, and now they are dead even. This may be more related to the revelation that Mr. Riordan was arrested three times in the 1960s and 1970s than to the endorsement. If Mr. Riordan wins, he will be the first Republican mayor in the city since 1957.

Democratic incumbent Gov. James Florio is threatened by a woman Republican in New Jersey this year, Christine Todd Whitman, who is expected to be nominated to oppose him next week. Her sex and his unpopularity should help her in the fall. She surprised the political world in 1990 when she held Sen. Bill Bradley to under 51 percent of the vote, though he outspent her 11-1. The governor has been hurt among independents by his unpopular taxing policies and recent stories about apparent scandals under his nose.

There is at least a possibility that Democrats could lose control of city hall in the nation's second largest city (L.A.) this year -- and in the largest. A re-match is shaping up in New York between Democratic Mayor David Dinkins and Republican Rudolph Giuliani, the former headline-making prosecutor. Mayor Dinkins barely defeated Mr. Giuliani in 1989. The mayor is behind in some polls now.

A Democratic bright spot is Virginia. Former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry is the overwhelming favorite to be elected governor this fall, no matter whom Republicans nominate this weekend. Next year will be Virginia's Democrats' test: Republican big names, including Oliver North, are lining up to take on scandal-plagued Sen. Charles Robb.

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