GOP romp in Texas' Senate election makes Democrats nervous about '94 races

June 08, 1993|By Steve Daley | Steve Daley,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The crushing defeat of Democrat Bob Krueger in Texas' Senate race sent shivers through an already skittish Democratic Party.

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison bested Mr. Krueger by nearly 1 million votes and a 2-to-1 ratio in Saturday's election, and her victory meant a good deal more than just one more GOP vote in Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole's opposition army.

Ms. Hutchison, a Republican insider who ran as a Washington outsider, claimed her triumph with a blast at President Clinton's economic proposals, saying she would "do everything I can do to kill the taxes in the Clinton program."

Among Democrats, the landslide produced a flood of speculation and concern about the stumbling start of the Clinton administration and about next year's midterm elections.

"The Texas result makes every-body fast-forward to next year," Democratic consultant Brian Lunde said. "You have to ask yourself what happens if we're in this situation in '94 with the president. You have to start preparing for the worst."

Mr. Lunde believes the embarrassing result will function as a wake-up call for the administration.

But if some Democrats heard the alarm clock, others found a nightmare in Mr. Krueger's dismal 33 percent showing.

Next year, 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for election. Democrats hold 21 of the Senate seats and 256 of the House seats.

Many of those Democrats already are uneasy over Mr. Clinton's declining poll numbers and the continuing clout of Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who increasingly is antagonistic toward the president.

For Mr. Clinton, the defeat in Texas threatens his economic plan, which faces preliminary votes in the Senate this week, and his soon-to-be-unveiled health care proposal.

The threat goes well beyond the simple reduction of the Democrats' numerical advantage in the Senate, now 56-44.

"Krueger was obviously a poor candidate, but this is a devastating loss for the Democrats," said Merle Black, author of several books on Southern politics.

"For example, a loss like this makes it that much harder for senators from energy states to follow Clinton's lead. It reaffirms the possible political costs of going out on a limb for Clinton with his Btu tax."

"Everybody with a Senate race next year is taking stock," said one state Democratic executive director, who requested anonymity. "Clinton's got some time, but he better start using it wisely."

Clinton loyalists, including strategist Paul Begala, who was dispatched to Texas in a vain attempt to save Mr. Krueger, heaped blame on the candidate, who had lost two previous campaigns for the Senate.

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