Nervous Democratic Senators

June 11, 1993

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison's landslide victory over Democratic Sen. Bob Krueger has to be cause for concern among Democrats in the states where their incumbents' terms expire next year. Senator Krueger is not a great vote-getter, but he was never swamped like this in his previous losses. Senator-elect Hutchison got 67 percent of the vote. She emphasized her opposition to new taxes and criticized President Clinton and his party for not proposing greater spending cuts. The president's unpopularity seems to be catching.

This is not the first big loss for the Democrats since Bill Clinton's victory last November. In a run-off election in Georgia later that month, Sen. Wyche Fowler was ousted by Republican Paul Coverdell. Only in North Dakota has a Democrat won a Senate race since Bill Clinton became president-elect.

The Los Angeles mayor's race is even worse news for the president and his party. He went to L.A. to endorse City Councilman Mike Woo, who was opposed by Republican Richard Riordan. L.A. is as Democratic as any city. It last chose a Republican mayor in 1957. But Mr. Riordan won easily. His message was as "conservative" -- counter-Democratic -- as Mrs. Hutchison's. Or at least it was seen so by voters, who polarized along racial and economic lines. Mr. Riordan got about two-thirds of the white vote and less than one-sixth of the black vote. A similar pattern was seen in Texas -- and in Georgia before that.

The parties seem to be sticking with their traditional constituencies. This could be bad news for Democrats, who have a big problem with one of the core entities of their traditional constituency. Black turnout was down in Texas and Los Angeles. To a degree that was due to local considerations, but to a degree it was also a result of black leaders' criticism of the president and of Senate Democrats for "disrespecting" Lani Guinier and moving toward a budget deal that will shift some pain from traditional Republicans like energy producers to traditional Democrats like low income Medicare and Medicaid users. Is black non-voting an omen?

Some observers say the elections in Georgia, Texas and Los Angeles tell less about partisan politics and more about incumbency. The losing senators were incumbents, and Mr. Woo was running as an ally of Mayor Tom Bradley, promising a continuation of many of his policies. Democrats concerned about keeping control of the Senate can take no comfort from this theory. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 1994, 20 are held by Democratic incumbents.

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