Throwing the Rascals Out

November 04, 1993

"The Clinton administration certainly was a factor," Republican George F. Allen said of his victory in Virginia's gubernatorial election. What a victory it was. His 17-point margin over Democrat Mary Sue Terry was the largest in a governor's race in the state in 32 years and the largest ever by a Republican. He carried in a Republican attorney general -- and his party's candidate for lieutenant governor, a fringe candidate if ever there was one, got a respectable 46 percent of the vote. Republicans picked up six seats in the House of Delegates.

All that isn't Bill Clinton's fault, but it is significant that his unpopularity is such that Virginia Democrats asked him not to campaign for them. (The joke was that Democrats asked him not to even fly over Virginia on the way to North Carolina.) It is also significant that where he, his wife and members of his cabinet did campaign -- New York City and New Jersey -- Democratic candidates Mayor David Dinkins and Gov. James Florio lost.

Thus in every high-profile election since President Clinton won one year ago, Democrats have suffered embarrassing defeats. In Georgia, Sen. Wyche Fowler lost a special run-off election. In Texas, appointed Democratic Sen. Bob Kreuger lost in a landslide in a special election after Lloyd Bentsen resigned to join the cabinet. In Los Angeles, a Republican businessman defeated a Democratic councilman to succeed a retiring Democratic mayor. Now, Tuesday's debacle.

Mr. Clinton said yesterday that this week's election results are not a reflection on him or his party but on -- incumbency. "The American people want change," he said. He is right about that. The fact that the big losers in recent elections were Democrats may be no more significant than the fact that they were incumbents or perceived as so being. Take the Detroit mayoralty race. Both candidates were Democrats. The loser was the one endorsed by the retiring incumbent. Voters definitely are in a "throw-the-rascals-out" mood. In addition to defeating several incumbents Tuesday, voters also approved term limits in New York and Maine.

In our view, the mood of the voters is both simple anti-incumbency and simple anti-Clinton Democracy. Bill Clinton, himself, was elected by anti-incumbent voters wanting change. So far he has not delivered that change -- or delivered changes different from those he promised. His attempt to reduce chronic federal deficits remains a theory yet to be proven in fact. His health care reform, supposedly the defining issue of his presidency, is losing public support and mired in complexity.

Election results this week should send shivers down the spine of the president and plenty of other Democrats. The throw-the-rascals-out mood is hardly comforting for a party that must defend 22 of the 34 governorships next year, 21 of the 34 Senate seats and 258 of the 435 House seats. And the presidency two years after that.

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