Why Republicans Like 1994

January 04, 1994

Republicans must feel good about their party's prospects in 1994. How else to explain the fact that more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans (8 to 3) have announced their retirements from the House of Representatives (those Democrats are younger on average than the Republicans), and nearly three times as many Republicans as Democrats (11 to 4) have said they will give up safe House seats to run for governor or senator?

Traditionally the party not in control of the White House gains House seats in off-year elections. That was true in every previous election back through 1938. This phenomenon is related to a president having had coattails two years before. The off-year corrects for them. But Bill Clinton's Democrats lost 10 House seats in 1992. The party is unlikely to lose many more seats in 1994. Still, there is a strong mood of anti-incumbency in the land, as 1992's congressional elections showed -- resulting in 124 freshmen on Capitol Hill. And as 1993's few, big off-year mayoral and gubernatorial elections showed, there may also be a strong anti-Democratic mood.

A recent poll of political consultants and journalists showed none believed the Republicans could hope for the 42-seat gain needed to give them control of the House in 1994 (and make Newt Gingrich speaker). Only 5 percent expect the Republicans to gain the seven seats they need in the Senate to make Bob Dole majority leader again. That is so despite the fact that 21 Democratic seats are up in 1994 versus 13 Republican seats.

Political junkies looking for high-profile Senate races around the nation -- especially those that might relate to 1996's presidential sweepstakes -- will find slim pickings. The only presidential prospect thought to be interested in running is Dick Cheney, but he says he'll be mulling over his presidential option from the sidelines, leaving the race for an open Senate seat in Wyoming to others, among them, perhaps, Lynne Cheney, his wife.

California Gov. Pete Wilson is up for re-election this year. After poll numbers down in the sub-basement for most of his recession-wracked first term, he is beginning to look healthy again; re-election for him would make him a major contender. Another major contender for the Republican prize is Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a conservative with some libertarian views, who is expected to win easily in liberal Kennedyland.

What should be the most interesting politics in 1994 will be in neighboring Virginia. Sen. Charles Robb is being challenged by former Gov. Douglas Wilder for the Democratic nomination, and the present favorite to win the Republican nomination is Oliver North.

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