Democrats' scare tactics: posters of possible GOP leaders in next Congress

October 31, 1994|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Just in time for Halloween, the Democrats have put up posters around the country featuring likely members of the House and Senate leadership if Republicans take over Congress next year -- a prospect they hope voters will find truly frightening.

Newt Gingrich of Georgia as House speaker. Bob Dole of Kansas Senate majority leader. North Carolina's archconservative Jesse Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And Alphonse M. D'Amato, the combative New Yorker who used his seat on the Senate Banking Committee to open an inquiry into the involvement of President and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Whitewater matter, as the new chairman of that committee.

The poster's effect on voters is unclear, but it must scare the willies out of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. The Banking Committee chairmanship is supposed to be his job.

After 24 years of riding the congressional back-benches, Mr. Sarbanes is finally positioned to take the helm of a major committee if, as expected, he wins re-election to a fourth term in the Senate.

But as the poster boldly notes, a Republican takeover would put the irrepressible Senator D'Amato in charge of the Banking Committee and consign Mr. Sarbanes to the considerably lesser role of leading the committee's minority forces.

"Ouch," was the comment offered by Ken Klein, a spokesman for the Democratic National Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Democratic Senatorial Committee and the Democratic National Committee are using what Mr. Klein acknowledged was the "scare tactic" of alerting voters to exactly who would hold the reins of congressional power if Republicans win control.

The Republicans must pick up seven seats to win control of the Senate and 40 seats to control the House -- feats considered difficult but possible, particularly in the Senate.

DTC Party control has an enormous effect on legislation because the majority party manages the agenda. Committee chairmen often have life-or-death power over bills, and they set the tone for cooperation or confrontation.

The Democratic senatorial group sent out a flier a month ago listing likely Republican leaders of all 17 Senate committees, along with the Democrats those Republicans would push aside.

The Republican lineup includes Bob Packwood of Oregon, still under an ethics committee investigation for alleged sexual misconduct with staff members, who would replace Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Strom Thurmond, who is 91, of South Carolina, would take over the Armed Services Committee from Sam Nunn of Georgia, who is perhaps the most respected voice in Congress on military affairs.

Senator D'Amato was one of four Republicans to be selected as poster boys by the Democratic National Committee because his in-your-face partisan style and ethical questions about some of his own financial dealings make his potential committee leadership especially controversial.

"For D'Amato to be chairman of the committee charged with regulating the banking industry and overseeing the Securities and Exchange Commission is disturbing, to say the least," said Jim Whitney, a spokesman for the DNC. He noted recent reports that Mr. D'Amato made a one-day profit of $37,000 from a commodities trade similar to transactions involving Mrs. Clinton that the senator is urging the committee to investigate as part of the Whitewater affair.

Republican officials say they doubt that undecided voters will make their choices based on the likely lineup of committee chairmen. But the poster, flier and other pieces of fright mail sent out by the Democratic committees are intended to energize the party faithful before an election that some fear could produce a tidal wave of votes for Republicans.

"I think it's fair to say that people see Newt Gingrich and Al D'Amato as putting party politics ahead of everything," Mr. Whitney said. "Their No. 1 objective this year was to stop progress on everything in order to tear down the Clinton presidency."

In the House, leadership positions on both the Democratic and Republican sides are in a state of flux that could be dramatically affected by the outcome of the Nov. 8 elections.

House Democratic political aides are focusing their message to voters on the one high-profile spot where the staffing seems certain: If the Republicans win control of the House for the first time in four decades, Mr. Gingrich will be rewarded for his role as architect of that feat with the title of House speaker.

"The more that people across the country hear about Newt Gingrich, the more people are going to reconsider voting for Republican candidates for the House who owe their allegiance to him," said Mike Casey, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee.

The campaign committee has attacked Mr. Gingrich's "Contract for America," an agenda of items that he and other Republican candidates promise to take up in the first days of the next Congress.

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