The Republican tide rolls

November 09, 1994

Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy is coming back, and so is Virginia's Chuck Robb. In California, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein defeated Rep. Michael Huffington in the most expensive Senate race ever. But those pieces of good news for Democrats were not enough. A Republican tide swept the GOP into control of both houses of Congress. The biggest surprise was the gain of some 50 or more seats projected for the Republicans in the House, a triumph far beyond even the most optimistic GOP projections.

The victories give the Republican Party control of the entire Congress for the first time since 1954 and make Rep. Newt Gingrich, the aggressive Georgia conservative, speaker of the House. Sen. Bob Dole, a presidential hopeful, will become majority leader of the Senate. With conservative Republicans like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Orrin Hatch slated to be committee chairmen in the next Senate, the agenda and tone of the next Congress will be different. That is not good news for President Bill Clinton, except on the perverse theory that he can run Harry-Truman-style for re-election against a "do-nothing 104th Congress."

The voters have given gridlock something of an endorsement. Sen. Al D'Amato as chairman of the Banking Committee, instead of Senator Sarbanes, will create problems for President Clinton, and not just on legislation. Mr. D'Amato is obsessed with Whitewater and can be counted on to use the committee as practically a grand jury.

Americans have gotten used to divided government. Fifteen of the last 25 Congresses were controlled wholly or in part by the party not in control of the White House, suggesting that Americans may even prefer divided government. For Republicans, the challenge is to demonstrate that divided government need not be paralyzed government.

Many expected yesterday's vote to be anti-incumbent. It was only selectively so. Many more Democratic incumbents lost than Republicans. Much of the Republican tide was Southern, but even in such places as Chicago, where voters defeated veteran Dan Rostenkowski, and Washington state, where Speaker Tom Foley was trailing his Republican opponent.

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