Confident of my predictions in Tuesday's...


November 10, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

I WAS SO confident of my predictions in Tuesday's elections that I said I'd eat my words if they weren't right on the button.

Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

I. Congress: I didn't do so badly on my Senate predictions. After first (Sept. 15) saying Republicans would gain five or six seats, I updated that last Monday to "seven to nine," giving the Republicans 51-53 seats. The final tally was eight (52 seats) -- not too shabby. I also predicted that of these three incumbents, at least two would lose: Charles Robb in Virginia, Jim Sasser in Tennessee and Harris Wofford in Pennsylvania, and the last two did.

But predicting the Senate was easy. The Hotline, an electronic political newsletter, reported on Election Day eve the predictions of 21 pundits often seen on television. Fifteen of them put the Republican gain at seven to nine, too. (Six said the Democrats kept control.)

Predicting the House of Representatives was hard. I said Republicans would gain 32-34 seats and remain the minority with 210-212 seats. (Sept. 15 prediction: gain of 21 seats.) In fact, Republicans gained 52 or so seats and became the majority party with over 230 seats.

The difference between 33 seats and 52 seats is a margin of error of 57.5 percent, which would make even a pollster blush. No way I can avoid eating those words. But again I was in good company. Only four pundits told Hotline they thought Republicans would win control of the House, and none foresaw as much as a 52 seat pickup.

II. Maryland gubernatorial: I really blew this one. I said Ellen Sauerbrey couldn't win, and implied she couldn't even come close. I scoffed at predictions that she might make a race of it. I based that on her unpopular stands on abortion and gun control, her lack of campaign money and the long history of Republican failures in gubernatorial races in Maryland.

Even if she does lose the governorship, by coming so close under adverse conditions, she sure made it clear to a Gov. Parris Glendening and the next Democratic General Assembly that caution and conservatism are the political watchwords for the next four years.

III. What happened? What I missed was the ideological appeal of Sauerbrey's and of Republican congressional candidates' campaigns. They said government solutions, especially costly ones, especially those aimed at supporting the poor, were the problem. Cut taxes. Cut the programs. (But get tough on crime.)

This worked especially well at the congressional level. Democrats have kept control of Congress all these years by taking the "all politics is local" approach.

(Note to Sept. 15 contest entrants: No, it was not Tip O'Neill who originated that slogan; it was his father.)

But Newt Gingrich nationalized the congressional campaign by going ideological, and the Democrats fell into his trap, attacking Republicans on big issues rather than local ones.

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