Republican resurgence Strong national showing: Emphasis on tax cuts, crime help GOP win in N.Y., N.J. and Va.

November 06, 1997

IF TUESDAY'S elections represented a trend for the big round of voting next year, the Republican Party is sitting pretty. Its candidates seized the tax-cut initiative to sweep all three top offices in Virginia and hang on -- barely -- to the New Jersey governship. Taxes proved decisive in holding a Staten Island congressional seat for the GOP, too.

The party's national chairman was quick to point to the Virginia victories as "a model" for Republican races in 1998 -- a big election year. The Democratic loser in Virginia, Lt. Gov. Donald Beyer, found himself outflanked by Gov.-elect James Gilmore's call for an end to the state's hated property tax on cars and trucks. Voters didn't heed Mr. Beyer's warning that scrapping the tax could mean less state money for local schools.

Taxes were very much on the minds of New Jersey voters, too. They narrowly re-elected Republican Christine Whitman, by 27,000 votes. She had roared into office pledging a 30 percent income-tax cut. She delivered, but voters found to their dismay that it led to much higher property taxes. Combined with anger over sky-high car-insurance rates, this was nearly enough to topple Ms. Whitman, even though Democrats fielded a little-known candidate.

Across the state line on Staten Island, taxes were pivotal to the outcome of an election to fill a vacant New York congressional seat. An inexperienced Republican easily defeated a veteran conservative state legislator by accusing him of backing tax increases. His victory was tied to an infusion of $1.5 million from the national GOP to broadcast these "attack ads"

Some Democratic leaders got the message. "You cannot allow Republicans to get the advantage on taxes," noted Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association. Maryland's governor, Parris N. Glendening, took some pre-emptive action on that front last spring, when he reversed course and backed a modest income-tax cut spread over five years. Yet based on Tuesday's election results, taxes may once again turn into a front-burner issue during Maryland's 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

Republicans also could boast of a big win in New York City, where Rudolph Giuliani breezed to easy re-election. Taxes weren't pivotal. A tough-on-crime philosophy was. So was a sense that things in New York had clearly gotten better under Mr. Giuliani.

What should really cheer GOP leaders was Mr. Giuliani's ability to attract more blacks and Hispanics. He showed Republicans can succeed in urban centers if they deliver on promises to improve the quality of life.

It's not just the Republicans' tax-cut philosophy that voters seem to like. It is also their crackdown on budgetary excesses, their strong stance against violence, their libertarian message of less government and more freedom.

No wonder Republicans are giddy. They have seized the momentum. But as every sage student of elections knows, all politics are local. Maryland's issues won't be the same as Virginia's or New Jersey's. The 1998 elections won't be identical to this year's.

Still, Democrats ought to be alarmed. The trend in the 1980s and 1990s has been moving against them. Reviving the Democratic Party seems more of a hope than a reality.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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