Clinton woes may spell disaster for Democrats

October 05, 1998|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Tom Ridge, the Republican governor here, is leading his Democratic opponent by almost 40 percentage points in the most recent opinion poll.

In Texas, another Republican governor, George W. Bush, is ahead by more than 40 points. In Michigan, Republican John Engler leads by 37. Gov. George Pataki of New York is a shoo-in and Republicans are clearly ahead in Florida, Ohio and Illinois. The only major industrial state in which a Democrat is leading is California, where Lt. Gov. Gray Davis is less than 10 points ahead of State Attorney General Dan Lungren.

GOP on the move

In the contest for the House, the speculation no longer centers on whether the Democrats might capture the 11 seats needed TTC for control but instead about how many seats Republicans may add to their majority.

And in the Senate campaign, it now seems possible for the Republicans to gain the five seats that would give them a filibuster-proof control.

Given these political realities, is it any wonder that Democrats are being so restrained in their support of President Clinton in the threat to his presidency that has grown out of the Monica Lewinsky affair?

The hard fact is that the Democratic Party has fallen into disarray during Mr. Clinton's six years in the White House. As the party's leader and prime symbol, he has been a disaster.

The Republican ascendancy in the major states is not entirely a result of widespread identification with the party. But the governors -- the Ridges, Englers and Bushes -- have been aggressive and pragmatic in attacking such problems as education and welfare. And, as incumbents, they also have benefited from the strong economy.

The Republicans also have benefited from the way politics is played these days: Money is always the first consideration and incumbents' huge war chests frighten off Democratic challengers.

The Republican domination of the nation's political machinery has not been accompanied, however, by a widespread commitment to some set of Republican principles.

And one of the reasons for this is simply the failure of the Republicans to project a coherent picture of the party's agenda. The governors are succeeding by pragmatic approaches to problems close to home. But the party's leadership in Congress is heavily skewed to the right on social and cultural issues.

Gender gap

The result in the 1996 election was a significant defection of Republican moderates, particularly women in the suburbs, to Democrat Clinton. Democratic strategists had hoped that trend in states like Pennsylvania would be continued in state and congressional elections this year.

But, unless there is a significant change in voter sentiment in the final month of the campaign, that isn't likely to happen.

Jack Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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