The Democratic Party faces challenges, too 2000 election: Holding its winning coalition together for presidential year will require skill.

November 13, 1998

WHILE THERE is little doubt that the fallout from the Nov. 3 elections rest heaviest on the Republicans, and will continue to do so for some time, Democrats have their own set of headaches to contend with.

On election night, many Democrats could barely contain their glee over the GOP's misfortunes. There were reports of a snicker or two inside the White House.

However, Democrats have to confront the spoils of their limited success.

They must find ways to satisfy the disparate and sometimes warring factions within the coalition that propelled them to victory: minorities, women and labor organizations. They also have to figure out why they did much better among white male voters than in recent elections.

In a sense, it was deja vu for the Democrats.

The old winning Roosevelt coalition had in the past decade been torn by such contentious topics as abortion, welfare, crime, affirmative action and quotas, as well as economic issues that divided some in the coalition along geographic and class lines.

In the past, coalition members would put aside their differences, if only temporarily, to maintain a Democratic Congress, but would split to put Republicans in the White House.

Then the trend reversed itself: Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, and the GOP took control of Congress in 1994.

In last week's elections, the coalition reappeared with a vengeance, producing substantive Democratic victories in unexpected places.

And now, it's payback time. How the party dishes out the goodies will be one of the factors in the elections of 2000 -- as will Republican efforts to avoid imploding.

For example, how will winning Democratic governors in Alabama and South Carolina show appreciation for the overwhelming support from African-American voters? At the least, major appointments, jobs and support for some items on the black agenda are already being demanded.

What will labor expect for helping to deliver Democrats to the polls? Women? Latinos? How will each react to the gains of the other?

Juggling even the minimum requirements of such competing groups has proven a problem in the past for Democrats. If they cannot circumvent the bloodletting of old campaigns, the coalition will again splinter.

The good news for Democrats is that Republicans have not figured out how to draw great numbers away from the coalition permanently.

At this juncture, Vice President Al Gore may be the main beneficiary of the Republican debacle.

Yet the ambitious and aggressive Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, House minority leader, could split the party in the presidential primaries. So far, he has been a team player, when it suited him, but he has been a thorn to the administration in many instances. Senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, are jockeying for position, too.

Holding the Democrats' winning coalition in place will be difficult. But the recent election showed that members of this group remain a majority of America's voting electorate. They will have their say again in 2000.

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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