Go to Election '96 Archive
Go to National
Clinton Wins by Wide MarginBy Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 6 1996; Page A01
President Clinton capped a remarkable personal comeback last night to become the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win reelection, boosted to a landslide electoral-vote victory by the healthy economy that he had made his top priority.
Clinton's reelection came just two years after voters soundly rejected his policies and threw the Democrats out of power in Congress. But the growing economy and rising public confidence dampened the voter anger of recent elections, outweighed doubts about the president's character and drove Clinton to victory over Republican Robert J. Dole.
Clinton carried 31 states and the District of Columbia for 379 electoral votes, while Dole won 19 states and 159 electoral votes. That represented only a small improvement for Clinton over his first election four years ago.
Clinton also improved on his share of the popular vote last night and was hovering just below the magic 50 percent figure he hoped to achieve to claim a clear mandate for his second term. Clinton's failure to break the 50 percent threshold would make him the first two-time plurality president since Woodrow Wilson.
But as he rolled to reelection, Clinton proved to have short coattails. Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate and maintained control of the House as well, despite gains by the Democrats.
Clinton appeared resigned to that during his victory speech in Little Rock. "The American people have been closely divided, the Congress, whatever happens, will be closely divided. They are sending us a message: work together, meet our challenges, put aside the politics of division and build America's community together."
The congressional results marked the first time that a Democrat won the White House at the same time voters elected a Republican Congress and the first time in 66 years that Republicans retained their majority in the House. Last night's split decision signaled two more years of divided government that will put clear restraints on the president in a second term.
Given the GOP's shrunken House majority, the outcome could force both parties toward the center after four years of polarized, partisan debate in Washington. But with Republicans still in control on Capitol Hill, Clinton faces stiff competition over who will set the legislative agenda next year. He also is likely to come under renewed ethical scrutiny by the GOP, which could cause a rapid deterioration in relations between the two parties.
Clinton addressed that relationship during his victory party. "Americans have told every one of us -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- loud and clear, it is time to put politics aside, join together and get the job done for America's future," he said.
Dole, making his fourth campaign for national office but his first as the Republican Party's presidential nominee, received about 41 percent of the vote.
The GOP candidate attempted to woo voters with promises of big tax cuts and warnings that reelecting the president would bring a second term of scandal and investigations. But the former Senate majority leader ended his long and distinguished legislative career in defeat and disappointment after running a campaign that never seriously challenged the president.
Reform Party nominee Ross Perot, whose protest campaign four years ago drew 19 percent of the vote and helped influence the agenda in Washington afterward, was receiving less than half that last night. Perot appeared to be hurt both by the growing optimism in the country and public weariness with his candidacy.
Dole, appearing relatively upbeat and refreshed despite a 96-hour marathon that concluded his campaign, conceded about 11:30 last night before a cheering throng of supporters at the Renaissance hotel here. His appearance came about an hour after placing a telephone call of congratulations to the president in Little Rock.
"I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent, not my enemy," Dole said. "And I wish him well and I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America."
Dole joked that "tomorrow will be the first time in my life that I don't have anything to do," but pledged that after a few days of rest he would be back to "stand up for what I think is right for America."
Even in the end, however, Dole's campaign was plagued by one last mistake. Shortly after 9 p.m., with many western states still voting, the campaign inexplicably issued a concession statement in the name of press secretary Nelson Warfield, only to send out a hastily drafted correction an hour later trying to take it back.
"Bob Dole has completed his last political mission with courage and honor," the initial statement said. "Even in defeat he has much to claim in the way of success. Bob Dole led his party in this election representing trust and conservative principles. . . ." The second statement said in part: "The fact is Bob Dole has conceded nothing."
Clinton won his second term after a campaign in which neither candidate captured the imagination of the voters and that in the end left many Americans hungering for its conclusion. One preliminary estimate suggested voter turnout was the lowest since 1924.
The president won victories in every region of the country and he continued to reshape the contours of an electoral map that a decade ago tilted strongly toward the Republicans.
In an arc of states running from Maine to Minnesota and then south to Louisiana, Clinton sailed to a near-sweep, losing only traditionally Republican Indiana. Clinton powered through the nation's industrial heartland, recording victories in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, states that once held the key to Dole's hopes of winning the election, but where the challenger never dented the president's early leads.
Clinton also capitalized on growing disaffection with the GOP in the Northeast, repeating victories of four years ago in New Hampshire and Vermont, two states that until 1992 had not supported a Democrat since 1964, while rolling up big margins in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In the Far West, Clinton repeated his victories of 1992. He easily won California, the nation's biggest state where Dole invested millions of dollars in a last-minute push that appeared to make little difference in the final results, and also carried Oregon and Washington, the third consecutive election Democrats have carried those two states.
The president scored his most significant geographic breakthrough of the night by capturing Florida, a state that has not voted Democratic since 1976 but where Republican efforts to reduce the growth of Medicare created a backlash against Dole. Clinton narrowly lost Florida four years ago and campaigned aggressively there this fall, including a last-minute trip Sunday.
In the South, Clinton also won Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and his home state of Arkansas as he sought to blunt what has been an ongoing GOP realignment of the South. But Dole countered by capturing Texas, now the most reliably Republican major state in the country, as well as North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma. He also recaptured Georgia, which Clinton won four years ago.
Both candidates could claim victory in the Rocky Mountain states. Dole won at least one state that Clinton had carried in 1992 -- Montana -- but the president became the first Democrat to win conservative Arizona since 1948 and held onto Nevada for the second time in a row.
Clinton built his victory with the strong support of women and self-identified moderates after a campaign carefully calibrated to appeal to both groups. He and Dole split the votes of men, but the president won a substantial majority of the women's vote. Among moderate voters, who made up nearly half the electorate, Clinton captured an equally strong majority, showing a marked improvement among those voters over four years ago.
Clinton also successfully rallied Democrats, whose disapproval of the Republican-controlled Congress resulted in fewer defections to the GOP nominee and Perot than four years ago. Dole did better among Republicans than President George Bush did four years ago, but appeared to make his gains largely at the expense of Perot, with Clinton winning a slightly greater share of Republican voters than in his first race.
The president won the votes of every age group and of every income category, except those voters taking in more than $75,000 a year. Dole won the votes of college graduates, but the president enjoyed a plurality among voters with some college education, a key group that defected to the GOP in the midterm elections two years ago.
Clinton benefited from two changes in the public mood since 1994, when voters threw the Democrats out of Congress. Two years ago, during the Republican sweep, a majority of voters described the country as heading in the wrong direction. Yesterday, a majority said it believed the country was now going in the right direction. Two years ago, only 4 in 10 voters offered positive appraisals of the economy, but yesterday a solid majority described the economy as in good shape.
Similarly, anger with big government appeared to have diminished. Two years ago, 56 percent of voters said government should do less; yesterday barely a majority agreed with that view. But the percentage of those who said government should do more remained steady at 40 percent, an indicator that voters were not necessarily calling for a sharp reversal of the country's rightward drift over the past few years.
Clinton's slick and effective campaign left unanswered what mandate he would seek from the voters in the months ahead or what policy initiatives would form the core of his second-term agenda. The president campaigned on a series of mostly small issues while claiming he wanted to "build a bridge to the 21st century" that would usher the country through a difficult economic transition.
Clinton the candidate effectively co-opted Republican issues such as crime and welfare reform, and countered Dole's promise of a 15 percent across-the-board cut in tax rates -- which voters never warmed up to -- with a series of smaller, targeted tax cuts. But he had little to say throughout the fall about two of the problems that continue to threaten efforts to balance the budget: the growing cost of Medicare and Social Security. Clinton similarly faces a series foreign policy challenges in a second term, although the issues played no role in the fall debate.
More troubling for the president, however, may be a series of legal investigations hanging over him and Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as rising criticism of his campaign's questionable fund-raising practices. The prospect of continued Republican control of either the Senate or House would add to Clinton's woes, with more investigations of his administration almost a certainty.
Still, the results last night marked a moment of personal triumph for the president. They came after two tumultuous years of partisan warfare between the White House and Congress.
Staff researcher Barbara J. Saffir contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company