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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Impeachment Fallout for GOP Not an Open and Shut Case

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Wednesday, February 24, 1999

    Question: Whom do you see as the most vulnerable senators from both parties for 2000? And how do you rate the race in Missouri between Sen. John Ashcroft and Gov. Mel Carnahan? – Mike Logan, Gladstone, Mo.

    Answer: Conventional wisdom says that Republicans will pay for their impeachment fervor in the 2000 elections. Democrats argue, and some polls indicate, that the GOP's near-obsession with getting rid of President Clinton has already backfired, leaving the party's control of both the House and Senate in serious jeopardy.

    For their part, Republicans claim that voters have short memories, and that impeachment will fade from view once the presidential contest heats up. But if you buy the argument that voters are down on the GOP, then obviously it's Republicans who face the greatest risk.

    The numbers also favor the Democrats. Of the 33 Senate seats up next year, Democrats have to defend 14 while the Republicans need to worry about 19. Of those 19, 13 come from states won by President Clinton in 1996. And of those 13, at least seven seem to be in some degree of peril:

  • Spence Abraham (Mich.)
  • Rod Grams (Minn.)
  • John Ashcroft (Mo.)
  • Rick Santorum (Penn.)
  •      
  • John Chafee (R.I.)
  • Jim Jeffords (Vt.)
  • Slade Gorton (Wash)
  • Freshmen Santorum and Grams won their seats in 1994 with less than 50 percent of the vote. As for impeachment, Abraham, Grams, Ashcroft, and Santorum voted yes on both articles. Chafee and Jeffords voted no on both. Gorton voted no on perjury but yes on obstruction of justice.

    Only one Democratic incumbent seems vulnerable for 2000: Virginia's Chuck Robb, who will likely face popular former governor George Allen. But the Democrats now have to contend with three seats put in play by some surprise retirements. Democratic incumbents Richard Bryan (Nev.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.) are all calling it quits next year, further crippling the party's chances of recapturing control. All three would have been favored had they run again.

    No Republican has announced his retirement, although a new rumor out of Florida is that Connie Mack may decide not to seek a third term. Democrats made a big deal of Mack's pro-impeachment votes and declared they would go after him. But if Mack steps down – and I don't think he will – it won't be because of impeachment. And if he runs, he'll win.

    The Ashcroft-Carnahan race in Missouri will be the key Senate matchup of the year, assuming Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn't run in New York – and that is still my assumption (see the Feb. 5 column). Ashcroft was a leading anti-Clinton critic in the Senate and longtime favorite of religious conservatives who was talking about running for president in 2000. But as soon as Gov. Carnahan began to make headway in his challenge, Ashcroft's voice on impeachment became more muted. To the consternation of many on the right, he began talking less about abortion and morality and more about taxes and foreign policy. In early January, he bowed out of the presidential contest, focusing entirely on his bid for a third Senate term.

    Ashcroft and Carnahan have been sniping at each other for years, ever since the latter succeeded the former as governor. Both have strong constituencies, and both have won comfortably in the past. Democratic polls have shown Carnahan up big, but this one will go down to the wire.

    Question: How likely is Mayor Rudy Giuliani to really make the New York Senate race? He may be too moderate to win the Republican primary and would have to hand the city over to Democratic Public Advocate Mark Green if he won. And would someone who clearly likes to run the show like Giuliani really want to be a senator anyway? Compromise and conciliation are not his strong points. Besides, big-city mayors have historically fared poorly in races for higher office. The only contemporary pols I can think of who successfully moved up directly from the mayor's office are Pete Wilson in California and William Donald Schaefer in Maryland. – Stan Ward, Columbia, Md.

    Button
    Rudy Giuliani may try to do what Mayors Wagner and Lindsay could not: win a Senate seat.
    Button
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Everybody is obsessed with Hillary Clinton's potential bid for the Senate (see the Feb. 5 column), but the Republican side of the equation has drama of its own. As you note, Giuliani's strong personality may not be suited to the role as one of a hundred senators. His election to the Senate in 2000 would turn the city over to Green, who is high on Giuliani's enemies list. Plus, the Mayor could have trouble in a GOP primary with a more conservative candidate, like Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio, who had been plotting a Senate bid while Giuliani was off speaking in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even if Lazio didn't win the primary, he would almost assuredly get the Conservative Party line for the November ballot – a scenario that would split the Republican vote and all but kill GOP chances of taking the seat.

    Another roadblock is the state's antipathy toward NYC mayors. Both Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. in 1956 and former mayor John Lindsay in 1980 tried and failed in bids for the Senate. Ed Koch was defeated in a gubernatorial effort in 1982.

    City Hall often is a dead-end for politicians around the country. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley made two abortive bids for California governor. His predecessor, Sam Yorty, also ran and lost for governor and the Senate. San Francisco's Joe Alioto failed in a gubernatorial effort. Others who made unsuccessful statewide runs include Andrew Young (Atlanta), Kevin White (Boston), Ralph Perk (Cleveland), Jerry Cavanagh (Detroit), Kenneth Gibson (Newark), Pete Flaherty (Pittsburgh), Vince Schoemehl (St. Louis), Norm Coleman (St. Paul) and Norm Rice (Seattle) – among others.

    Analysts have long viewed Giuliani's out-of-city travel as a precursor to a presidential or vice-presidential bid in 2000. But for all of the praise Hizzoner received in turning NYC around, the GOP is not about to place a pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights Republican on its national ticket. No way. So a bid for the Senate – which Giuliani toyed with but eventually decided against in 1988 – makes the most sense. He would attract far more votes out of the city than any other Republican candidate, and would certainly do well in the traditionally GOP suburbs and upstate.

    By all accounts, a Hillary vs. Rudy race will be the battle of the year – if not for all times. The Democratic nomination is the first lady's, if she wants it – and that's still a big if. That doesn't hold true for Giuliani. He's going to have to fight for the GOP nod – getting voters to forget about his out-of-party-mainstream views, or his endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo over Republican George Pataki in 1994.

    And even if he wins his party's nomination, there still remains the specter of a Conservative nominee nipping at his heels – and splitting the anti-Hillary vote.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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