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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    The Balance of Power

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Tuesday, October 20, 1998

    Question: Is there any chance that the Democrats will make modest gains or even take control of the House? Is there now a trend towards Democrats in the House nationwide? – Daniel Metraux, Staunton Va.

    Answer: This has turned into one of the most unpredictable elections in recent history, certainly as far as the House is concerned. A long, long time ago – say, back in June – some speculated that Democrats would not only pick up seats in the House, but they would get the 11 needed to recapture control. Then came the president's grand jury testimony, and suddenly Republicans were convinced the Clinton scandals would elevate them to heights not seen in the House since the 1920s.

    But the GOP's fortunes shifted as public attention moved from President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky to Kenneth Starr and the Republicans. Some Democrats – such as former representative Jay Inslee of Washington state – even began running TV ads that told the GOP to lay off the president.

    Does this mean Democrats pick up seats, or recapture the House?

    I can't see any scenario where that happens. Recently I did a state-by-state, district-by-district, analysis, and I came to the conclusion that the GOP gain will only be two or three seats. That's far below the norm a midterm election – and certainly well below what was expected just a month ago, when Republicans were on a roll.

    Once, there was talk about depressed Democratic turnout on Election Day. Now, many segments of the Democrats' base – especially the African-American community – appear energized. Once, the conventional wisdom was that the votes were there for an overwhelming impeachment tally in the House. Now, the best the Republicans may get is a vote to censure. Talk about Comeback Kids.

      Also See:
      Key Races: The House (washingtonpost.com)

    Question: What is your overall prediction in the battle for the U.S. Senate? – Michael Warren, Ridgeland, Miss.

    Answer: While GOP prospects have lessened in the House, they look very promising in the Senate. Republicans currently control the Senate 55 to 45, but they are defending just 16 of the 34 seats that are at stake. While I give myself the option to revise and extend my remarks in a future column, I see the GOP picking up a net of three, perhaps four, seats.

    In order of certainty, they should gain seats in Ohio (where John Glenn is leaving after four terms), Illinois (ousting Carol Moseley-Braun), Kentucky (Wendell Ford is retiring), and California (defeating Barbara Boxer).

    I've always had South Carolina on this list, where Fritz Hollings has been in trouble, but the latest word is that he may be able to hold on; still, don't count this one out. Some Republicans are forecasting further gains in Nevada (against Harry Reid) and Wisconsin (vs. Russell Feingold), but right now I think the Democrats retain both.

    The one sure Democratic pickup is in Indiana, where Republican Dan Coats is retiring. Democrats are very excited about knocking off Lauch Faircloth in North Carolina and Al D'Amato in New York, but at this point I'm sticking with the incumbents.

      Also See:
      Key Races: The Senate (washingtonpost.com)

    Speaking of the N.C. race....

    Question: I've noticed that North Carolina is the fourth most expensive Senate race this year. I have also noticed that more of N.C.'s races turn out to be expensive. Why? – Michael Lawhorn, Gainesville, Fla.

    Answer: Let's tackle the second part first. When Jesse Helms, the first N.C. Republican elected to the Senate this century, won his seat in 1972, he had a savvy Tar Heel political operative named Tom Ellis to get his message out, and financed his effort with the direct-mail services of Richard Viguerie. Viguerie and Co. raised a ton of money, so much so that when Helms ran for a second term in 1978 he waged what was then the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history, spending over $7 million.

    By 1984, Helms had established a reputation as a leading hard-line conservative, a lightning rod so controversial that liberals across the country were raising and spending millions in order to defeat him, while their ideological opposites were doing the same to reelect him. The liberal money came in on behalf of Gov. Jim Hunt (D), who took on Helms in '84. Hunt, who led in the polls for much of '83 and early '84, spent a whopping $9.4 million on his campaign. A record amount, yes, but a record not unlike Sammy Sosa's record. In any other year, it would have been the highest of all time. Yet Helms wound up spending nearly $17 million, an unfathomable amount, and won a third term.

    In Helms's 1990 campaign against former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, he spent over $13 million to keep his seat, compared to nearly $8 million by Gantt. In his 1996 rematch against Gantt, Helms kept a much lower profile. He refused to debate, hardly campaigned, split with Tom Ellis, and had an assortment of health problems. He actually was outspent by Gantt, $8 million to $7.8 million. But Helms still won.

    The state's other senator, Republican Lauch Faircloth, does not generate the same intensity as Helms, despite their similar ideologies. The reason his reelection bid this year against Democratic trial lawyer John Edwards has become so expensive is that Edwards has been willing to dip into his own pocket to stay on a financially competitive footing. The two are not going to break any spending records. Still, Edwards spent $3.2 million of his own money to win the Democratic primary in May, and may have the ability to spend millions more. But don't look for Faircloth to be outspent.

    Question: How many House races have only one candidate running this election? Is this the largest number of unopposed races in the House in the past several election cycles? – Patrick Novotny, Statesboro, Ga.

    Answer: The latest figures I've seen show 57 Republicans and 38 Democrats running in uncontested elections. The total of 95 unopposed members is the highest number since 1958, when 97 incumbents ran unopposed, mostly because the Republican party was still in its infancy in the South.

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

    Ken Rudin, the political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline, writes the "Political Graffiti" column for The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly. He is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin

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