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Democrats Buoyed by GOP Tack

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Campaign '98

Tape Turned Tide, House Democrats Say (Washington Post, Sept. 23)

Democrats in Tight Races Walk Clinton Tightrope (Washington Post, Sept. 15)

Full Coverage: Including More Post Stories


By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 1998; Page A09

Democrats believe they've found a way to turn the scandal engulfing President Clinton to their advantage at the polls on Election Day.

With a little help from House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and a Republican Congress that has not accomplished much this year, Democrats say their once-demoralized core supporters are now fired up to fight back this November.

"The American people know venality and mean-spiritedness when they see it and they're determined to root it out whenever they see it, wherever they see it," party chairman Steve Grossman said yesterday at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee. "And they've seen it on display in graphic detail in the Republican Party through these last few days."

A week ago, this gathering of Democratic loyalists might have felt more like they were at the wake before a funeral. But now the official party line is upbeat, optimistic, energized -- even ebullient. Although they remain disappointed that Clinton had an affair with Monica S. Lewinsky and that he misled everyone about it, they say Starr and Republicans went too far in releasing the lurid details of the case.

"The reversal of the last five days in public opinion is the result of gross overreaching on the part of the conservative-led Republican Party," said Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who is also co-chairman of the DNC.

Presidential pollster Mark Penn, without offering any specific data, was even more dramatic in his assessment: "There is a tidal wave of public opinion in favor of the Democrats."

So scandal is good?

Not exactly, said others at the three-day convention. But what is good is the way their opponents are handling the Clinton imbroglio.

"Nobody should interpret what we're saying as rosy or optimistic," said one party strategist overseeing the midterm elections. "We're saying Republican unfairness is a motivator."

Like many others, Ohio Democratic Chairman David J. Leland said he felt the tide shift after Monday's airing of Clinton's grand jury testimony. Several people also pointed to new polls that show the president's approval numbers up.

"It's not upbeat; more like stout-hearted," he said. "The overreaching and unfairness by people who have no agenda other than to humiliate the president will do a lot to motivate our base."

However, those same surveys indicate that conservative voters most disgusted with Clinton appear most likely to vote. And Penn later conceded that the higher support for Clinton in his latest surveys is statistically negligible while Republicans "are very much ginned up by the whole thing."

With less than six weeks to the midterm elections, Democrats have scaled back their earlier projections of winning the 11 seats needed to take back the House or retaining their current 45 Senate seats. The goal now is to minimize possible losses by focusing on the party's core electorate, namely women, African Americans and union members.

Earlier this week, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a fund-raising letter that said: "And without continued help from proven friends like you, the Republicans could sustain or even increase their majorities in Congress."

Asserting that the GOP-led Congress wants to "roll back the progress women have made," Tipper Gore yesterday told a collection of female DNC members that it was time to trigger a grass-roots network that could "take a stand against cynicism."

At the DNC meeting, activists were given the party's "Road Map to Victory," a 40-page pamphlet that focuses heavily on how to excite loyal Democratic voters.

"I was much more gloomy last week than I am this week," said Mark Gersh, a Democratic consultant known for his straightforward assessments of House races. And while Gersh is not predicting that Democrats will pick up the 11 seats needed to retake the House, he said, "there's no evidence right now of major erosion of Democratic support in marginal districts."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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