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Even Hyde's Stronghold Loses Patience With Trial

Hyde House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde. (AP file photo)

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  • By Jon Jeter
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 2, 1999; Page A7

    LOMBARD, Ill., Feb. 1 – The congressional district that includes this pleasant, leafy suburb just west of Chicago is about as Republican as they come. Seven of 10 voters here pull GOP ballots in primary elections. None of the 24 supervisors elected to the DuPage County board is a Democrat and the electorate has faithfully returned Henry J. Hyde to Congress for nearly a quarter of a century.

    But there are limits even here.

    Poll results published this weekend by the Chicago Tribune strongly suggested that even in this staunchly conservative district, opposition to Hyde and the Republican Party has begun to harden as congressional efforts to try President Clinton on impeachment charges drag on.

    Just three months after Hyde was reelected to the House with 67 percent of the vote, a third of the voters here now say they have a lower opinion of the House Judiciary Committee chairman and lead prosecutor in the Senate trial as a result of the impeachment drive. Six in 10 voters here say they would be satisfied with a reprimand of the president and nearly 90 percent want the Republicans to work out a compromise to quickly resolve the matter.

    "I'm sick of the whole thing," said 36-year-old Kim Leibich, who has voted Republican in the past but said she may not in the future. "I can guarantee you that when it comes election time, I will look unfavorably on whatever party – the Republicans or the Democrats – that drags this trial on longer than it has to."

    Virtually no one here believes that Hyde's seat in Congress is vulnerable as a result of his impeachment stance. But if the shift in public attitudes is not seismic, it is significant, particularly given that it is among the most loyal of Republican voters. And it offers concrete evidence that the GOP's campaign to remove the president from office has caused serious injury to the party.

    "I just don't think you can make the case that Henry is in trouble out here," said David Loveday, a spokesman for the DuPage County Board of Supervisors. "But I do think that the longer this trial goes on, the more the Republicans are going to have to work to really make sure that they put together a coherent agenda that is more than just impeaching the president."

    When asked last week whether they approve of Hyde's handling of the impeachment inquiry, 38 percent of voters here said no. One in four said Hyde had been too partisan in his approach and 35 percent said his handling of the case has diminished their opinion of the 74-year-old House member, who has been a fixture in Illinois politics since he was elected to the state legislature 32 years ago.

    It is not that voters here especially like the president. Only 40 percent of them voted for Clinton in the 1996 presidential election, compared with nearly 51 percent for Robert J. Dole, the Republican candidate. When asked last week, only 34 percent of those polled here said their personal assessment of Clinton was favorable.

    "Sure, I'd like for this whole thing to be over," said Kevin Kirk, a police officer. But I have much more of a problem with Bill Clinton than I ever did with Henry Hyde."

    Still, 59 percent said they approve of the job Clinton has done as president, a figure that is about 10 percentage points below the nationwide average.

    "I'm not a particularly big fan of Clinton's," said Jerry Simon, a Republican and college chemistry professor here. "But I just think that Henry Hyde and that bunch are a bunch of hypocrites. I don't know who I'm going to vote for but I'm not going to forget that the Republicans put the country through this mess."

    Political analysts suspect that the GOP may have antagonized voters with its zeal to evict Clinton from the White House, but are unsure what effect that will have on Republican reelection chances. Of the 19 U.S. senators who face reelection next year, 13 are campaigning in states that Clinton carried in 1996 and polls show that some have already been damaged as a result of the unpopular proceedings.

    Some here think that if the unpopularity of the GOP's campaign has repercussions – even minor – for a favorite such as Hyde, it will almost certainly affect Republicans in more uncertain districts or states.

    "You almost never heard anyone say a bad word about Henry Hyde around here," said Roland Kinney, a salesman here. "But you don't have to go far to hear someone bad-mouthing him now, and this is about as good as it gets for a Republican. That's got to make Republicans a bit uneasy going into 2000."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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