GOP Senate Seats on the Line
By Thomas B. Edsall
All 10 senators represent states that cast 1996 pluralities or majorities for Clinton, and seven found Clinton guilty of one or both articles of impeachment. The top six targeted are Sens. Rod Grams (Minn.), Spencer Abraham (Mich.), John D. Ashcroft (Mo.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), Slade Gorton (Wash.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio). They are joined by Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (Del.), who voted "guilty" on both articles.
"They had a choice" between voting to acquit the president and risk a primary challenge from their right, or voting to convict and face a tougher general election, said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (N.J.), who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "They took the risk of a general election, and my job is to accommodate that risk."
The three other targeted senators, who voted to acquit the president of both articles of impeachment, are Sens. John H. Chafee (R.I.), James M. Jeffords (Vt.) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine). Defeating Snowe, Torricelli acknowledged, would be a long shot for Democrats.
Torricelli is banking on victories in some of these states in his party's drive to retake control of the Senate, where Republicans now have a 55-45 edge. Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, countered yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Democratic prospects were diminished by the retirement announcements of two popular incumbents, Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.). "Their chances of regaining the Senate have faded dramatically," McConnell said.
To see how impeachment is playing in some of these states, The Washington Post dispatched reporters to Washington, Missouri and Rhode Island to learn what issues voters are raising with their senators, whether potential opponents plan to use impeachment as an issue in 2000 and what voters were saying about their senators' public stands. Last week was the first opportunity since the impeachment votes for senators to test the political waters.
Each of the senators The Post trailed cast different impeachment votes: Missouri's Ashcroft found Clinton guilty of both articles; Gorton found Clinton not guilty of perjury but guilty of obstruction of justice, and Chafee acquitted the president of both articles.
Although the 2000 election is more than 20 months away, Post reporters found that impeachment votes had some political costs, with Ashcroft most seriously endangered, Gorton probably facing a tough fight and Chafee more likely to retire from the Senate than be defeated on Election Day. Reports from the three states follow:
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company