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Robert G. Kaiser
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Direct Access: The South

Wednesday, November 4, 1998


Washington Post Senior Correspondent Robert G. Kaiser hosted a live discussion of Tuesday's important races in the south. Kaiser's guest was Post national political reporter Terry Neal.


Kaiser: Thanks Lou for those stimulating answers. We now go to one of the younger members of The Post's political team, Terry Neal. Terry joined the national staff this year, or was it last year, after a successful tour of duty covering politics and government in Maryland. He traveled the country this fall and wrote some terrific stories. Please post your questions for Terry now.


Charlottesville, Va.: The Democrats have been trying to knock off Helms for years but never have. Yet they beat Faircloth, who is very close to Helms ideologically. What was different this time? And did Guy Millner's inflammatory rhetoric drive up black turnout in Georgia?

Neal: I get the sense that more than ideology is at play here in North Carolina. Helms has been in office for a long time and he has really solidified his base. He is much more well known than Faircloth. His long history in state politics means he has more chits to call in at election time. In other words, Helms is more than ideology. He's an institution also in North Carolina. And while he may not be liked by large parts of the population, those who do like him will come out to vote. As far as Georgia is concerned, it may be a little too early to say what exactly drove up black turnout in Atlanta. Millner's campaign commercials, which focused on the Democrat Roy Barnes's support for affirmative action, for instance, may have made it even easier to motivate a black electorate that was already fired up over other things, such as the Clinton scandal.


Kaiser: Terry let me ask a first question. What do you think the psychological impact on the Republican leaders in Congress will be from yesterday's results? Can they keep spinning this outcome as a good one for them?

Neal: I think you're going to see some very rough times ahead for congressional Republicans. Already, the factions within the party have started sniping at each other. Some of this is happening as we speak, so I'll try to avoid speculating on what's going to happen. I do know this: The conservative wing is taking the election very hard. And they believe that the party missed a huge opportunity to send a message to its base in the budget battle this year. I think you're going to start to see some of the spin start to fade, because frankly many of the conservative members are not happy with the results.


Albany, N.Y.: Do the Republicans gain a serious White House contender in George Bush (R-Tex.) with his win or is his win merely a reflection of the state of affairs of the economy and the job he has done in Texas which will not necessarily translate into votes outside of Texas?

Neal: The answer to both of your questions is probably yes. One thing to consider about whatever presidential ambitions he may harbor: His brother won resoundingly in Florida. That means Bush brothers are running the second and fourth largest states in the country. Jeb Bush in Florida will work tirelessly to deliver the state's huge pot of electoral votes to his brother, should George W. decide to run. As far as George W.'s popularity is concerned, the good economy is probably part of the reason for his success. But the Bush brothers seem to have their fingers on something: They've both moved more to the middle of the political spectrum and are avoiding some of the more harsher rhetoric of the hard right.


Kaiser: We live in dread of moments like this. Terry's editor, Karen DeYoung, who runs the national news department, has just told me that he is needed URGENTLY to work on a story for tomorrow's paper. So we are going to have to cut this off. We'll get him back soon. Please come back for Ceci Connolly at 3:15.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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