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Bill Clinton's Coattails


That headline would have been unbelievable six months ago but today many Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate believe Bill Clinton will do so well in their states they will be tugged along. Sen. Charles Robb, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says, "It's fun to be able to run a race where we don't have to carry the presidential ticket. In almost every race, the ticket is not only welcome but actually requested."

Strange but true, in several states Republican Senate candidates are counting on Clinton coattails. They are emphasizing their agreement with Governor Clinton on certain issues and emphasizing their disagreement with President Bush. This even applies to incumbent Republican senators in Oregon, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and, bizarrely, New York. We say bizarrely because Sen. Alfonse D'Amato is a strongly conservative Republican who has voted for President Bush's proposals about 80 percent of the time.

Senator D'Amato is running behind his Democratic foe, state Attorney General Robert Abrams, in the polls, but not nearly as much as President Bush is running behind Bill Clinton. The senator seems to have pinned his hopes on "D'Amato Democrats," mostly working-class and low- to middle-income Democrats who swept him into office in 1980 on Ronald Reagan's coattails. He has been embroiled in ethical controversies, but many of these voters tell pollsters and reporters they are more concerned about the economy. Senator D'Amato, who dubs himself "Senator Pothole" to emphasize that his priority is bringing home federal funds for job-creating public works projects, appeals to such voters.

The non-partisan Congressional Quarterly terms New York's and nine other Republican-held Senate seats "at risk." Only seven Democratic seats are in that category. A year and a half ago, when President Bush's post-Desert Storm popularity was high, there were predictions Republicans might actually gain control of the Senate, which is 57-43 Democratic. Now, CQ and other expert observers believe that is impossible and, in fact, Democrats will gain seats, perhaps the three or four needed to give them a filibuster-proof super-majority.

That, plus the Democrats' assured majority in the House next session, would, if Mr. Clinton is elected president, create the conditions for an end to partisan deadlock in Washington.

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