WASHINGTON -- Gov. Bill Clinton's overwhelming victory over President Bush should signal an emphatic end to the executive-legislative gridlock that has plagued the nation's politics through the Bush years.
Mr. Clinton, who made a campaign pledge to launch a "first 100 days" to rival that of another Democrat who rode into office amid an economic crisis -- Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 -- will move into the White House on Jan. 20 with a most hospitable political climate to act with dispatch on that pledge.
The Arkansas governor's own 31-state victory, with 355 electoral votes to no more than 178 for Mr. Bush, gives him a powerful persuader in his dealings with a Congress that will be solidly controlled by his own party -- a 58-42 margin in the Senate and 259-175 in the House -- and already favorably disposed to much of his agenda.
The Democratic Congress is poised to pass and move to Mr. Clinton's desk a number of bills vetoed by Mr. Bush and they should provide ready vehicles for cooperation between the new president and the new Congress. At the same time, Mr. Clinton in his campaign expressed differences with many Democrats in Congress on some issues, including the best formula for xTC reducing the $4 trillion federal deficit, for health care reform and the line-item veto, which the Arkansas governor has favored and Congress institutionally opposes. So it will not be all smooth sailing.
The impressive Clinton victory helped limit a widely predicted loss of incumbent Democrats in Congress in the wake of banking and post-office scandals and additional losses as a result of redistricting in line with the 1990 census.
Nevertheless, there was a significant protest vote cast in behalf of independent Ross Perot -- 19 percent with 97 percent of the popular vote reported -- although he failed to carry a single state. Republicans are already contending that the Perot candidacy cost them the election, but exit polls yesterday indicated his candidacy probably did not affect the outcome.
What it may have done, however, was help boost turnout across the country, reversing a negative trend ever since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, culminating in less than half of the eligible voting,age population casting votes four years ago. Much of the new voter registration, though, was among young voters who according to exit polls gave half of their votes to Mr. Clinton, 30 percent to Mr. Bush and only 20 percent to Mr. Perot.
Even before the voting began yesterday, Mr. Perot was being credited with bringing the issue of the federal deficit to the
forefront of the campaign dialogue. But the fact was that neither Mr. Clinton nor Mr. Bush addressed it in appreciably more detail with Mr. Perot in or out of the race, and Mr. Perot himself did not get much beyond generalities on the matter himself, for all the time and money he spent in his unprecedentedly expensive and self-financed television campaign.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, re-elected last night, argued that Mr. Clinton does not have a mandate for his agenda because the combined vote of Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot exceeded his. But he said the Democrats "can't say there's gridlock" anymore, and they won't be able to blame the Republicans if things don't go their way.
Mr. Clinton's landslide buries the pessimism, current only a year ago, that the Democratic Party was withering on the vine. Such talk was also heard about the Republican Party in 1964 after the Lyndon B. Johnson landslide over Barry Goldwater, and refuted four years later in the victory of Richard M. Nixon over Hubert H. Humphrey.
A key to Mr. Clinton's success was his ability to forge a more moderate image for the Democratic Party, casting it as the champion of the middle class as well as of the economically and socially disadvantaged, while holding onto liberals and the party's most loyal voting bloc -- African-Americans.
The white, blue-collar Democrats who defected to the Republican standard in the three previous presidential elections -- dubbed Reagan Democrats -- helped seal Mr. Bush's fate by returning in droves to their old party in such key industrial state battlegrounds as Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.
The suburban vote, which was a key to Republican victory in the Reagan-Bush era and for the first time was expected to be larger than either the city or farm vote, went to Mr. Clinton, according to exit polls, giving him 45 percent to 37 for Mr. Bush and 18 for Mr. Perot.
Mr. Clinton shared the spotlight last night with "the year of the woman," with at least four new female Democratic senators elected -- Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, the first black woman in the Senate; Patty Murray in Washington; and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in California -- and the re-election of Barbara Mikulski in Maryland.
The presidential defeat leaves the Republican Party, which rose from the ashes of the Goldwater debacle in 1964, in a shambles only four years after George Bush swept into the White House as the heir apparent of the Reagan Revolution. There is certain to be a post-election intramural brawl between Bush loyalists and those who claim Mr. Bush lost yesterday's election because he abandoned that revolution, especially with his broken pledge on no new taxes. Mr. Bush conceded defeat graciously last night and pledged cooperation with the president-elect for a smooth transition.
Mr. Clinton's election marks the first emphatic public endorsement of the Democratic Party since the election of LBJ ** 28 years ago. In the one other Democratic victory since then, the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, the Democrats barely won over Gerald R. Ford.
In making an intentional break with the New Deal focus on social welfare by emphasizing individual responsibility, Mr. Clinton succeeded in identifying the party with middle-class voters who in recent years have complained that the party had left them.
In the end, it was a combination for Mr. Clinton of the right issue -- the stagnant economy -- and a disorganized, negative campaign from Mr. Bush that gave the governor, 46, his ticket to the White House.
Showing remarkable discipline and resilience, Mr. Clinton hewed closely to the economic issue to fashion a message of change, bolstering it with a generational image with his selection of Sen. Al Gore, 44, of Tennessee as his running mate. Surprisingly, that generational image had its greatest appeal, according to the exit polls, to the over-60 age group, with 52 percent going to Mr. Clinton, 37 to Mr. Bush and 11 to Mr. Perot.
Buffeted by allegations of marital infidelity and draft-dodging, Mr. Clinton persevered and stuck to his central argument that Mr. Bush's economic policies ignored the middle class and poor to the benefit of the rich. Mr. Clinton's proposal to reduce the federal deficit by increasing taxes on the wealthy and requiring foreign corporations to pay their fair share was dismissed by Mr. Bush.