Columbia, S.C. -- To get to Washington from here you take I-20 east to I-95 north and you don't hit a traffic light until you cross the Potomac. To get to the White House, which South Carolina's Gov. Carroll Campbell may try to do, requires many detours, and favorable math.
Like most of the many Republicans contemplating a presidential run in 1996, Governor Campbell says now is the time to talk only of the 1994 elections. But when he says that the 1994 "math is in our favor," he knows that presidential victories often are presaged by successes elsewhere.
One year ago, Republican math was discouraging. During 12 Reagan-Bush years the party at the national level spent more than $1.2 billion. And when the dust settled last November the party had lost the presidency; it held 18 governorships, five fewer than in 1981; it had 42 Senate seats, 11 fewer than in 1981, it had 176 House seats, 16 fewer than in 1981; it controlled 29 state legislative bodies, six fewer than in 1981.
The math began to improve late last November, when Republican Paul Coverdell defeated a Democratic incumbent in a Georgia run-off for a U.S. Senate seat. Since then Republicans have won mayoralty races in the nation's two largest cities, Los Angeles and New York, the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, the lieutenant governorship of Arkansas and a U.S. Senate seat from Texas.
Although the problems of two Republican senators -- Oregon's Robert Packwood and Texas' Kay Bailey Hutchison -- cloud the picture, Mr. Campbell believes that Republicans can win control of the Senate in 1994. Twenty-one of the 34 seats to be contested are held by Democrats. He believes Republicans can gain 25 to 30 House seats. Here is a Clinton nightmare: more than 200 House Republicans led by Georgia's Newt Gingrich.
And Mr. Campbell, chairman of the National Governors' Association, believes Republicans will enter 1996 controlling at least half the governorships, perhaps including California (incumbent Pete Wilson's approval rating has risen back above 40 percent), Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida.
Says Mr. Campbell of Mr. Clinton: "If the economy is weak, he'll be defeated fairly easily." But even if the economy is fine, Mr. Clinton will have only "a 50-50 chance" because Mr. Clinton's ideas are too liberal for the nation, and his party is, as its civil war over NAFTA demonstrated, incoherent.
When freshman Senator Coverdell is asked by constituents why Congress does not hear them, he replies: They hear you. Have you seen, on C-SPAN, when the Senate votes, a cluster of senators at the front of the chamber? Often they are Democrats whose leaders are giving to a fortunate few a last-minute dispensation to vote against the bill because it is unpopular with the public but is popular with the leaders, who have votes to spare.
Mr. Campbell, noting the disparity between the national Democrats and the country, calls the Clinton administration "government by spin," saying "they really think they can spin their way out of everything." But he doubts they can spin themselves out of the web they are caught in with their own health care plan.
"Woe unto the politician who gets between a patient and his or her doctor," says Mr. Campbell cheerfully. He can rattle off health care numbers with a Hillaryesque fluency. For example, 643,000 South Carolinians last year used emergency room services for minor problems, at an average cost of $150 per visit, or a $96 million cost. Mr. Campbell believes the Clintons' focus on health care will shift the country's conversation in a conservative direction when people begin to notice things like this (from pages 50-51 of the Times Books-Random House edition of the plan):
"When the National (Health) Board notifies the Secretary of Health and Human Services that a state has failed to comply ZTC with federal requirements, the National Board shall also notify the Secretary of the Treasury . . . (who) will impose a payroll tax on all employers in the state. The payroll tax shall be sufficient to allow the federal government to provide health coverage to all individuals in the state and to reimburse the federal government for the costs of monitoring and operating the state system."
Mr. Campbell believes that "they know they can't sell their plan" and that Republicans will benefit from the Clintons' prolonged attempts to do so. But Hillary Clinton does not seem to be among the "they" who know. She and kindred spirits in the administration may hold her husband on an ideological road that runs right off a cliff.
That is one of two roads on Mr. Campbell's mind, the other being I-95, which passes through New Hampshire, where he recently was.
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.