Cleaning up after the elections


Tonight red, white and blue balloons will rise, champagne will be uncorked, confetti will fall. The winners of this year's seemingly interminable political campaigns will bask in victory and renew their campaign vows. The losers will fight back tears and thank their supporters. Then they all will go home, leaving the balloons, streamers and empty glasses to be cleaned up by others.

But not all of the litter of this year's election campaign will be disposed of easily. In the Virginia Senate race next door to Maryland, Democrat Charles Robb and Republican Oliver North have thrown so much mud at each other that everyone around them is splattered. The ugly campaign has come down to name calling with North supporters shouting that Robb backers are "perverts" and the Robb supporters calling the North people "liars." In fields over which soldiers marched to determine the fate of the Union, politicians now wage battles of campaign signs. In small Virginia towns, arguments over the candidates have became so intense and the attacks so personal that neighbors have stopped speaking to each other.

In California, racial and ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by Proposition 187, which would deny government services to illegal immigrants. The issue has become a focus in the Senate Race between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Michael Huffington, with each accusing the other of hiring illegal aliens.

In Maryland, the campaigns have not been so vicious or bitter as the Virginia and California races, but the two candidates for governor have generated their share of garbage. The Democrats have tried to frighten voters by warning that if Republican Ellen Sauerbrey is elected she would cut essential government services. The Republicans have responded by saying that if Mr. Glendening is elected, he would break the backs of taxpayers with increased government spending. The volatile issue of religion has been added to the fire. Mr. Glendening has tried to portray Ms. Sauerbrey as a pawn of the Christian Right. Mrs. Sauerbrey blasted him for attacking her supporters' religious beliefs.

After today, the campaign posters can be taken down and tossed in the trash. The bumper stickers can be peeled off and thrown away. But the more important task is finding some way to wipe off the smudges of insults and mop up the puddles of hurt feelings. The true test of democracy comes not on Election Day, but the day after.

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