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A Republican Tidal Wave

A Republican tide last night swept the GOP into control of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. The biggest surprise was in an apparent gain of some 40 or more seats projected for the Republicans in the House, a triumph well in excess of even the most optimistic GOP projections.

If confirmed by final figures, it will give the Republican Party control of the entire Congress for the first time since 1954 and make Rep. Newt Gingrich, the aggressive Georgia conservative, speaker of the House and Sen. Bob Dole, a presidential hopeful, majority leader of the Senate.

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Yet, closer to home, Maryland and Virginia Democrats bucked the strong national conservative trend. Marylanders re-elected the liberal Paul Sarbanes over Republican Bill Brock. Virginians stayed with moderate Charles Robb in his abrasive race against Republican Oliver North.

With Republicans like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Orrin Hatch slated to be committee chairmen in the next Senate, it is clear that the agenda and tone of the next Senate will be different.

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That is not good news for President Bill Clinton, except on the perverse theory that he can run Harry-Truman-style for re-election against a "do-nothing 104th Congress."

The voters have given gridlock something of an endorsement. Sen. Al D'Amato as chairman of the Banking Committee, instead of Senator Sarbanes, will create problems for President Clinton. Not only on legislation. The New Yorker is obsessed with Whitewater and can be counted on to use the committee as practically a grand jury.

The president said yesterday that "Americans have gotten used to divided government." They have. Fifteen of the last 25 Congresses were controlled in part or wholly by the party not in control of the White House. That record suggests that Americans may even prefer divided government. That is the challenge to the president and Messrs. Dole and Gingrich. Divided government doesn't have to be paralyzed government.

Many expected yesterday's vote to be anti-incumbent. It was only selectively so. Many more Democratic incumbents lost than Republicans. Much of the Republican tide was Southern, but even in such places as Dan Rostenkowski's Chicago district it surged.

And the theme was carried over into gubernatorial races. Mario Cuomo of New York lost in a shocker, and Texas' Ann Richards was also ousted. Those plus Republican gains in open-seat races in Pennsylvania and Tennessee give the party victories in every big state but Florida, a key factor in the 1996 presidential sweepstakes.


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