GOP hits 'speed bump' in elections Republicans fail to meet targeted gains, but agenda is not viewed as in danger


WASHINGTON -- Voters around the country flashed a caution light at the conservative Republican "revolution" in Tuesday's elections, analysts and political professionals in both parties said yesterday.

However, even Democratic partisans were careful not to read too much into the off-year election results in a handful of states, stopping well short of claiming that the GOP tide had been halted.

"The Gingrich revolution hit a speed bump," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the national Democratic chairman. White House spokesman Mike McCurry was even more restrained, questioning whether "any global impact" could be read into what he said were essentially a series of unrelated state and local contests.

Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour, while expressing disappointment that his party did not do better, said it was OK with him if "people want to define success for the Democrats as the absence of catastrophe."

Privately, other Republican strategists said their party had missed an opportunity and suggested that the failure to score significant gains could make it harder to keep GOP congressmen and senators in line for a series of tough votes this month in Congress on limiting the national debt and other budget matters.

"There was just the slightest hint of repudiation" of the GOP agenda in Tuesday's voting, said Paul Wilson, a Republican campaign consultant. "We needed a boost and we didn't get the reaffirmation we were looking for."

In Maine, Democrats gained control of the state House of Representatives, winning special elections for two seats. Voters in that state also rejected an anti-gay rights amendment.

In Virginia, Republicans failed in a heavily promoted, and expensive, effort to seize control of both houses of the Virginia legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

Virginia Democrats retained their slim majority in the House and Republicans won two state Senate seats to match the Democrats' total in that body. Despite the Senate gains, GOP Gov. George Allen was perceived to have suffered a serious defeat because of the failure to meet the higher expectations set by state and national party leaders.

In other key southern contests, Lt. Gov. Paul Patton narrowly held off a strong Republican challenge to keep the Kentucky governorship in Democratic hands, while Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice easily won re-election in Mississippi. At the same time, Democrats swept a series of other statewide offices, ousting Mississippi's Republican lieutenant governor, Eddie Briggs.

Around the country, a number of Democratic candidates attempted to capitalize on rising public concern about Republican congressional leaders and their drive to scale back government social programs.

"Kentucky has said 'no' to cuts in Medicare and school lunches," said Gov.-elect Patton, who campaigned on a conservative agenda of tax cuts and less government. At the same time, though, he distanced himself from President Clinton, saying he would refuse to support him for re-election unless the administration abandons its attack on the tobacco industry.

In the aftermath of Tuesday's voting, Democratic officials vowed to continue to make House Speaker Newt Gingrich a target.

"Newt Gingrich was on the ballot yesterday and he lost big time," claimed Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who heads the Democratic congressional campaign committee. "And make no mistake, Newt Gingrich will be on the ballot in every congressional district in the country next year."

For his part, Mr. Gingrich said he thought the Republicans were doing fine. "Right now we have a timeout. They won Kentucky. We won Mississippi," the Georgia Republican said.

Mr. Gingrich conceded that he is "a polarizing figure." He went on to compare himself to "the most polarizing Republican" to be elected president in modern times.

"His name," said Mr. Gingrich, "was Ronald Wilson Reagan." Outside of places where major elections took place this week, the results of Tuesday's balloting were quickly overshadowed by Colin Powell's decision not to run for president in 1996. Meantime, Republicans hope to resume their winning streak in the weeks ahead, with GOP candidates currently favored to win a runoff for governor in Louisiana and a special election to fill a California congressional seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Norman Y. Mineta.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad