WASHINGTON -- Here's what to look for as the election returns are tallied tonight to get an early reading on the shape of the presidential race and the battle for Congress.
Indiana and Kentucky
These states close their polls early and report early, so the results here may provide the first clue about the dimensions of the presidential election. Republican nominee Bob Dole is the nominal favorite in both states, which means that if President Clinton wins either or both, he is probably on the way to fulfilling pre-election predictions of a runaway victory.
A Dole triumph in Kentucky, Indiana or both would not suggest he is competitive nationally, but it would indicate he is holding the hard core of the Republican base of 15 or 16 states with about 130 electoral votes.
There is also a House contest in Kentucky that may provide an early clue on turnout. Democratic Rep. Mike Ward is facing a stiff challenge in a Louisville district but would be favored if core Democratic constituencies vote in large numbers.
New Hampshire and Maine
The results here will provide an early indicator on the contest for Congress. The Democrats are facing an uphill race to make the net gain of three Senate seats needed to capture control if Vice President Al Gore is re-elected. And to make such a gain, the Democrats need to upset some incumbent Republicans, as former Rep. Dick Swett is trying to do against Sen. Bob Smith in New Hampshire. A late poll shows the race dead even.
Next door in Maine, the Democrats also have hopes of winning the seat being vacated by Republican William S. Cohen. Their candidate, former Gov. Joe Brennan, is running slightly behind Republican Susan Collins, but Clinton is far ahead of Dole.
In the same way, the Democrats' chances of making a net gain of 19 House seats would require them to score some upsets in normally Republican areas such as New Hampshire. Here the contest to watch is in the 1st District, where Democrat Joseph Keefe is running even with Republican John E. Sununu, son of the former governor and White House chief of staff John H. Sununu, to replace Republican Rep. Bill Zeliff.
In Maine's 1st District, former Mayor Tom Allen of Portland, a Democrat, is a clear favorite to unseat freshman Republican James B. Longley Jr. If Allen doesn't make it, the Democratic prospects for control are weaker than they appeared earlier.
The focus here is on the dead-even contest between Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry and his Republican challenger, Gov. William F. Weld. But the campaigns to watch are those in which two Republican congressmen, Peter I. Blute and Peter G. Torkildsen, are defending their seats in rematches.
These are close contests and should provide the first indication of whether Clinton has political coattails. He is running 20 percentage points or more ahead of Dole in Massachusetts, strong enough to have an impact on House races.
Clinton is running far ahead of Dole here, but the race to watch is the challenge to Republican Rep. Jon D. Fox by Democrat Joseph Hoeffel in the 13th District. This is a normally Republican suburban district just outside Philadelphia.
But the question is how many moderate Republicans desert their party, as they did four years ago, because of their reaction against the conservatives of the religious right. If the suburban moderates defect from the GOP here, there is every reason to think the same thing will happen in other suburbs across the country.
No Democrat has carried Florida since Southerner Jimmy Carter 20 years ago, but Clinton has been running slightly ahead of Dole in the contest for 25 electoral votes. If Clinton wins Florida, it will be a strong signal that the national polls have been correct and the president is on the way to a landslide in the electoral college.
A Clinton success here would speak volumes about the volatility of two issues his campaign has emphasized -- GOP efforts to slow the growth of Medicare spending and the Republican record on the environment.
The principal problem the Democrats face in recapturing control of the House is the vulnerability of seats in Southern states that have been occupied by popular incumbents who are retiring. There are two such districts here -- those of Tom Bevill and Glen Browder. If the Republicans win these seats -- and it seems likely -- they can be expected to win several others that are similar and hang on to the House.
The presidential contest is close here, and the outcome is unlikely to tell much about the overall strengths of Clinton and Dole. But the key race is for the Senate, between Democratic secretary of state Max Cleland and Republican businessman Guy Millner. If Cleland can't win this one, the Democrats have little realistic chance of taking back the Senate.
Finally, if the contest for the House is extremely close, the place to look is the 13 districts here that have been redrawn under a court order and in which candidates of both parties are running in a de facto primary with the runoffs on Dec. 10 if no one scores a simple majority. Three of the 13 are closely enough contested so that it is slightly possible that control of the House will remain in the air for another month.
Pub Date: 11/05/96