House Party for the Right

Article excerpt

The 1996 election results did not discourage conservatives. The presidential defeat, though not welcome, was at any rate no surprise; besides, younger conservatives are just as glad to have Bob Dole off the scene. Washington seers say its a generational thing: Older conservatives are more likely to cut the "prairie pragmatist" some slack.

But what really has excited conservatives is Congress. Though the GOP suffered a net loss of six-to-nine seats (some still are in the nail-biter category as of this writing), the overwhelming feeling among conservatives is that of having dodged a bullet. Labor unions admit to having invested at least $35 million in their effort to defeat GOP freshmen and return control of Congress to the Democrats, and they failed. There are differing views on what caused the Republicans to retain control of the House) Some say it was Doles final 96-hour campaign blitz) others believe it was the emergence of the Indonesian campaign-contributions scandal. But there is a widespread sense that the nation came very close to seeing a renewed Democratic majority in the House and Dick Gephardt as the new speaker.

Instead, the unions wounded the GOP majority without killing it. That's like wounding a tiger and chasing it into the bush. Chances are, when the new House takes up campaign-finance reform next year, big-labor leaders looking up from the witness table will find some very angry tigers peering down at them.

Furthermore, even in the House, numerous strongly conservative freshmen representatives survived, including Arizona's Matt Salmon, John Shadegg and (after a close call) J.D. Hayworth, Idaho's Helen Chenoweth, Indiana's John Hostettler, David McIntosh and Mark Souder, Mississippi's Roger Wicker; Nebraska's Jon Christensen; New York's Mike Forbes; Ohio's Steve Chabot; Oklahoma's Steve Largent and J.C. Watts, Florida's Joe Scarborough and Dave Weldon; Georgia's Bob Bart and Charlie Norwood; Tennessee's Zach Wamp and Van Hilleary; leary; and Washington's Rick White, Doc Hastings and George Nethercutt.

Also reelected, of course, was the congressman from the Atlanta airport - Newt Gingrich.

Jon D. Fox, the conservative Republican who represents the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, led by just 10 votes on election night. Absentee votes have widened his lead to 80.

One outspoken conservative freshman was left for dead on election night, only to sit up in the coffin and take nourishment. Washington's Linda Smith saw her opponent declared the winner, and as late as Sunday, Nov. 10, pundits still were listing her among the GOP losses in telling Americans what the elections "mean" Meanwhile, the absentee ballots were being counted and, by Monday morning, Nov. 11, Smith had pulled ahead to stay.

Jack Metcalf, another Washington conservative and the oldest GOP freshman in the 104th Congress, also had a political near-death experience. His opponent, state Sen. Kevin Quigley, was declared the winner on election night by 2,300 votes, but absentee ballots put Metcalf back in front by 1,500.

Another nail-biter appears likely to end in a bitter disappointment for conservatives. California's bombastic "B-1 Bob" Dornan seems to have pulled off a come-from-ahead loss to Loretta Sanchez. Dornan has refused to concede, citing possible "noncitizen" votes among Sanchez's Latino supporters. As of this writing, however, absentee ballots are narrowing Sanchez's lead.

Undoubted losses that grieve conservatives include North Carolinas David Funderburk (who is expected to be seen again, perhaps in a rematch for his seat in '98, perhaps in a Senate race when Lauch Faircloth or Jesse Helms retires), Connecticut's Gary Franks and Michigan's Dick Chrysler.

Conservatives who stress issues over party also are saddened by the defeat of Missouri Democrat Harold Volkmer. Though a gadfly to Gingrich, Volkmer was a reliable friend to pro-lifers and gun owners. …