Banking Committee Members in Tough Battles; Banks Fear Democratic Win in Congress but See Consensus on Wider Powers
McConnell, Bill, American Banker
The presidential contest may be all but over, but the race to control Congress is going down to the wire.
About a dozen of the 34 Senate races and more than 70 House races are still in question as Campaign 1996 enters its final week.
A host of House Banking Committee members face tough battles for the Nov. 5 ballot. The Senate banking panel, on the other hand, has only two members up for reelection. But one race, by two-term Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, is among the country's hottest.
Sen. Kerry, locked in a dead heat with Gov. William Weld, must retain his seat if the Democrats are to regain control of the Senate.
Gov. Weld is considered a moderate because he supports abortion rights, but the two have argued over the death penalty and cutting taxes. The candidates have resorted to personal attacks since the Boston Globe reported Oct. 18 that Sen. Kerry received free housing from two developers and a key lobbyist in the 1980s. The Democratic incumbent retaliated by criticizing Gov. Weld for accepting a free stay at a hunting lodge from a developer vying for a state construction job.
Bank and thrift lobbyist Richard F. Hohlt said the newspaper's revelations could sway the election against Sen. Kerry. "The Globe, which is one of the most liberal papers in the country, is really going after Kerry. He's in real trouble and Weld could win that one."
Mr. Hohlt, who has strong Republican ties, predicted the GOP will retain control of Congress.
Peter Brereton, a lobbyist for Cleveland-based KeyCorp, said Republicans are gaining in key House races in his state, boding well for their party's overall outlook. "If the Democrats don't gain seats in Ohio, they can't retake the House," he said.
C. William Landefeld, incoming chairman of America's Community Bankers, said a Republican-controlled Congress is in the industry's best interest.
"If the Democrats win, there will be more consumer-oriented legislation. That's the type of thing we have been trying to get rid of," said the president of Citizens Savings Bank, Normal, Ill.
ACB president Paul A. Schosberg agreed. "With the Democrats there won't be any attempts to nibble away at the edges of the Community Reinvestment Act."
Still, the most important banking issue in the upcoming Congress expanding industry powers - will move forward no matter which party wins, Mr. Schosberg predicted.
"I think there's consensus among both parties for financial modernization," he said.
The Democrats are especially targeting GOP freshmen, the corps of right wing reformers who stormed Congress in 1994. The banking panel has 18 freshmen members - nine of whom face tough reelection contests.
North Carolina Republican Fred Heineman has the biggest battle as he faces again the opponent he knocked off in 1994, former four-term congressman David Price. Rep. Heineman's margin of victory was thin, just 1,200 votes. Mr. Price has been able to make hay out of a Rep. Heineman's comment in 1995 that people earning $133,000 should be regarded as middle class.
On the Banking Committee, Rep. Heineman has taken a decidedly pro industry stance, supporting efforts to roll back Community Reinvestment Act requirements as well as many other regulatory relief provisions.
According to surveys conducted by private pollster John Morgan and Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Price is the favorite as the race heads into its final week.
Other Republican freshmen in difficult races:
* Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Tex., is trying to stay alive in a traditionally Democratic district against former county tax assessor Nick Lampson. The Democrat appears to have the edge and is using his party's scripted gameplan to paint Rep. Stockman as a conservative ideologue bent on slashing Medicare and stripping back environmental programs.
Rep. Stockman also has had to answer allegations that he has ties to right-wing militia groups after a woman linked to the Michigan Militia faxed a message to his office on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. …