Fall Elections May Hold a Few Surprises Experts Expect Big Republican Year Unless Gop Stumbles or Democrats Regain Some of Their Enthusiasm
Bill Lambrecht Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
WITH OVER HALF the primaries concluded, Campaign '94 is shaping up as another election in which the angriest voters get their way.
It may be heading toward a big Republican year unless Democratic voters regain enthusiasm and Republican candidates blunder, which at least one expert says is entirely possible.
Besides voter disenchantment, the fall elections will test the muscle of the Christian right and the ability of billionaire Texan Ross Perot's followers to stick together.
The coming campaign features undercurrents, sub-plots and new political faces. Voters More Cynical Than Ever
Political experts say to watch out for an ornery electorate that may be even more unpredictable than in 1992. Beyond the potential effects of billionaire Ross Perot's forces, this election has the Concord Coalition - the grass-roots effort to trim the budget deficit - and the Chaos Coalition, the effort to forge a five-party movement.
If that weren't enough, the conservative Free Congress Foundation is spearheading something called the NOTA movement (None of The Above), aimed at giving voters a right to reject all candidates and force new elections.
Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster in Washington, observed that anti-incumbent sentiments have taken a new twist.
"Last time, people thought that if we send new people to Washington, the problems will be solved. This time, voters are even cynical about sending new people, because they worry that they might not be able to find the men's room or the lady's room," Mellman said.
Mellman has a warning for candidates trying to run as outsiders: "As soon as you run your first political ad, you're part of the system."
Poll-takers of both parties said that cynicism is working against Democrats who also have face the prospect of traditional mid-term election losses by the party holding the White House. On top of that, voters continue to worry about their financial well-being despite growth in the national economy. In a Los Angeles Times poll of 1,515 people late last month, nearly two of every three people picked the word "shaky" to describe the economy. Democrats Downbeat
An overall sense of the country being on the wrong track is compounded by President Bill Clinton's unpopularity, pollsters say. Although Clinton has showed an ability to rebound, for now his political problems are translating to lukewarm sentiments for Democratic candidates in general.
Neal B. Freeman, publisher of the TechnoPolitics newsletter and a television program of the same name, observed that the disparity in excitement about this election is as stark as he has seen in a decade.
"One side of the political spectrum feels intensely about this upcoming election while the other side couldn't care less," Freeman said, referring to Republicans' interest and Democrats' apathy. "That means that in close elections, Republicans are in much better shape."
Pollsters observe that Democrats may have time to recoup, with the prospect of health care legislation and politically attractive features of anti-crime legislation, chiefly 100,000 new police officers on the streets. And two more factors that make it risky to count Republican gains this early: the potential of Republican blunders and Ross Perot. Will The GOP Blow It?
Next month, most Republicans running for Congress will gather on the Capitol steps to announce what they call a contract with the American people. Later, Republican Senate aspirants and groups of statewide and local candidates are planning similar gatherings. …