STARTING EARLY IN CLINTON'S SECOND YEAR in the White House, one day every week a dozen or so of his political advisers, briefing books and notes in hand, trooped to a meeting room hidden away in the White House basement. There they spent the better part of two hours planning Clinton's role in the November midterm elections. Their leader was Clinton's deputy chief of staff and chief troubleshooter, Harold Ickes, whose new role as campaign overseer drained time away from his efforts to muster support for Clinton's health-care reform and to contain damage from the Whitewater affair. His assignment testified to the recognition by President Clinton, shared by the Republican high command, that the midterm balloting would go a long way toward defining the political future.
Ickes and his crew faced a sobering task. From the beginning, the 1994 midterm election loomed as an uphill march for Democrats and a golden opportunity for Republicans. History was the most evident factor working against the Democrats and in favor of the GOP. Not since 1934, when a grateful electorate rewarded Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Democrats for checking the ravages of the Great Depression, has the party controlling the White House failed to lose ground in a midterm election. Given Bill Clinton'S fitful start in the White House, no one supposed that his administration would be an exception to that rule.
Indeed, to the contrary, the Democrats now feared that their victory in the presidential election would be their undoing in the midterm. Their wellfounded anxiety reflected the ultimate triumph of Madison's scheme of restraint through countervailing ambitions. His design had produced the gridlock that marked the government for the twelve years when Republican presidents Reagan and Bush had been pitted against the Democratic majorities in the House, and half the time in the Senate, too. This stalemate had not only frustrated the electorate but further debilitated and fractured