The Congressional Elections
Much more was at stake in the elections for the House and Senate in 1996 than in any recent congressional contest. A Democratic victory, even in one house, would have been taken as a repudiation of the Republican victory of 1994, while a Republican victory would allow Republicans to claim equal status with the Democrats and keep alive the idea of a national Republican majority. Capturing Congress also appeared to be a more valuable prize than at any time in the past half century. The end of the Cold War lowered the presidency's standing, while the vigorous role Congress assumed in policy initiation following the 1994 election heightened Americans' awareness of its importance. Congress in 1996 was seen as being an equal partner in national policy making, and the choice of the congressional majority was presented during the campaign as no less important than that of selection of the President. Finally, the congressional elections of 1996 were filled with far more suspense than the presidential election, where the outcome never appeared in doubt.
There is always some interplay between presidential and congressional elections, but what differentiated 1996 from all campaigns since 1948 was the extent to which the record and control of Congress were central to the presidential campaign. The presidential race was about the Congress as much as the congressional race was about the presidency. The anticipation of this connection led Clinton-Gore deputy campaign manager Ann Lewis to proclaim in the spring that "1996 is almost like a parliamentary election," meaning that the election would focus on the performance of each of the two parties judged as a crossinstitutional team. 1 By the fall this "parliamentary" or team logic had faded. But the link between the presidential and congressional elections remained, only expressed in a distinctly non-parliamentary fash