Reaganomics’ bottom line
In Illinois it was credits to boost farm exports, in Nebraska a bill to promote conversion of surplus grain to gasohol. There have been regular radio broadcasts, a primetime TV address and, via satellite, simultaneous fund-raising appearances for 14 Republican congressional aspirants. For a president not facing reelection, Ronald Reagan has been remarkably busy. The sudden activity and the spate of measures to boost depressed industries is hardly accidental. With unemployment topping 11.3 million, Reagan remains the Republican party’s best, if not sole, defence against the strong Democratic offensive in this year’s midterm elections.
In the run-up to voting on Nov. 2 the nation’s jobless rate—the worst since the Great Depression—is an issue that links voters from Sacramento, Calif., to Skowhegan, Me. For the White House, the stakes are very high, with Republican control of the Senate and the crucial Reagan coalition with conservative
Democrats in the House of Representatives at risk. And, although the administration rejects the notion, the election is a referendum on Reaganomics—and the results will reveal how many Americans still believe the Reagan program can resurrect a battered economy.
Thirty-three Senate seats are being contested: of those only 13 are now held by Republicans, and most by members of the party’s liberal wing. As a result, the chances of the Democrats winning the five states needed to retake control seem remote.
That is not the case with the House of Representatives. Six weeks ago many political observers expected the Democrats to reap the full harvest of disaffection with Reaganomics. A 40-seat gain was widely predicted. Since then, however, the prime rate has plunged, Wall Street has soared, and inflation has remained in check.
Now, strategists for both parties predict that the Republicans will not lose more than 25 seats in the House and conceivably as few as 10. That verdict would be less a ratification of Reagan-
omics than a reprieve but it would allow the White House to pursue its present course largely unimpeded. However, the bottom line, as Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah) noted, is whether or not Americans will stick with Reaganomics or opt for a midcourse correction. For Hatch, “the choice is simple.” But for millions of other Americans, it will be an agonizing decision. The campaigns in some key states:
Listening to the rhetoric, it would be easy to conclude that two politicians who are not running for governor in New York are more important than the candidates themselves. The names most fi equently heard are those of outgoing Democratic Gov. Hugh Carey and Ronald Reagan. The Democrats’ choice as Carey’s successor, Lt.-Gov. Mario Cuomo, denounces Reagan for everything from his economic theories to his Middle East policy—“his program is the greatest menace to Israel since the Arabs were invented,” Cuomo recently
told a predominantly Jewish crowd in Brooklyn. For his part, Republican Lewis Lehrman trains his guns on Carey’s whirlwind social life and allegedly reckless public spending. “It’s the Carey-Cuomo crowd that has let the budget get out of control,” he declares.
Cuomo, 50, is meeting that charge head on. He is basing his campaign on the traditional tenets of the Democratic left—a platform that helped earn him a stunning primary victory last month overNewYorkCity’sMayor Ed Koch.He lays particular stress on high government spending for social programs, ranging from welfare to job retraining. Lehrman, in contrast, firmly supports voluntary school prayer, the réintroduction of the death penalty and a phased 40-per-cent cut in income tax.
Pollsters, still smarting from their own humiliation in the Democratic primary-some predicted a Koch victory by as much as 18 per cent—are hedging their bets in a very close race. But, with unemployment high and little sign of any improvement, Reagan may prove to be a more inviting target than Carey, come Nov. 2.
This is Reagan country. It was the president’s home for 25 years, and he was governor from 1967 to 1974. But this time around, three popular Democratic candidates are threatening to pry wide open the GOP’s grip on the state, and that has Reagan worried. Admits VicePresident George Bush: “California’s elections are bang in front centre of the political radar screen at the White House.”
For one thing, the president does not want Los Angeles’ black mayor, Tom Bradley, running the nation’s most populous state. For another, he does not want gadfly Gov. Jerry Brown in the U.S. Senate, nurturing a bid for the 1984 presidential race. Least of all does Reagan want reformed radical Tom Hayden representing the 44th Assembly District in the state legislature. That seat encompasses Pacific Palisades, the Reagans’ old neighborhood. If the president retires in 1984, he could face the galling prospect of being represented in Sacramento by a former member of the Chicago Eight.
The battle is an expensive one. Together, the candidates are spending several million dollars on television advertising, including a stunning $10 million by Brown and his Republican opponent, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. Brown has tried to shed the “Governor Moonbeam” reputation that he earned from his eccentric policies and lifestyle. But his political one-upmanship, including a transparent election ploy on limiting taxation, has alienated many voters. By contrast, Wilson seems in-
tent on boring the electorate with irrelevancies—among them a plan for the election of members of the U.S. Supreme Court. The polls put the rivals neck and neck, perhaps reflecting voters’ lack of appetite for the choice before them.
The race for governor, however, is clear-cut. Former policeman Bradley and Republican rival George (Duke) Deukmejian have spent $8 million in order to hype their intentions to “put California back to work” and stop rising crime. But Deukmejian was forced recently to jettison his campaign manager after he told journalists that Deukmejian would cash in on “a hidden antiblack vote.” With Bradley leading by seven per cent, moreover, there is little sign that that vote will ever materialize. Clearly, the Democrats’ stock is rising, with consequences that the Republicans—and Reagan—are loath to acknowledge.
“It’s opening day of the elk season,” drawled Senator Malcolm Wallop to reporters recently. “And that’s very tough to turn down.” But turn it down Wallop did—the Yale-educated Big Horn rancher is locked in a tight race with Cheyenne attorney Rodger McDaniel, a young (34), articulate Democrat making
his first bid for federal office. McDaniel has accused Wallop of being out of touch with Wyomingites—the charge Wallop himself successfully used six years ago to upset 18-year veteran Gale McGee. And, where Wallop was once highly praised by the environment lobby, he is now listed among the Senate’s “filthy five.” Wallop’s voting record on social security and tax breaks for congressmen have also made him vulnerable. What is more, only two other members took more money in campaign contributions from big oil interests. Says McDaniel, cuttingly: “He earned every nickel.”
But Wallop, who won by 14,000 votes in 1976, still draws solid support from this underpopulated (less than 500,000) state’s chief power blocs: ranchers and the Union Pacific Railroad. Wyoming itself is largely Republican, resentful of federal intrusion and, despite five-percent unemployment—a state scandalstill sympathetic to Reaganomics. Says Bert King, the former commissioner of public land and farm loans: “The president should be given a chance to correct what has taken 20 years to mess up.” Wallop will probably still be around after November to help in that endeavor.
Incumbent Senator Lowell Weicker is distinctly uncomfortable as he quarters Connecticut in his converted camper. The six-foot-six-inch Republican, an unmistakable figure in his Palm Beach pants, is trying to fend off challenges from both right and left. The main opposition comes from 38-year-old Democratic Congressman Toby Moffett. But Weicker also has to stave off the attempts of 39-year-old Hartford attorney Lucien DiFazio to woo away conservative Republicans who heartily dislike Weicker’s liberalism on such issues as school prayer and busing.
Against Moffett, Weicker’s tactics are to divert attention from the administration budget cuts by promoting his personal appeal. “It all relates to Lowell Weicker, the individual, scrapping for constitutional values and individual liberties,” he says. “It’s not any specific issue, it’s the man.” But his strongest card may be voters’ doubts about Moffett’s advocacy of a nuclear freeze. Connecticut depends heavily on defence contracts for jobs—nuclear submarines are built at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division at Groton—and Weicker aides are suggesting that Moffett’s stance has frightened off orders.
So far Weicker’s tactics seem to be working—barely. The polls are inconclusive, one set favoring Moffett, the other giving Weicker a big lead. But DiFazio could upset all the calculations. Weicker has proven to be such a thorn in the administration’s side that the
state’s Republican establishment tried to dump him in favor of Prescott Bush, older brother of Vice-President George Bush, at the party’s local convention in July. Weicker trounced Bush, but DiFazio might siphon away just enough neoconservative votes to let Moffett in.
Septuagenarian Howard Cannon, 24 years in the Senate, is a savvy and tireless campaigner. He came from far behind to beat back Congressman James Santini in the Democratic primary and should have little trouble with his Republican opponent in Nevada, Las Vegas businessman Chic Hecht. The Hecht campaign has been nearly invisible, eschewing traditional door-to-door stumping for an intense blitz of radio and TV commercials.
Late getting started, Hecht has had to spend too much time fund-raising. Not only that, but would-be friends have let him down. A series of anti-Cannon commercials sponsored by the National Conservative Political Action Committee, known as Nick-pack because of its acronym NCPAC, and featuring an empty Senate desk and a voice asking, “Where’s Howard?” merely aroused anger that outsiders should tell Nevadans how to vote. Hecht had to ask NCPAC to stay out of the race.
That has not stopped Hecht’s managers from sniping at Cannon’s age and record. “The key issue,” says Hecht’s campaign manager Ken Rietz, is that Cannon “no longer represents what the people are concerned about.” Cannon supporters turn that argument on its ear. “The key issue is seniority in the positive sense,” says Democrat Dorothy Eisenberg, active in the League of Women Voters. “Cannon is on the key committees—armed services and commerce.” He is also a Mormon in a heavily Mormon state, which should keep Howard’s desk Howard’s.
Each morning since the start of his 37-week campaign, Republican hopeful Paul S. Trible Jr. has dressed to the soundtrack of his favorite movie, Chariots of Fire. Until recently the music was an appropriate accompaniment. Trible seemed certain to romp home ahead of his Democratic rival. But now the three-term congressman is flagging in his bid to capture the Senate seat formerly held by Harry F. Byrd Jr., a conservative southern Democrat-turnedindependent.
For nearly 20 years Republican fortunes have been improving in Virginia, once a solid southern Democratic seat. And Trible, an ambitious, intense 35year-old congressman, seemed a likely beneficiary of that trend. Although Byrd refused to endorse him, President
Ronald Reagan annointed him as Byrd’s “philosophical heir.” What is more, Trible could draw on a $1.7-million campaign chest, double the size of his 61-year-old Democratic rival Richard Davis, a millionaire businessman, whose approach is so relaxed that he has even said he is not certain he wants to go to Capitol Hill.
However, Davis may succeed in spite of himself. Earlier this month, as high unemployment and the deepening recession aroused voter antagonism at Trible’s expensive campaign, Reagan flew to the state capital of Richmond to lend his support. But the presidential
visit hardly helped. A poll, issued afterward, showed the two aspirants running neck and neck. As the pace quickened, Trible drew some strength from the support of Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority movement. But it seemed that, like any Olympic runner, he might need more than spiritual uplift to stay the pace.
The Senate race in this state may be the liveliest of all. Republican Orrin Hatch is a formidable incumbent—a pious Reagan conservative in the state that awarded the president his largest plurality in 1980 (73 per cent). Hatch himself won a national reputation as chairman of the powerful Labor Committee. Well funded and well staffed (35,000 volunteers statewide), the Hatch organization has churned out reams of pro-
motional literature and made thousands of phone calls to undecided voters. And, although unemployment is high by Utah standards, at 8.7 per cent it is still well below the national average of 10.1 per cent. If Ronald Reagan’s plea for patience finds any sympathy next week, it will be in Utah.
Acutely aware of Reagan’s local popularity, Democratic challenger Ted Wilson must preface attacks on Reaganomics with disclaimers such as, “I don’t want to change the basic elements.” Indeed, Wilson, the mayor of Salt Lake City, is conservative enough to be a Republican in almost any other state. Campaigning with actor Robert Redford at his side, Wilson has made his greatest headway slamming Hatch’s tendency to ignore state issues. Hatch’s rejoinder: “Anybody who thinks he can go to Washington and only represent Utah isn’t going to be much of a senator.” A microcosm for the nation, Utah pits Wilson’s “moderate the course” against Hatch’s “stay the course.” The state is likely to stay with Hatch.
At first glance there seems little that can get in the way of Democrat Mark Dayton’s march to a seat in the Senate. Heir to the Dayton-Hudson Corporation department store fortune, he has been campaigning for almost two years, spending $6 million (most of it his own money), and visiting every town and village in a state with impeccable Democratic credentials. Home of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Móndale, Minnesota hands Senate seats to Democrats as a birthright.
But there are problems in the Dayton campaign. Gun control advocates were disappointed that Dayton flew two lobbyists to Washington to win the National Rifle Association’s A rating. Although proposals for genuine tax reform have blunted his blue-blood image, Dayton’s spending spree—he was the largest single advertiser on one TV station—has alienated voters. Moreover, in the incumbent David Durenberger, Dayton faces a moderate Republican with a solid record.
As elsewhere, the central issue is jobs. Commodity prices are depressed, and unemployment on the Iron Range is at record levels. Traditionally, there is strong correlation between the price of corn and soybeans and the voting index; the lower the price, the more Democrats entering the polling booths. But, says Minneapolis Aid. Mark Kaplan: “That’s interfered with by the Dayton wealth factor. It’s an issue. I don’t know if it loses the contest,”
With William Lowther in Washington, Rita Christopher in New York and correspondent reports.