THE NEW CAPITOL STARS
Suddenly, the onetime matineeidol face seemed to be more deeply etched with lines. In the voice that has pitched household appliances and conservative ideology with equal success, listeners detected an uncharacteristically subdued note. As members of the White House staff assembled in the amphitheatre of Washington’s Old Executive Office Building after last week’s midterm congressional elections, they found a Ronald Reagan vastly different from the President who enthusiastically barnstormed the country on a gruelling campaign schedule only days before. Despite the upbeat message of his scripted pep talk, Reagan appeared to be shaken by the biggest political setback of his presidency. After he had logged 40,000 km through 22 states in a last-minute attempt to turn the election into a national referendum on his policies, voters had spurned his personal appeal and returned the Senate to Democratic control with a 55-to-45 margin that exceeded his opponents’ wildest expectations.
Stunning: In nine states, where Reagan personally stumped for Republican candidates, eight lost in what was seen as a stunning personal repudiation of the President. Only Senator Steven Symms of Idaho—who claimed credit for the administration’s 15-per-cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports that will help his state’s timber industry—won. The Republicans made no gains in the already Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and out of the 36 governorships that were on the line Republican candidates won only eight. Those results effectively signalled that, after six years in office, the most popular President in recent history had been unable to bring about a conservative realignment of the American political landscape. Exulted retiring House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill: “If there was a Reagan revolution, it’s over.”
For his part, Reagan, in his postelection speech to his White House troops, vowed to “complete the revolution that we have so well begun.” But analysts on all parts of the political spectrum agreed that Reagan will face a stormy final two years in office. With the Senate and its key committee chairman-
ships in Democratic hands, the President’s opponents will have the means to begin cutting back on some of the programs dearest to his heart. Among them: the largest peacetime military buildup in history; funding for the space-based Strategic Defense Initiative (SDi), popularly dubbed Star Wars; and aid for Nicaragua’s contra rebels. Although the Democrats were quick to sound a conciliatory note, they promised
a former foreign policy adviser to President Richard Nixon: “It’s going to be a rough time for international trade. It doesn’t bode very well for anyone, but for Canada it means trouble.” Although most political observers shared that pessimism, some also saw other implications in the U.S. political power shift, including a possible change in the Canadian political mood (page 38).
to put the brakes on Reagan’s conservative judicial appointments and begin an assault on his free-market philosophies with a trade bill designed to protect American industries.
Indeed, despite the fact that Canadians have historically perceived the Democrats as sympathetic to their interests, that party’s determination to turn trade into the major issue before the 1988 presidential elections could spell disaster for Canada’s trading relationship with the United States—as well as for current free trade negotiations. Predicted Helmut Sonnenfeldt,
Before the final ballots had even been tallied, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, expected to be elected Senate majority leader next week, promised to deliver new trade legislation to Reagan’s desk by the end of next year. Calling the current trade deficit—expected to reach a record $170 billion (U.S.) this year—a “national embarrassment,” Byrd charged that “the working people of this country have been mugged on international competition.” But analysts noted that in recent months, the trade deficit has declined (to $12.5 billion in October from $18 billion in July) along with the value of the U.S. dollar.
Steam: That encouraged Trade Minister Pat Carney to strike a cautionary note during a visit to Washington last week, declaring that it would be “premature” to judge the new Congress. Noting the gradual improvement in the U.S. trade balance, a Canadian Embassy official said, “The question is, if in the next six months there is a
trend in that direction will it take some steam out of the protectionist push?”
In Ottawa, the consensus among opposition politicians—and even some government officials—was that U.S. election results could cripple the free trade thrust. A senior government official, who requested anonymity, told Maclean's that the Democrats who control the U.S. Senate “are going to make things more difficult. But things were pretty difficult on the trade side before the election.” Liberal trade critic Lloyd Axworthy argued that the
Democratic trade bill was certain to “apply strictures to Canadian trade.” As a result, said Axworthy, the current free trade negotiations would become “all the more irrelevant to what’s really going on.” Declared New Democratic Party trade critic Steven Langdon: “I think frankly the chances of a freer trade agreement being achieved by the government are much worse now than they were before Tuesday night.”
Still, some U.S. analysts argued that the protectionist mood in Congress might provoke the White House to take its own pre-emptive measures. Charles Doran, director of the Canadian studies program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, pointed out that Congress’s determination to go ahead with a protectionist bill will put even more pressure on the White House to
conclude a bilateral free trade agreement with Ottawa as a counterweight. “Now it is clear Washington is going to be more interested in a free trade agreement with Canada than ever before,” he said. “On the basis of this election, trade and economic matters have suddenly become high politics.”
Boom: In fact, the election results signalled that voters had apparently lost faith in Reagan’s rosy economic prophecies. On the final stretch of his campaign swing through the South, the President predicted that the nation was headed for “a second boom.” But
voters were apparently unconvinced.
The economy helped the Democrats score their most decisive upsets in the South and in the mid-Western Farm Belt. In Georgia, former Democratic representative Wyche Fowler, the underdog, used television ads shot against the backdrop of an abandoned farmhouse, and he blamed Reagan’s agricultural policies for the greatest number of farm foreclosures since the Depression. Fowler credited those tactics with helping him to wrest victory from incumbent Senator Mack Mattingly.
Backfire: But expectations of a swift economic solution could backfire on the Democrats, who take over the legislative reins with a $220.7-million national debt. As well, they will be hobbled by the budget-cutting GrammRudman amendment that will prevent them from introducing sweeping new
measures for social spending. If, as seemed likely, they are unprepared to court unpopularity by instigating a tax increase, the Democrats may well end up being blamed for the nation’s economic woes in 1988.
Even so, the election was a stunning vindication of the Democrats, who were outspent and out-organized by the Republicans by as much as 8 to 1. Indeed, the results showed that in many cases the Republicans’ huge war chests boomeranged on them. In 11 of the 16 closest Senate races, where Republican candidates raised $1 million more than their opponents, underfunded Democrats won. In North Carolina, the winner was former Democratic governor Terry Sanford, who generated sympathy among voters when he mortgaged his farm to pay for a final week of television ads against Senator James Broyhill.
Taste: As they savored the taste of victory, some Democrats warned that the party will have to draft a workable new legislative program and patch up a growing internal split—or risk wasting its triumph in futile internecine
battles. Said Delaware’s Senator Joe Biden, one of the party’s presidential hopefuls: “We’re going to have an opportunity for the first time to set the agenda. The Democrats are going to have to demonstrate what they want to do.”
Some critics have charged that the Democratic party has become a loose coalition of independent and conflicting voices. And they contend that the only reason the Democrats triumphed in last week’s elections was that the campaigns were run on local—not national—issues. Many of the party’s traditional liberal interest groups objected to the new centrist platform that the Democratic national committee published last month. And they chafed at charges by Representative Jack Kemp, the Republican presidential hopeful, that some Democrats in the last campaign sounded too much like Reagan Republicans.
Nor were political observers optimistic that the Democrats will manage to chart a clear national course before
choosing their candidate for the 1988 presidential election. Said Stephen Hess of Washington’s Brookings Institution: “The Democrats haven’t had an agenda up till now, and they’re not going to come up with one instantly overnight.” More ominously, James Sundquist, an electoral specialist from Brookings, predicted that with the President pitted against a hostile Congress over the next two years, U.S. politics will plunge into a “stalemate— a condition of paralysis where we’re unable to deal with our deficits or any-
thing else.” White House officials indicated that Reagan is prepared to veto any legislation he does not like—especially any trade bill. Sundquist warned that a standoff could lead to “two years of the most agile buck-passing we’ve seen in years. In 1988 the voters are going to have a hard time holding anybody responsible.”
Abuse: Still, last week’s results appeared to demonstrate that the Reagan era had failed to produce any profound change in the U.S. political topography. In fact, many of those freshmen Republican senators elected on the President’s coattails in 1980 were the ones swept to defeat this time, including Florida’s Senator Paula Hawkins, who had never managed to stake out any electoral issues except child abuse.
And after suffering a string of losses to the Republicans in the South and West in recent years, the Democrats staged a striking comeback by recapturing Senate seats in Alabama, North
Carolina, Georgia, Florida, California, Nevada, Washington state and both Dakotas. In California, where Reagan had laid his personal prestige on the line for Republican challenger Representative Ed Zschau, veteran Senator Alan Cranston’s fourth victory signalled that the Republicans had failed to make a definitive dent in Sunbelt loyalties (page 34).
Blacks: In at least four Southern states—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina—surveys of voters leaving the polls indicated that newly elected Democratic senators owed
their success to black voters. In Alabama, Representative Richard Shelby captured only 37 per cent of the white vote against Republican Senator Jeremiah Denton —a Vietnam veteran whom Reagan hailed as a “national treasure.” But he won Denton’s seat with a 13,000-vote margin by picking up 91 per cent of the black vote. And in Louisiana, the fallout from a Republican “ballot security program”—an attempt, targeted at black precincts, to make voters prove their eligibility—so outraged many of the state’s black voters that they turned out en masse to deliver their support to Democratic Representative John Breaux.
Still, Republicans took comfort in the fact that they had won eight governorships, including those in the key Sunbelt states of California, Texas and Florida, where former Tampa mayor Bob Martinez became the nation’s first Hispanic governor. In Alabama, Amway distributor Guy Hunt also became the first Republican governor since the Civil War, replacing retiring George Wallace. The Republican gubernatorial victories were offset by the fact that Democrats gained control of four more statehouses, giving them majorities in 63 of the country’s 98 state legislative chambers. Said Democratic national chairman Paul Kirk: “Political realignment was put to rest. We are going to continue to be the dominant party at every level.”
Mixed: For women, the elections delivered a mixed message. Although more women ran for more offices than
ever before (including 64 for the House of Representatives, six for the Senate and nine for governor), the number of women in office did not increase. In Nebraska, voters elected former state treasurer Kay Orr as the first female Republican governor in history. But six other women were defeated in gubernatorial races. In Maryland, congresswoman Barbara Mikulski won a landslide victory over former White House aide Linda Chavez to become the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right in 26 years.
Democrats were confident that their new class of freshman senators will not turn out to be political transientslike the Republicans elected in Reagan’s wake in 1980—because many of them are already seasoned legislators, either former con-
gressmen or governors who know their way around the corridors of power. Among the new faces: Florida Gov. Robert Graham, 50, a moderate Democrat who advocates a tough stand on crime and supports aid for the contras; Colorado’s Representative Timothy Wirth, 47, a six-term congressman who is an expert on the federal budget; and Nevada’s Harry Reid, 47, a moderate two-term congressman who delivered Reagan a stunning personal blow by winning the seat being vacated by the President’s close friend Senator Paul
Laxalt. In the House of Representatives, two of the most watched new figures will be Joseph Kennedy II, 34year-old son of the late Robert Kennedy, who won House speaker Tip O’Neill’s Boston seat after a $1.5-million campaign, and Fred Grandy, the bumbling “Gopher” on The Love Boat television series, who won a Republican seat in Iowa.
Hawk: Democratic dominance of the Senate will likely slow the momentum of some of Reagan’s pet projects, including Star Wars. On the Senate’s key armed services committee, Georgia’s conservative Democratic Senator Sam Nunn will take over from retiring Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as chairman. A hawk who has often supported Reagan in the past, Nunn has recently led efforts to cut Pentagon spending, in-
cluding funding for Star Wars. Despite that, Sundquist predicted that the Democrats will grudgingly support Star Wars. “I don’t think they’d dare cut it,” he said. “It would give the Republicans too big an issue in 1988.”
Handicapped from furthering his domestic agenda, Reagan is expected to turn most of his attention to foreign affairs in the next two years with an eye to securing his place in history. But even there, he will face more confrontation from a foreign relations committee led by Rhode Island’s veteran Senator Claiborne Pell, a frequent critic of Reagan’s programs. Most observers do not expect the Democrats to cut out financing for Nicaragua’s contras completely, for fear of being branded soft on communism. But under Pell, Reagan will face serious difficulties in gaining a second infusion of funds for the antigovernment forces.
Environmental issues played a key role in several Democratic victories in the Senate, providing encouragement to supporters of acid-rain legislation. But one of the biggest obstacles will be Byrd, whose home state of Virginia is one of the country’s biggest coal-producing states. Said Blake Early, Washington representative of the Sierra Club: “Byrd is not going to be easily persuaded that acid-rain legislation should be brought to the floor.”
Rush: Both Democratic senators Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina maverick who takes over the commerce committee, and Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, who did not have to face re-election and will head the finance committee, intend to bring forward a trade bill in the next two years. Still, Democratic strategist Patrick Cadell says that the party will have to tread carefully on an issue where voters indicate a curious ambivalence: they oppose foreign imports that threaten American jobs, but they are against protectionism. Cadell added that in their rush to take action on trade, Democrats could stumble into protectionist acts that are a misinterpretation of the nation’s mood. “If the Democrats misread this election,” he said, “they will certainly write off any chances they have in 1988.” The Democrats also run another risk—of underestimating a President who has often thrived on adversity in his 20-year political career. Although Reagan’s greatly diminished lustre at the ballot box may convince many Democrats that it is no longer as risky to take him on, the President’s personal popularity—and veto power—still give him tremendous room for manoeuvring. Said one White House strategist who requested anonymity: “Reagan’s not a lame duck until he’s a dead one.”
— MARCI McDONALD in Washington with MADELAINE DROHAN in Ottawa