COVER

MIDTERM BLUES

INCUMBENTS SURVIVE, REPUBLICANS SUFFER

November 19 1990
COVER

MIDTERM BLUES

INCUMBENTS SURVIVE, REPUBLICANS SUFFER

November 19 1990

MIDTERM BLUES

INCUMBENTS SURVIVE, REPUBLICANS SUFFER

In key Senate, House and governors’ races across the United States last week, incumbents won the overwhelming majority of elections despite pre-ballot polling that showed a strong anti-establishment sentiment. State governors suffered most from the electors’ anger. And the usual midterm backlash against the President’s party was also evident. Some political analysts said that the results showed that George Bush might be vulnerable in the 1992 presidential campaign if current trends accelerate. Maclean’s correspondents covered some of the more controversial contests. Their reports:

MINNESOTA: Of all the elections last week, those in normally clean, calm Minnesota provided the most titillation—and the most evidence of an electorate that wanted basic change. Despite outspending his opponent by 7-to-l, two-term Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz, 60, was the only Senate incumbent in the country to be defeated, losing to liberal Democrat Paul Wellstone, a 46-year-old political science professor waging his first |á election campaign.

At the same time, three-term Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich, 62, lost to Republican Arne Carlson, a state auditor. Carlson became the Republi| can candidate only one week before the election, hastily replacing ° businessman JonGrunseth, who dropped out over allegations that he had skinny-dipped with two teenage girls at a pool party and had a blonde mistress throughout his two marriages. Said Boschwitz: “Politics hasn’t exactly been showered in glory in this state this year, and all of us who are in office have suffered.”

CALIFORNIA: Republican Senator Pete Wilson was expected to glide into the governor’s office: he was eight points ahead in the polls last month. But that lead quickly dwindled, and on the eve of voting day, Nov. 6, Wilson was even with his Democratic rival,

Dianne Feinstein, who seemed poised to win an upset. But as the final absentee ballots were still being counted, Wilson was declared the winner in the race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov.

George Deukmejian with a lead of fewer than 200,000 votes.

The victory was significant because, working with the state legislature, Wilson will decide how to distribute California’s seven new congressional seats, the biggest gain of any state. By 1992, about one of every eight members of Congress will come from California. It was the distribution issue that gave the race its resonance: the new governor can ensure that the new electoral boundaries favor his party.

Wilson, 57, served 12 years as mayor of San Diego before winning his Senate race in 1982, but he is a colorless figure in a notoriously colorful state. The vivacious 57-year-old Feinstein, the mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988, had the support of many minority groups among California’s 29 million residents. The candidates were close on most issues: both were pro-choice on abortion, favored the death penalty and opposed offshore oil drilling. Feinstein, however, came out in support of Proposition 128, a remarkably sweeping environmental initiative known as Big Green. Like Feinstein, Big Green was ultimately defeated.

TEXAS: Bush spent the last three days of the campaign in his adopted state trying to rescue Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams. But Bush was unable to stop the roughedged rancher, oilman and banker from defeating himself. Williams, 58, frittered away his once-huge lead over his Democratic rival, state treasurer Ann Richards, 57, with a series of mistakes. Starting with his advice to view bad weather like rape—“If it’s inevitable, sit back, relax and enjoy it ”—Williams compounded his problems by showing a poor grasp of the issues and disclosing that he had not paid income tax in 1986.

Support for abortion rights was one factor in Richards’s dramatic come-from-behind success.

And exit polls showed her receiving 61 per cent of the women’s vote. Richards, who gained prominence as the Bush-bashing keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, also benefitted from what was perhaps her opponent’s most costly miscue: his refusal to shake her hand at one joint appearance, which offended many Texans. And in the last days of a mudslinging campaign, Richards wondered aloud about a man who paid no taxes but was able to invest $9.4 million of his own money to seek election.

NEW JERSEY: The Senate race in the Garden State provided one of the biggest surprises of all: former basketball star Bill Bradley, 47, among the Democratic party's most promising congressmen, almost lost to an unknown challenger. Republican Christine Todd Whitman, 44, a former public utilities official, came within four percentage points of the incumbent when she turned the race into a referendum on Democratic Gov. James Florio's tax increases—an issue on which Bradley had refused to take a stand. Whitman, who had less than $1 million to spend compared with Bradley’s $14 million, had unsuccessfully sought more money from the Republican National Committee. Some Republicans now say that a better-funded campaign might have won them the seat. Bradley has been regarded as a presidential contender. But as he enters his third term in the Senate, his neardefeat last week may make the White House a much more elusive prize.

CONNECTICUT: Former three-term Republican Senator Lowell Weicker, a gruff, 59-year-old maverick, rode an anti-incumbent wave to the governor’s mansion. Democratic Gov. William O’Neill was vacating the spot after 10 years, and Weicker rejected g both major parties and ran as an independent, taking ^ 40 per cent of the vote in the three-way race.

Republican John Rowland received 38 per cent and = Democrat Bruce Morrison 21 per cent. Weicker has I long been an anomaly. Although a Republican liberal during his 18 years in the Senate, he had lost his seat to Democrat Joseph Lieberman in 1988.

But last week, he won more than half his votes from Democrats to become the state’s first independent governor since the Civil War. He says that he wants to revolutionize his government by inviting academics, professionals and businessmen to join in the decision-making process. He will need help: he faces a huge budget deficit, high unemployment and decaying cities.

NORTH CAROLINA: In the nation’s most closely watched Senate race, three-term, ultra-conservative Republican Jesse Helms defeated his liberal opponent, Harvey Gantt, who was trying to become the first black Democrat ever elected to the Senate. Late opinion polls had shown the 47-year-old former Charlotte mayor |C running a few points ahead of Helms. And after allowing for the usual pattern of some white respondents lying to pollsters when a black candidate is involved, Gantt had been considered essentially an even bet going into the final week of the campaign.

But Helms then fired what he called his “silver bullet.” It took the form of a TV spot showing a white worker crumpling a notice that he had been denied a job because it had to go to a “minority” instead. The ad then attacked Gantt for supporting “Ted Kennedy’s racial quota bill,” the civil rights bill of 1990 that President Bush had vetoed. Gantt needed about 40 per cent of the white vote to win, but he only managed to get 35 per cent. Analysts said that Helms’s victory showed that the race issue, when cast in terms of racial preferences in employment, could score decisively with white voters. Never a modest man, Helms trumpeted his victory. “There is no joy in Mudville tonight,” he declared. “The mighty ultra-liberal establishment, the liberal politicians and editors and commentators and columnists have struck out again.”

FLORIDA: Bush worked hard to ensure the re-election of Robert Martinez, 55, the Republican governor of one of the Sun Belt’s largest states. But Martinez, only the second Republican governor in Florida in this century, was easily defeated by Democrat Lawton Chiles, 60, a former senator who won 57 per cent of the vote. Martinez angered many voters by raising taxes and advocating restrictive abortion laws, while Chiles’s pro-choice stance was a political asset.

But there was another message from the Florida race.

Martinez spent nearly $12 million, much of it on TV advertising. Chiles refused to accept campaign contributions from lobby groups and restricted maximum donations to $100. Democrats expressed the hope that the tactic will spread, putting pressure on Republicans to shed their advantage in national fund-raising.