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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Contented U.S. Electorate Set to Return Clinton

WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton faces the prospect of starting a second term with a Republican Congress little changed in makeup from the one he battled these past two years, a final state-by-state roundup of Tuesday election prospects suggests.

Despite a slump in the last 10 days that may cost him an absolute majority of the popular vote and bolster the Electoral College count of Republican challenger Bob Dole, Clinton appears almost certain to be the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win consecutive presidential elections.

But the Senate, which has a 53 to 47 Republican majority, appears likely to have at least that large a Republican membership in January. And enough of the 70 freshman House Republicans who swept Democrats out of power in 1994 are winning their re-election battles to give Speaker Newt Gingrich a second chance.

The assessments of individual states and districts are based on interviews with officials of both parties, campaign strategists and consultants and scores of local and state activists, supplemented by public and private polls. All those interviewed were promised their judgments would not be attributed to them.

If the results on Election Day resemble these forecasts, it would signal several significant milestones. This would be the first time since 1930 that Republicans have had House and Senate majorities in two successive Congresses. And it would be the first time in history a Democratic president has been elected along with a Congress controlled by the opposition party.

It became clear by mid-week that support for Clinton, which had given him a seemingly unassailable lead of 15 points or more over Dole for months, was beginning to chip away. A senior Democrat quipped, "God intended for this election to be held Oct. 29, not Nov. 5.''

His comment reflected that the White House, which had been masterful in controlling the political news agenda almost every week except for the one conceded to the Republican National Convention, lost the battle just when Clinton was launching his closing drive to roll up the biggest possible Electoral College majority for himself and to aid Democratic candidates in dozens of toss-up congressional races.

The rush of disclosures about foreign-money contributions to the Democratic campaign put Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on the defensive and reopened questions about ethical standards in this administration -- an issue Dole had been flogging without much success since early in October.

Democratic sources confirmed that the impact was felt increasingly in two areas. The first was in "clean government'' states along the northern border from Oregon and Washington to Maine, where Clinton's share of independents tumbled, in some cases drastically. The second was in traditionally Republican areas, particularly the South and the Rocky Mountain states, where Clinton had been threatening to raid the Republicans' Electoral College base.

If the shift that was discernible through Friday night's tracking were to continue unabated through Election Day, Dole might well reclaim almost all the southern and western states President George Bush won in 1992 and even wrest states such as Montana, Nevada and Colorado out of the Clinton column. Dole strategists said Saturday night they have seen the same trend in the Midwest and said the challenger has become competitive in several states that previously seemed out of reach.

But repeated checks in the major building block states of Clinton's presidential coalition -- California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York -- found no indication his Electoral College majority might be in jeopardy. "I wish I could tell you otherwise,'' said a major Midwest Republican, "but it's just not happening.''

The loss of several Mountain states could be more than offset by Clinton winning Florida and its 25 electoral votes. The president is very much in contention there, thanks to inroads he has made in the Hispanic community and the way the Medicare issue is affecting the huge retiree population.

Many of the surveys for congressional and senatorial races found that the votes moving off Clinton last week were going, not to Dole, but to Reform Party candidate Ross Perot and -- in some instances -- Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

"Dole has been an unacceptable option for close to two-thirds of the people all along,'' one independent western analyst said. "The more they've heard about the Democrats this week, the worse a Clinton vote has looked. So they've gone to the only alternatives.''

The result is that Perot, languishing for weeks in single-digits, may move upward from 10 percent -- and one White House strategist conceded, "it is coming off of us.''

Clinton, who suffered for four years from having his opponents remind him that he won only a 43 percent plurality against Bush and Perot, could find it hard to claim majority support -- and the implied policy mandate -- in 1996. Some pollsters' "vote models'' projecting off last week's trends show Clinton falling just short of 50 percent, with Dole about 11 points back and Perot/ Nader/ minor parties drawing in the mid-teens. "When all is said and done,'' one of the pollsters said, "I think the vote distribution is going to look remarkably like it did in 1992.''

That would be bad news for Democratic candidates struggling to help regain the House and Senate majorities their party lost in 1994's stunning Republican sweep.

That was beginning to look like a reach even before Clinton hit his speed bumps. In the battle for the Senate, where Democrats need a net gain of three seats, their likeliest win is against Republican Senator Larry Pressler in South Dakota. But that would be balanced by the even more likely Republican takeover of an open Democratic seat in Alabama.

In addition to those two, each party can count eight states where it has a realistic possibility (if not probability) of gaining a Senate seat. But the best of the Democratic prospects, which appear to be in New Hampshire and Oregon, do not look as good as Republican chances for gains in Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana. If the Senate ratio shifts much at all, it is likely to be toward the Republicans.

In the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 19 seats for Representative Richard Gephardt to claim the speaker's gavel from Gingrich, the odds do not look favorable. Only one-third of the freshman Republicans appear to be under serious threat. There are 10 districts -- all but one of them held by a Republican freshman -- where Democrats are favored to take over. There are another 28 -- 15 of them freshman seats, most of the rest without an incumbent on the ballot -- where Democrats may have as much as a 50-50 chance of winning.

But Republicans also have 10 targeted Democratic districts -- almost all of them open seats -- they are favored to win and another 19 where they have a 50-50 chance. In a year with no particular partisan tide, that might point to a five-seat net gain for Democrats. With Clinton's coattails being shortened by the trends of the last few days, it would be remarkable for such a high percentage of the Democratic possibilities to pay off that they came out with 19 more seats.

What the grass-roots reports say, in fact, is that Republican freshmen, many of whom have been subjected to an unprecedented radio/TV assault this year from organized labor and other groups aligned with Democrats, have struck back with a get over 50 percent.''