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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Heartened by Democrats' Poll Success




WASHINGTON -- For President BIll Clinton, the unexpectedly strong Democratic showing in Tuesday's U.S. elections helped exorcise two spirits who have haunted him in the past - and was probably the most encouraging news he has had in months about his future.


There are probably no two senators more despised at the White House than Republicans Alfonse D'Amato and Lauch Faircloth, of New York and North Carolina, respectively, both of whom won the particular ire of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton through their aggressive pursuit of the Whitewater affair. Both were repudiated by their home-state voters Tuesday - D'Amato in a contest into which both Clintons plunged by making frequent appearances in the Empire State.


The issue dominating post-election analysis at the White House on Tuesday night was what the results would mean for the congressional impeachment inquiry into Clinton's efforts to conceal his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Privately, some Clinton advisers were predicting that Republicans will be somewhat chastened by the failure of the scandal to produce Republican gains.


Publicly, the message on the Clinton team was one of caution. Chief of staff John Podesta discussed with aides the importance of not overinterpreting the results or appearing to gloat.


"It's a vindication of his efforts to deliver on the things that matter to people,'' said White House counselor Paul Begala. "But what the Congress does is up to the Congress. ... They have to read the tea leaves for themselves.''


Celebrating with sausage pizza, Clinton and top advisers watched early returns in Podesta's office, as political director, Craig Smith, showed the president how to track results through the Internet. Hillary Clinton, who does not like to watch early returns, instead watched Oprah Winfrey's new movie in the White House theater.


But someone slipped her word when D'Amato went down. "She really feels that that's a real plus for the state of New York,'' spokeswoman Marsha Berry said.


D'Amato infuriated the first lady with his Senate hearings into Whitewater and by questioning her financial transactions, while Faircloth became a White House villain after he had lunch with a federal judge shortly before the court installed Kenneth Starr as independent counsel to investigate the Clintons.


The president called about a dozen Democratic winners to congratulate them, including Maryland's Democratic Governor Parris Glendening, who snubbed him two months ago because of the Lewinsky scandal, only to reverse himself weeks later. Joining Clinton to watch the results were pollster Mark Penn; fund-raiser Terence McAuliffe; several union and women's group leaders; and former Texas Governor Ann Richards.


If White House officials were wary of making predictions about the impeachment inquiry, many close Clinton allies and public surrogates were not.


"They'll look at what's happened and realize they've got to find a way to close it down while saving face,'' said Peter Kadzik, a lawyer who has been helping the White House with its impeachment defense.


"The Republican congressional leadership threw the dice and made it a referendum [on impeachment] in the closing weeks and everywhere the voters have come out the opposite from where the Republicans are.''


Lanny J. Davis, former White House special counsel, said: "The message is: No impeachment is warranted, [though] some form of an accountability is justified.''


There were some hints that lawmakers were interpreting the message this way. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who earlier this year said he planned to counter Clinton's alleged stonewalling about Lewinsky by mentioning the controversy in every speech, played down the scandal in a CNN interview and said it was the news media, not himself, who were fixated on it.