Posted on September 28, 1992 in Washington Watch
Regardless of who wins the presidential elections, there will be major changes in Washington next year. Most experts predict a record number of new Congressmen and Senators will be elected in November.
Nine new Senators and 91 new Congressmen are already guaranteed for a total of 100 new faces in the 103rd Congress—even before the Fall general elections. The reasons behind the arrival of all these new faces vary: some members of Congress have recently died, some have resigned rather than run for reelection and others lost in their party primary elections.
Changes in congressional districts due to reapportionment (which I described in a June column) and the shock of the House Bank scandal caused many members of Congress to resign.
There is also widespread frustration among many legislators that the government does not work. Two Senators, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Tim Wirth of Colorado made this point most eloquently in their retirement announcements.
Both gave voice to the common and dreary sentiment on Capitol Hill that a divided government (a Republican President and Democratic Congress) creates paralysis and an unhealthy partisanship. Both Senators also called for genuine reform in the campaign finance system, and they expressed a bitterness regarding the current system which forces Senators and Congressmen spend too much of their time raising the increasingly large sums of money necessary to run a competitive campaign ($500,000 to $1 million for an average congressional race and $5 million for an average senatorial race).
A look at the expected changes and at key races provides some insight into what the 103rd Congress might be like.
In a normal election year 33 Senate seats would be up for election because there are 100 senators and, by law, every two years one-third of the total must stand for election. This year, three additional Senate seats are up for election as a result of the death and resignation of three Senators.
These 37 races involve 27 incumbents (15 Democrats and 12 Republicans). The remaining ten seats are open because Senators have died, retired or lost their primaries.
The most significant change that will occur this year is that five of the twelve Republicans who are running for reelection are extremely vulnerable, at least three of whom face almost certain defeat.
Among the vulnerable Republicans are some of Israel’s most consistent supporters in the Senate and pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) largest recipients of funds this year. (I’ve written on some of these races in an earlier column—an update on each race follows.)
Senator Bob Packwood, a Republican from Oregon, is facing a very strong challenge from Democratic Congressman Les AuCoin. AuCoin won the right to challenge Packwood by winning an extremely close victory (only 300 of nearly 100,000 votes) in his primary election.
Packwood is sometimes extreme in his support of Israel. He has not only co-sponsored numerous pieces of pro-Israel legislation (most particularly opposing arms sales to Arab state sand for the 1985 U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement ), but he is best known for his outlandish fundraising appeals targeted at Jewish donors. In his letters Packwood, who is not Jewish, has written such things as:
Instead of spending all my time raising money for my own reelection campaign, I’d prefer to devote my time to and energies to protecting and defending the security of Israel.
Only during the Diaspora, when we were dispersed to other lands, did the Jewish people become a minority in our own homeland. It was not our fault that we were kicked out by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C., or by the Romans…. Frankly, many of my constituents do not understand why I am so personally committed to the State of Israel and her survival. But you understand.
So far Packwood has received 12 percent of his total PAC money from pro-Israel PACs (for a total of $104,850).
AuCoin has taken a much more balanced approach to Middle East issues and recently issued a statement expressing his view that, in accordance with
U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the Camp David Accords, peace requires that Israel’s security needs be addressed and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people be guaranteed. My hope is that the direct negotiations now underway will lead to the exchange of territory for a comprehensive peace: mutual recognition, diplomatic ties, normalization of political and economic relations, tourism, cultural exchanges and the like.
The recent polls show Packwood and AuCoin tied with 41% support.
Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania is being challenged by a popular Democratic woman, Lynn Yeakel.
Specter is confronting a backlash from women voters because of his role in questioning Anita Hill during the now infamous Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yeakel has won broad support from women and liberals, but Specter is fighting back hard.
His campaign has sought to Arab-bait Yeakel by charging that the Presbyterian Christian Church, of which she is a trustee, has issued pro-Palestinian statements and has organized pro-Palestinian forums.
Specter’s pro-Israel record is very strong, and he is seeking financial support to confound what he calls an Arab lobby effort to defeat him. The basis of his charge is meetings held at Yeakel’s church and comments made at them, though Yeakel has issued a very strong pro-Israel platform and has made clear efforts to distant herself from the position of her church. Yeakel is actually never mentioned in the letter, which goes on at length about “one of the most vicious acts of political anti-Semitism ever directed against a public servant.” The letter is, in the end, no more than a crude attempt to exploit possible fears in the Jewish community.
Yeakel, however, is no friend of the Arab American community. She has refused to meet with representatives of the community and has issued a very strong and unbalanced statement in support of Israel. By contrast, Specter has met with Arab American leaders. Nevertheless, Specter is the favorite of the pro-Israel PACs, from which he has raised $116,500, which is 12.4 percent of his total PAC receipts.
The latest polling data show Yeakel with a 50-44 percent lead over Specter, though the poll is more than a month old. More recent evaluations suggest that Yeakel’s lead has narrowed, and that the race will be close through the general election. It is also expected to be very costly, with each candidate likely to spend in excess of $10 million.
Senator Bob Kasten of Wisconsin is another Republican in trouble. He is facing an uphill fight against Democratic State Senator Russell Feingold. Wisconsin is generally a Democrat-leaning state and Kasten only narrowly won his two previous Senate races by 50 and 51 percent against opponents who were much weaker than Feingold seems to be.
Only a week before the primary election, Feingold was trailing badly in the polls and expected to finish a distant third. But the negative attacks of the other two candidates help vault Feingold into the lead on election day, when he took a stunning 70 percent of the vote. He is now in excellent condition to challenge Kasten.
Kasten, however, was preparing for a tough fight from the beginning and has amassed a sizeable campaign war chest, including $117,300 from pro-Israel PACs—a remarkable 14.5 percent of his total PAC receipts. The pro-Israel community sees Kasten as one of its most important friends in the Senate, given his position on the Foreign Operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for overseeing all foreign aid.
The latest polls, which are only a week old, show Feingold with a 54-33 percent lead over Kasten. At this point it is somewhat doubtful that Kasten can recover, but he won’t fail for lack of cash, something the pro-Israel PACs will help assure.
Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York is yet another vulnerable Republican. His twelve year Senate career has seen quite a number of scandals but he is good at taking care of constituent complaints, always has plenty of money, and is a very good campaigner—strengths which have helped him win two very contested elections. He will need all of those attributes to retain his seat this year against New York Attorney General Bob Abrams, a Democrat.
Abrams fought his way through a very difficult primary against three other opponents, including former Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. His victory in the `’year of the woman’ has given the Democrats their best chance to unseat D’Amato. Because the primary election was so recent there is no polling data, but all indications are that this will be a very close race and neither candidate is likely to gain a large lead because many voters have a negative opinion of both of them.
But D’Amato is taking no chances, and is already running radio and television advertisements against Abrams. This is a costly proposition, given the very expensive New York media market. D’Amato may spend somewhere between $12 and $15 million dollars on this election, and has already raised more than $50,000 from pro-Israel PACs, which is ten percent of his total PAC receipts. D’Amato has long been a strong supporter of Israel in the Senate, and his positions on the Foreign Operations and Defense Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee give him the means to help Israel maintain its high levels of economic and military aid.
Another interesting contest to watch is the race between Democrat Carol Mosely Braun and Republican Rich Williamson in Illinois. Braun is an African American woman who has a long career in politics in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois while Williamson is an attorney. At this point, Braun is the prohibitive favorite because her victory over incumbent Senator Alan Dixon gave her so much positive name recognition across the state. Experts gave the Republicans no chance to defeat Dixon and Williamson is by no means the strongest candidate they could field, but they are stuck with their choice.
Middle East issues have not figured very strongly in this race, and are not likely to do so in the future. Perhaps remembering the 1984 defeat of another Senator from Illinois named Charles Percy for which AIPAC took credit, Braun has issued a highly unbalanced Middle East statement full of unqualified endorsements of Israel. There is quite a bit of doubt, however, whether this position paper has much to do with Braun’s own feelings on the issues.
In terms of money, the pro-Israel community has yet to weight in on this race. Braun, however, is experiencing little trouble raising money through women’s groups and her liberal connections. By contrast, Williamson is so far behind in the polls (Braun is leading 58-24 percent in the latest) that even the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has announced that it may not be giving him anymore money unless he demonstrates that he has some chance of winning.
In addition to these races, there are two open senate seats that were formerly held by Republicans that look as though they may be won by Democrats, and appointed Republican Senator John Seymour of California is almost certain to lose his race. Should these things occur, the shift in the Senate will be dramatic—from the current 57-43 Democratic majority to a probable lineup of 62 Democrats and 38 Republicans.
For all the changes expected to come to the Senate, however, it is in the House of Representatives that the most dramatic changes will take place. Since 91 congressmen are already out, and with another 40 or 50 to follow in November, the new Congress will have a record number of new faces in 1993. In this chamber the Republicans have a chance to gain a few seats because Republican governors controlled the redistricting process in a number of key states such as California and Michigan, and because the House bank scandal involved many more Democrats than Republicans. If the Republicans pick up the number of seats experts now predict, the composition of the new congress will be 253 Democrats and 181 Republicans (with a single independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont).
The changes within the Democratic side of the House will be equally important as the composition of the chamber in general. At least ten new members will definitely be African Americans, and five new members will definitely be Hispanic. This will raise the number of African American members of Congress to 35 and the number of Hispanics to 15, and the numbers may be even higher after November.
But by far the most serious impact of these changes in the House will be the chaos that this large new number of Congressmen will bring with them.
In 1974 the large new group of Congressmen elected in the wake of the wake of the Watergate scandal brought permanent changes to the Congress. Prior to 1974 the Congress was a disciplined body, governed by tradition and seniority. Because of the voter anger at Watergate which propelled them into office the new congressmen were a group of reformers who were determined to fight and change the rules, and they did. The authority of tradition deteriorated, and without it the seniority system collapsed.
This year’s class of freshmen will also be the result of a scandal, as well as a deep public dissatisfaction with politics that has been growing for years. They, like the class of ‘74, will be reform-minded and it is not possible to measure what their full impact will be. But already key congressional staffers have expressed deep concern that there will be a great deal of chaos—reorganization, leadership struggles and the long orientation process—before the new 103rd Congress begins to function.
Every committee of Congress will be affected. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has already lost one quarter of its members to resignation, death or defeat. Of the eleven members of the committee (out of 44) who will not be in the next Congress, one is the chairman, Dante Fascell of Florida (who resigned) and four more are sub-committee chairmen (Africa, Asia, Human Rights and Arms Control).
The powerful House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for determining all federal expenditures, will also be deeply affected by the loss of one-third of its members. One of its subcommittee chairman, pro-Israel stalwart Larry Smith of Florida who runs the Commerce Justice, State and Judiciary subcommittee, is out as are key members of the Defense and Foreign Operations subcommittees.
Moreover, it is impossible to determine at this moment exactly what shape the various committees will take and who will be their key members, because the there will be serious struggles among various members for the choicest spots. Then the Democratic Caucus will meet to determine the committee and subcommittee assignments of the large group of new members. And because House rules forbid holding more than one committee chairmanship, many of the senior and powerful members will opt to switch to more powerful committees rather than retain their current positions.
This has already been a confusing and difficult year in American politics, a year full of changes and surprises. Take note: it’s not over yet.
Presidential & Electoral Vote Update
This past week witnessed George Bush’s strongest campaign effort to date, and Bill Clinton’s toughest since the primaries.
The President has begun to fight hard, and he is focusing his speeches and television ads on the differences between his economic program and that of Bill Clinton. In a single day the President visited all six states that surround Clinton’s Arkansas, and in each one delivered attacks on the Governor’s “failed record” in civil rights, education, the environment, business, crime and taxes. It is no coincidence that all six of these states (Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) are states that the President must win in November.
But the President’s week has not been all offense, as he has been plagued with a series of new revelations that have resurrected the question of his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He campaign has also been dogged by routinely negative press—a recent study shows that Clinton’s television coverage is 50 percent more positive than that given to Bush.
The week began with Clinton having to face yet another challenge to his Vietnam draft story coming in the form of a letter in which Clinton is branded a “liar” by the Commander of the Arkansas Reserve Officer’s Training Program (R.O.T.C.) which Clinton tried to join in 1968. Clinton has also been frustrated by Bush’s refusal to debate him, although he has attempted, with some success, to turn this to his advantage.
And at the moment both campaigns are keeping their eyes on Ross Perot, who is intensifying his threats to reenter the Presidential race. Perot most probably won’t win any states, but he will take swing voters in different states. This may hurt Clinton chances in places like Ohio and Michigan, but it will also hurt Bush’s chances in Texas and the Rocky Mountain states where Perot is still popular among the independent voters Bush needs to win.
While the President narrowed the gap in some national polls this week to an average of 10 percent, his campaign suffered setbacks in several state-by-state polls. This week Clinton appears to be solidly in the lead in 20 states with 233 electoral votes; while President Bush has retained very slim leads in 7 states with 50 electoral votes.
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