Big changes may be in store for Senate

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted October 16, 2000

Ever since the last election when Republicans won the closest margin in the House of Representatives since 1926, we have heard nothing but speculation about how it was likely that the Democrats were to take control of the House in the 2000 elections.

That speculation intensified after the House Managers conducted an impeachment trial of the President of the United States in the Senate which did not garner even a majority vote on any of the charges.

Bill Archer

The discussion of the changeover reached its zenith as many veteran House Republicans, including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer of Texas, elected to retire, leaving the Republicans to defend around four times the number of open seats the Democrats had to defend.

When Congressman Mike Forbes of New York, a moderate conservative, switched parties last year with a blast at the Republican leadership, it just seemed to be confirmation that the inevitable was going to happen.

That was some months ago. And in politics, even a week can be an eternity. First Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia switched from being a Democrat to being an independent, but began meeting with the Republicans. For all practical purposes he is a Republican. Then Rep. Owen Pickett also of Virginia announced his retirement. Pickett could hold the seat as a Democrat but the seat is now likely to go Republican. The same fate awaits the seat of Rep. Pat Danner of Missouri. She could hold the seat as a Democrat. It is not likely that her son will be able to hold the seat. Then a retired 71-year-old librarian defeated Forbes in the Democratic primary by 37 votes making it unlikely that the Democrats will hold that seat. And so it has gone.

Of course, there is a month to go before the election and things can turn around, especially if there is a landslide for the national Democratic ticket. But it looks right now at least as if there may not be any landslide. Absent that, the Democrats are faced with the reality that Republicans lead in 7 Democratic held seats right now and Democrats are ahead in only a single Republican held seat as of the moment. Now many of the races are very close and organization can make the difference. The unions are good at that and the Republicans, if they ever knew how to identify the vote and turn it out, have largely forgotten. Still, there are signs that the Democrats know that, given the existing field they have now, will not make it. They are now throwing large sums of money (up to $500,000 per Congressional district) into seemingly safe Republican districts looking for vulnerabilities. Thus far there isn't evidence that they have found any.

If that is the case, and assuming there is no national Republican pull from the top of the ticket, we are likely to see the next House of Representatives comprised of substantially the same number of Republicans and Democrats as this Congress. In fact, if anything, the Republicans may well improve their situation by a seat or two. Or they could be down by a seat or two.

Slade Gordon

Meanwhile, it has been assumed all of this time that the Senate will be safely in Republican hands. Think again. Republicans knew they had many vulnerable Senators up for re-election in this class but they are getting more than they bargained for. Some seats such as those of Conrad Burns, Slade Gordon, and Bill Roth are in serious trouble. Those are in addition to people such as Rod Grams that everyone understood were in deep trouble. Moreover, Republican challengers in Virginia, Nevada, New York, and New Jersey who were supposed to make up for expected losses are under-performing. And Republicans fear that Paul Coverdell's seat is lost to Gov. Zell Miller.

It is now entirely possible that the Senate might slip into Democratic hands while the House could remain Republican. It is not probable that this will happen. It is still likely that Republicans will eke out a 51 to 49 seat majority, leaving real control in the hands of very liberal Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, whose positions on issues are often to the left of the Democratic nominee for the Senate in that state.

All eyes have been on the House these past two years. It is time for some sharp political eyes to be focused on the Senate where big changes just could be in the making.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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