Clinton: `We turned tide of history'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FINAL results of the United States mid-term elections brought handsome vindication for President Bill Clinton, strengthening his authority for the last two years of his term and fending off the threat of impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Mr Clinton credited "an enormous outpouring of support" for his party with overcoming "the tide of history" and "an enormous financial disadvantage", but he refused all comment on impeachment.

The results confounded forecasts of a Republican walkover that would have relegated Mr Clinton to the status of lame-duck President for the rest of his term. They also made history as Democratic gains made this the first time since 1934 that the party of an incumbent President had increased its representation in the House.

The final tally increased the number of Democrats in the House of Representatives by five, left the balance of power in the Senate unchanged, and increased the number of Democratic state governors by one. While by no means a landslide for the Democrats, it was so much better a result than anticipated that it was hailed a triumph, for the party and for President Clinton.

Republicans had scaled back estimates of gains in the last week of the campaign, but had still hoped for an additional five Senate seats, another dozen in the House and at least two more state governorships. None of these targets was met. A higher turnout than expected, especially in states where the contests were close, and the unprecedented engagement by black voters were among the factors cited to explain the turnabout.

The conclusion of the 1998 mid-term campaign simultaneously opened the gate for the 2000 presidential contest. The first word from the White House on Tuesday's results was allotted to Vice-President Al Gore, who is the favourite to become the Democrat's candidate to succeed Mr Clinton. Mr Gore told reporters it had been "a good night for America and also a good night for the Democratic Party" and said he was proud. The message from the people, he said, was clear: "Get back to work on the people's business."

An overwhelming victory for George W Bush, the son of the former president, who retained the governorship of Texas with more than 60 per cent of the vote, laid a strong foundation for his expected presidential bid. The future of Newt Gingrich, however, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, appeared in doubt as Republicans sought a scapegoat for their failure to gain seats from the Democrats and their lacklustre campaign.

The Democrats won signal victories in New York, where they took the Senate seat of veteran campaigner, Al d'Amato, and in California, where they recaptured the governorship from the Republicans after 16 years and Senator Barbara Boxer retained her seat. They also won the governorships of Alabama and South Carolina, contradicting common wisdom that Democrats can no longer win in the South, leaving a country which is predominantly Democratic at the two coasts, but Republican in the heartland.

If there was a national trend, aside from support for the President to complete his term, it was against extremes, especially the religious right, and for administrative competence. Despite the Democrats' gain of four state governorships (compared with three gains for Republicans), the pattern in New York set more of a trend, with the same voters appearing to favour Republicans for managerial posts, such as state governor, and Democrats to represent their interests in Congress.

Some predicted a push at grassroots level for wholesale reform of the party and campaign funding system, following the victory of two candidates who had staked their re-election on reform. Democrat Senator Russ Feingold, author of a failed reform bill, had been expected to lose after limiting his spending and refusing cash injections offered by his worried party, but won easily - albeit with a smaller majority.

Grassroots cynicism with the existing political order was also seen behind the election of Jesse Ventura, a champion wrestler, who stood under the banner of Ross Perot's Reform Party and won the governor ship of Minnesota.

In winning, Mr Ventura toppled both establishment candidates, including the Democrat, Hubert Humphrey III, son of the former vice-president.

No senior official in either party would comment yesterday on the impeachment issue, insisting that it was for Congress to decide, but the level of support for the Democrats at the ballot box appeared to reduce the prospects that Mr Clinton would be impeached to almost zero. Congressional leaders were expected to enter discreet discussions with the White House to explore a face-saving compromise, such as a Congressional vote of censure.