Tight race as Clinton factor fades

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The Independent Online
TODAY'S AMERICAN elections are too close to call, with both parties within a hair's breadth of each other in the latest opinion polls.

The prospect of impeachment hearings against Bill Clinton, which only two months ago looked set to sink the President, has apparently had little net impact.

Campaign advertisements aired by Republicans in the past few days attacking the President also seem to have made no difference, and may even have backfired. The latest polls show the Democrats and Republicans neck and neck, with the Democrats even edging ahead slightly at 52-48 per cent on the latest USA Today poll.

But this is misleading because with the voting so close, the local peculiarities of each contest will be vital. Turnout will be the key factor in many places. If all the Democrats who have been polled turn out, they could deliver their party a stunning win; but that is unlikely. The turnout is likely to range between 35 and 39 per cent, and every last vote will count in many places. Although the Democrats are slowly rising in the polls, it is the solidity of that support - and its distribution nationwide - that matters.

There are 34 Senate seats and all 435 house seats up for grabs, as well as 36 governorships. Of these, many are strong incumbents who will slip back into office with ease, particularly in a year when the economy is healthy.

But there is a clutch of seats so close they could go either way. The President could expect his party to lose seats in a mid-term election, and if they lost less than a dozen in the House of Representatives, the Democrats would claim victory.

Campaigning has gone into overdrive in an effort to swing the key seats in the last few days. Special interest groups have pumped millions of dollars into advertising to turn key races their way, with the National Rifle Association spending $1.6m in the past two weeks, and the environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters, spending $600,000. Most of this has gone on the "Air War" - the vast outpouring of television advertisements.

But the "Ground War", the flood of party figures heading out to union halls, churches and street corners, is also in full flow. The Christian Coalition distributed 35 million voter guides across the country on Sunday and the AFL-CIO, the leading labour organisation, is running phone banks

In the Senate, Republican hopes of adding five seats to their 55 and taking effective control of the chamber have faded. They may remove Democrat incumbents in Nevada, Wisconsin and Illinois, where the first black female senator, Carol Mosely-Braun, is in trouble. In California, Democrat Barbara Boxer has opened a solid lead, and the open seat in Kentucky is a toss- up.

The hottest fought battles are in states where Republican senators are in danger - New York, where Al D'Amato is teetering on the brink of losing, and North Carolina. The likely result looks to be a Republican pick-up of perhaps two seats.

The House of Representatives, where the Republicans have a slim 228-206 majority (there is one independent), is unlikely to see any huge changes either, but given Republican hopes of perhaps a 20-seat gain, that is news. Democrats are in trouble in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, while Republicans could be ousted in New Mexico, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The Republicans will be lucky to take half-a-dozen seats, but again, this is hard to predict.

Probably the biggest prize on offer today is the governorship of California, America's most populous state and the biggest game for Presidential contenders in 2000, where Democrat Gray Davis leads Republican Dan Lungren. Seizing this Republican possession would be more than compensation for lost seats in Congress.

The Democrats may also take Alabama, but will probably lose a clutch of other governors' mansions - Florida, where Republican Jeb Bush, son of former President George is barnstorming home, Hawaii, Nebraska and, perhaps, Maryland. The Republicans have 32 governorships and will end up with more.

Given the importance of turnout, perhaps the most important information is on the weather pages of the newspaper. Rain is forecast across the centre of the country, which may make a critical difference in the Ohio and Kentucky races.

Mary Dejevsky, Review, page 5