Democrats set to lose

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton and the Democrats are hoping for at least one victory today when voters choose governors for Virginia and New Jersey, and mayors for New York and half a dozen other big cities, writes Patrick Cockburn. The expected loss of races in New York and Virginia will depress the White House. The one compensation is New Jersey where Governor Jim Florio, helped by an inept Republican campaign, is expected to hold his office.

The Democrats tried to present Mr Florio's revived political fortunes as a sign that President Clinton can also be re-elected, despite raising taxes. Since Mr Clinton's victory, the Democrats have fared badly in elections, losing senate races in Georgia and Texas and the mayoral election in Los Angeles.

Few political trends are visible in the elections. With a pro-choice Democrat in the White House, abortion is not the issue it was last year. Polls show that crime is at the top of voters' concerns, though this may also be a sign that economic worries have abated in the past year. In New Jersey, Mr Florio has used the issue of gun control to turn the tables on Republicans by accusing them of being soft on crime.

The same tactics have proved less effective in Virginia where George Allen, a Republican, is set to become governor, overtaking the 30-per-cent lead held by Mary Sue Terry, the state's Democratic attorney-general. Gun control is not popular in a conservative state like Virginia, and the Democrats have hurt themselves by public feuding.

With few major policy differences, success is going to the candidates with the best campaigns; polls show voters have little enthusiasm for any of the likely winners.

The one outcome that would damage the White House is a loss in New Jersey, where the defeat of Mr Florio would severely drain the confidence of Democratic Senators and congressmen whose votes the White House needs for its health care plan.