White House ally confounds his critics: President's supporter records surprise win in Senate primary

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The Independent Online
THE embattled Clinton White House was yesterday savouring a rare piece of good news: the emphatic victory in Tuesday's primary of Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the President's key allies on Capitol Hill and crucial to any prospect of successful health care legislation later this year.

Confounding polls which suggested that a possible indictment in the House Post Office scandal could doom him, Mr Rostenkowski, 36 years in Congress, swept to a surprisingly easy triumph in his Chicago district, securing 50 per cent of the vote compared with 30 per cent for his nearest challenger, an Illinois state senator, John Cullerton.

In an emotional speech, Mr Rostenkowski paid ringing tribute to the President, who appeared in person for him last month, speaking of the 'pivotal moment in the campaign when a very, very gutsy and honourable and courageous man named Bill Clinton came to town'.

In truth, the win was at least as much due to the powers of the city's once legendary Democratic machine and the incumbent's proven talents at securing federal dollars for Chicago. But to a White House under permanent siege from the Whitewater controversy, no words could have sounded sweeter.

Of more immediate relevance, his victory could mark a turning point in the convoluted Whitewater affair. In Boston on Monday, Mr Clinton angrily took the offensive against his Republican critics. Promoting the health care initiative in New Hampshire on Tuesday, the President was visibly buoyed by the carefully picked live audiences who (at some variance with the opinion polls) made clear that, as far as ordinary Americans were concerned, Whitewater was an irrelevance.