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Stakes could be high for GOP

By W. James Antle III
web posted November 5, 2001

The outcome of the 1993 elections was a harbinger of things to come for Bill Clinton. Odd-numbered years feature very few races of national importance, enhancing the significance of those races that do take place.

Earlier in the year, Republican businessman Richard Riordan, once a supporter of Ronald Reagan in California politics, scored a surprise upset in the Los Angeles mayoral race. With 54 percent of the vote, the GOP captured the mayoralty in the nation's second-largest city and demonstrated continued electoral clout after Clinton managed to break the party's 12-year grip on the presidency.

Rudolph GiulianiThis result would be repeated in November in the nation's largest city as former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani had a rematch with New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who narrowly defeated him in 1989. Running against the ineffectual liberal in a city wracked by high taxes, welfare dependency and (difficult as it may be to remember) escalating violent crime, Giuliani this time was elected mayor with 51 percent of the vote despite the fact registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by 5 to 1.

Republicans also did well in both gubernatorial races that year. George Allen, running on a platform of crime reduction, welfare reform and low taxes, cruised to victory with 58 percent of the vote in Virginia. Christine Todd Whitman opposed tax-raising liberal Democrat Gov. Jim Florio in New Jersey. Florio's New Jersey lost some 100,000 jobs while the nation gained 3.2 million, as he congratulated himself on his courage in raising taxes. Whitman campaigned on a 30 percent cut in state income tax rates, a bold supply-side program that recalled the original Kemp-Roth proposal. She too was elected, narrowly defeating Florio and (in a development little commented upon due to Ed Rollins' bone-headed comments about "walking around money") won 30 percent of the black vote, as she embraced school choice.

The Republican sweep in 1993 represented a change in political momentum at a time when Democrats held the White House and both houses of Congress by solid majorities. It also refuted the myth of Clinton's invincibility and showed underlying discontent with his tax increase, liberalism on contentious social issues and general mendacity. The Republicans would go on to even greater successes in 1994, making gains at every level of government while winning control of both houses of Congress and a supermajority of the nation's governor's mansions. While the GOP's fortunes have been decidedly mixed since then, the election results pulled Clinton's administration somewhat to the right, away from energy taxes and socialized medicine back toward welfare reform, balanced budgets and even a capital-gains tax cut.

All of what happened 8 years ago could be undone on November 6. The Democrats have already won back the mayor's office in Los Angeles with the Republican not making it to the run-off and the Democrat Riordan endorsed in the final round of balloting defeated (although, in fairness, victorious James Hahn was slightly more conservative and backed by a majority of the city's Republican voters). Democrats now enjoy leads in the polls in the race for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and the race for mayor in New York City.

This could have the same impact on President George W. Bush that Democratic losses in 1993 had on Bill Clinton. Yet it comes at a particularly inopportune time as the United States under President Bush is involved in a military campaign in Afghanistan in response to terrorist attacks. The stakes are simply higher for Bush than for Clinton.

Today the Democrats we are dealing with are to the left even of the party Clinton led during his first year in office. In the place of David Boren and Sam Nunn we now have senators like Hillary Clinton and John Corizine. Democratic gains in 2002 do not bode well for efforts to reduce taxes, contain federal spending and repeal regulations, as the economy now requires. Nor would the Democrats be as likely to invest the necessary resources in military preparedness and intelligence.

Bret SchundlerIn New Jersey, Republican Bret Schundler deserves to be the next governor. He is a creative, innovative conservative candidate who has endured relentless sniping from country-club Republicans led by acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. Schundler's impressive record of cutting taxes, controlling crime and imposing fiscal discipline while mayor of Jersey City demonstrates the leadership the state has been lacking. Schundler is a Republican who has been able to win black and Hispanic votes in the past and has also cut across party lines, winning two landslide victories in a city where only 6 percent of the voters are registered Republicans. He has always done better at the ballot box than in the polls and has made some headway in recent weeks, holding Democratic Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey to below 50 percent in most surveys.

If Schundler is unable to pull of an upset, it will be a blow to conservatives. Conservatives' electoral viability in the Northeast and some other industrial states has long been questioned. Conservatives have shown an ability to prevail over moderates in Republican primaries, as when Al Salvi managed to upset Lt. Gov. Jim Edgar in the 1996 Illinois Senate GOP primary, but the general election results have not always been as impressive. Salvi, for his part, went down to defeat at the hands of left-liberal Dick Durbin that November.

Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley's race against Democrat Mark Warner is also going to have broader implications. Earley, a conservative who has stubbornly opposed a tax referendum supported by many northern Virginia GOP moderates, is trailing. His defeat would be taken as a rebuke to Republicans, as the state voted for Bush in 2000 (and also losing Republican tickets in 1976, 1992 and 1996) and outgoing Gov. Jim Gilmore is also chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Michael Bloomberg, the Republican nominee for mayor of New York City, has far less impressive conservative or GOP credentials than either Schundler or Earley. Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock has called Bloomberg a liberal Democrat who dressed as a Republican for Halloween. He has generously bankrolled liberal candidates and contributed to Al Gore. Over the past decade, 91.5 percent of his campaign contributions have gone to Democrats.

Yet Bloomberg has Giuliani's endorsement and one has to think that his business experience has to make him somewhat less of a statist than Democrat Mark Green, although he has yet to offer any compelling evidence of this. Whether he is a real Republican or not, he has the party's nomination and his defeat would be a defeat for the GOP.

The 2001 off-year elections could shape up to be something close to a Democratic sweep. It remains to be seen whether the last waning days of the campaign off sufficient time to reverse this. In any event, even if this sets the stage for a bad election cycle in 2002, all may not be lost for President Bush.

Remember, there was 1993 and 1994, and still Bill Clinton was reelected.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at wjantle@enterstageright.com.

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