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Congressional election likely will impact impeachment process, pro-life agenda

WASHINGTON (BP)–Americans voting Nov. 3 rejected Republican Party hopes of expanding their majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, making it less likely President Clinton will be removed from office in an impeachment process and more likely pro-life legislation again will fall short in the next Congress.
In an election once forecast as a catastrophe for Democrats in the wake of a White House scandal, Republicans not only failed to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate but apparently will pick up no seats there. As of mid-day Nov. 4, Sen. Harry Reid, D.-Nevada, led GOP challenger John Ensign by less than 500 votes with 97 percent of the precincts reporting. If Reid holds on to his lead, the Senate will remain where it was before the election: 55 seats for Republicans, 45 for Democrats.
The GOP, once seemingly assured of gaining at least some seats in the House, lost five, according to the results available at mid-day Nov. 4. The breakdown in the House apparently will be: 223 seats for Republicans, 211 for Democrats and one independent.
The hopes of pro-life, social conservatives also were dashed in the states. Two pro-life conservative governors in the South, David Beasley of South Carolina and Fob James of Alabama, were defeated. In various states, social conservatives won on assisted suicide, homosexual marriage and parental notification for minors’ abortions, but they lost on partial-birth abortion, gambling and medicinal use of marijuana.
The congressional results would appear to be a repudiation of any mandate for the Senate to remove Clinton from office if the House impeaches him. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin proceedings soon in the impeachment inquiry approved by the full House in October. The committee will consider reporting out charges, including perjury and obstruction of justice, against the president for his attempt to cover up an adulterous relationship in the White House with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Only 5 percent of voters said the Clinton scandal was the most important issue in determining how they voted in House races, according to an exit poll commissioned by The Washington Post. The top two issues voters cited were education, 20 percent, and moral and ethical standards, 18 percent.
Pro-life advocates, meanwhile, appeared to fall short in their effort to gain three votes in the Senate in their ongoing campaign to override Clinton’s opposition to the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. The president twice has vetoed the bill, which would outlaw a gruesome method of abortion on a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. The House twice has achieved a two-thirds majority necessary for a veto override, but the Senate twice has failed, the last time by three votes.
Pro-lifers gained Senate seats held by abortion rights advocates in Illinois and Ohio but lost senators who had voted for the partial-birth ban in Indiana through retirement and in New York and North Carolina through defeat.
If Republicans had gained five seats for 60 in the Senate, it would have enabled them to cut off Democratic filibusters. This fall, a Democratic filibuster prevented the Child Custody Protection Act from gaining passage. The GOP’s failure to get 60 votes at that time killed the bill, which would ban a person taking a minor across state lines for an abortion when the state in which she lives either requires parental notification or consent.
The election results mean the legislative deadlock will continue, a Southern Baptist public policy specialist told Baptist Press.
“I think it means that very little will get done in Washington the next two years,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The 2000 campaign has begun. You’re going to have virtual gridlock in Washington, and maybe that’s what the American people want.
“The bottom line is that the 2000 campaign has begun, and it will be the most significant campaign in determining the direction and future of the nation since the 1960 election,” when Democrat John Kennedy edged Republican Richard Nixon, said Land.
Social conservatives pointed to the Republicans’ campaign strategy as the reason for their failure to make gains.
The GOP may have “gained a very valuable lesson, which is you can’t play not to lose,” Land said. “They were determined to make this election about Bill Clinton, and evidently the American people were determined that this wasn’t going to be about Bill Clinton.
“And the American people were listening to a message from Democrats that was often very negative and, in the end, degenerated into shameless use of the race card,” while Republicans did not articulate a message, Land said.
“Clearly, Democrats were more successful at energizing their base than Republicans were at energizing theirs. And the reason was I think the Democrats appealed to the issues that appealed to their base,” and the GOP did not, he said.
Exit polls found conservative Christians did not help Republicans as much as they had in recent elections. According to The Post’s poll, white conservative Christians fell from 15 percent of the electorate in 1994 to 13 percent this year. The fall was from 17 percent to 13 percent, according to USA Today. Meanwhile, groups that vote solidly Democratic — blacks, Hispanics and labor — increased their share of the total electorate.
Exit polls conducted for Christian Coalition showed only 54 percent of religious conservatives who voted this year did so for Republicans, while 67 percent did in ’94.
“The message coming out of this election is that issues DO matter,” said Christian Coalition Executive Director Randy Tate in a written statement. “There was no clear conservative agenda articulated by national conservative leaders in Washington. Democrats had an agenda, albeit a liberal agenda. They talked about liberal approaches to Social Security, education and health care, and some agenda will beat no agenda every time.
“In 1994 there was the same anti-Clinton sentiment among conservatives as there was this year, but there was also a clear conservative agenda in 1994 which did not exist in 1998.”
Steve Forbes, a 1996 GOP presidential candidate who appears to be a definite presidential contender for 2000, echoed Land and Tate: “No message is no way to win elections.
“Republicans should have learned by now that you must give people compelling reasons to vote for you. Mealy-mouthed rhetoric is no substitute for a muscular, substantive agenda,” Forbes said in a written release.
Democrats and social liberals said the election proved Americans are tired of considering the Clinton scandal.
“Newt Gingrich and his pro-impeachment agenda have been soundly rejected by American voters, granting House Democrats the mandate and momentum to propel us into legislative action and into a new majority,” said House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Martin Frost of Texas in a written statement. The Democrats’ agenda “has delivered us a historic victory in 1998 and put us on the path to regaining control of the House in 2000,” they said.
Carole Shields, president of People for the American Way, said in a written release Republican conservatives learned “it’s a big mistake to disregard the people. … Americans showed that they really meant it when they said, ‘Let’s move on’ to the issues that really matter.'”
Land said Republicans in the House are “going to face a real dilemma. They have to decide if they are going to go ahead with an impeachment process that will almost certainly fail in the Senate unless significant new information comes to light.”
Pro-life conservatives lost some leaders in the Senate and House. Among them were Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, who retired, and Reps. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, Mark Neumann of Wisconsin and Linda Smith of Washington, who all lost in challenges of Senate incumbents.
In addition to South Carolina’s Beasley, whose defeat was fueled by gambling industry support for his opponent, another Southern Baptist who lost in a governor’s race was Glenn Poshard of Illinois. The five-term Democratic congressman lost to George Ryan in a contest for the open governor’s mansion. A Southern Baptist who was re-elected as governor was Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, who received 59 percent of the vote in Arkansas.