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Washington Journal: U.S. Voters Unlikely To Alter Political Landscape

Washington, 2 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With the American economy booming and their nation at peace, U.S. voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to choose many of the politicians who will lead them into the next century.

It is called mid-term elections -- the next U.S. presidential contest is still two years away. Thirty-four Senate seats, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 36 governorships, and numerous state and local candidates are being contested.

Political analysts say Republicans will probably make small gains in the House, probably picking up between six and 12 seats, while winning perhaps two or three seats in the upper chamber, the Senate.

Such modest gains would not have a major impact on the U.S. political landscape.

Republicans currently control the Senate 55 to 45 seats, and the House 228 to 206, with one independent.

However, the calculations remain tentative because of the large number of races, especially in the Senate, that are still too close to call.

Mary Crawford, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicts a low to modest voter turnout.

With peace and prosperity at hand, Crawford says "there is not an overreaching national event or situation that is propelling people" to get out and vote.

Some observers see the election as a referendum on President Bill Clinton and the charges against him for allegedly lying while under oath about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Others, however, say voters are uninterested in the scandal, and that the election is about competitive individual races, with an emphasis on local issues.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Republican Party's senatorial campaign committee, says the Clinton affair hasn't been an issue in a single Senate race with which he is familiar.

Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the leader of the House Democrats, said if people vote Republican, the country is likely to see more investigations of the Democratic Party president, rather than increased action on issues such as education and health care.

Clinton said in a nationwide radio address over the weekend that the Republicans in Congress had failed to provide leadership on such issues as education.

Clinton said: "Americans will go to elect the new Congress, and there's a lot at stake. Our children don't need another two years of partisanship. They need two years of progress at putting people over politics."

In the Senate, the two closest races are taking place in two of the most politically important states -- New York and California.

In New York, Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato was running about even with Representative Charles Schumer. In California, Republican Matt Fong was just about tied with incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Democrats seemed poised to win the greatest single prize of the election by capturing the governorship of California. But Republicans are seen as having a good chance to gain the governorships of Florida, Georgia, and Colorado, to add to the 32 states they already control.

Nebraska Sen. John Kerrey, a Democrat, said it is still not impossible that Republicans would win five seats and gain a Senate majority of 60 that would signal a major power shift. By boosting their majority to 60 in the Senate, the Republicans would be in a position to push through legislation over the objection of the Democrats by stopping debates on the floor. That scenario, however, seems unlikely as the voting approaches.