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Washington Journal: Both Parties See Victory In Election Outcomes

Washington, 4 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- America's two dominant political parties -- the Democrats and the Republicans -- each laid claim to history-making results from Tuesday's general elections even though results promised no shift in the balance of political power in Washington.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate were up for election Tuesday. In the last Congress, the 105th, The Republican Party held the majority in both chambers -- 228-206, with one independent, in the House and 55-45 in the Senate.

With about 95 percent of the House races decided or almost decided, the trend of the results indicated that the Republican majority would be reduced to eight House seats, or 221-213. The trend indicated no change in the U.S. Senate.

House members serve two-year terms and senators serve terms of six years. The 106th Congress will be sworn in in January.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican from the southern state of Georgia who easily won re-election, said the results mean his party will maintain a majority in the lower chamber for three consecutive sessions for the first time in 70 years. The results also mean the Republicans will hold onto the chairman's post on all House and Senate committees, where most of the work on legislation is conducted.

On the other hand, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, a Democrat who also won re-election in the midwestern state of Missouri, said the outcomes mean the Democrats will break a historical trend that began 60 years ago.

Ever since the election of 1938, the political party of the president lost seats in every midterm election -- that is, the election that comes at the middle point of a president's four year term. President Bill Clintons Democratic party lost 52 seats and control of the House for the first time in 40 years in the mid-term election of 1994. That was the most sweeping change of political power in Washington in recent U.S. history. Democrats lost a few more seats in the House even when Clinton won re-election to his second and final term in 1996.

Gephardt said, "Indeed, if we break even or even pick up a seat it would be an historical reversal of what usually happens."

Final results from all 435 House races and 34 Senate races are expected later today. If the trends hold up, experts say the results likely mean the threat of impeachment that has loomed over Clinton since September will evaporate.

Just before it adjourned last month, the House voted to investigate a number of charges against Clinton that stem from his sexual affair with former White House assistant, Monica Lewinsky, and determine if formal impeachment proceedings should be started. Impeachment could lead to a president's removal after a trial in the Senate.

However, one recognized expert contended the results from across the nation showed that Americans are tired of the White House scandal and impeachment discussion and that they want Congress to act on issues they believe are more important.

Former Congressman Leon Panetta, who also served Clinton as a White House chief of staff, told CNN that, "if the Republicans thought there was political gain by continuing to press on the impeachment process, then they would continue to push it. But I think the American people care a lot more about issues that affect their families."

Clinton, who watched election returns at the White House, is expected to make a statement on the outcomes later today. The White House said Clinton did telephone several Democratic Party winners to offer congratulations. Clinton is due to leave office in January 2001.

Vice President Al Gore hailed the results as "a great night for Democrats and a great night for the country" and suggested voters were sending a message that Republicans should put the Monica Lewinsky investigation behind them. In an interview with a Boston radio station, Gore said, "The message all over the country is they want us to get back to work. Gore added that "all the Republicans offered was more investigations and more partisanship. I think people reacted against that." Gore is expected to be the Democratic Party candidate for president in the year 2000 election.

This year, 94 incumbents - 55 Republicans and 39 Democrats - ran unopposed in the House.

Among the easy winners: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, a Republican from the midwestern state of Illinois, who will oversee impeachment hearings, and eight-term Republican Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and a persistent critic of the president.

However, election night losers also included two prominent Republican critics of Clinton -- Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York and Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina. D'Amato, a co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was defeated by Democrat Charles Schumer, who has served nine terms in the House of Representatives. Faircloth was beaten by Democrat John Edwards, who was making his first run for public office.

Election returns also proved some prognosticators wrong. A number of experts predicted a record low voter turnout this year. Instead, they came out in numbers close to those of four years ago.

Preliminary results by the Voter News Service indicated a 38 percent voter turnout this year, falling just slightly below the 38.8 percent turnout of the last midterm election in 1994. Since 1970, the voter turnout in midterm elections has fluctuated between about 37 percent and 40 percent.