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Control of the House of Representatives teetering on the edgeControl of the House of Representatives teetering on the edge

Control of the House of Representatives teetering on the edge

Regardless of Vice President Al Gore's performance next Tuesday, Democrats appear likely to pick up at least three seats in the House of Representatives. Whether or not this will be enough to regain the majority they lost in 1994 will depend upon these last few days of the 2000 campaign.

As both parties pour millions into mobilizing their supporters and swaying undecided voters, a survey of the nation's most competitive House races suggests that to win the seven seats they need, Democrats will have to upset several GOP incumbents. A task that once seemed easy is becoming more difficult in a year when most voters seem satisfied with the manner in which the country is being governed.

A look at the political map shows many competitive congressional races all over the country. As a result, the election is being fought district by district, with enormous sums of money being poured into about two dozen competitive races—and the election very much hinging on which party does a better job of getting its voters to the polls.

Democrat advantage appears to lie in the wave of Republican lawmakers retiring or seeking higher office. This has left Republicans with the enormous burden of being forced to defend 26 "open seats," compared with nine for the Democrats. Historically, it has been much easier for a party to pick up open seats than to knock off an incumbent.

Many Republican incumbents are facing stiff challenges this election cycle. The GOP has 14 incumbents in tight races including AOPA members Charles Bass (N.H.) and Robin Hayes (N.C.). Several House members who managed the President's impeachment trial are also facing stiff competition. Congressman James Rogan of California is in one of the most high-profile races in the country, and Congressman Bob Barr is facing a well-financed challenge by AOPA member Roger Kahn. By contrast, the Democrats have just six seriously endangered incumbents with two—Rush D. Holt in New Jersey and Dennis Moore in Kansas—the most likely to be sent home.

However, Republicans have seen their position improve in the last several months. They have managed to place in jeopardy at least two Democrats who were thought to have been safe: Reps. Sam Gejdenson (Conn.) and Bill Luther (Minn.), who is running against AOPA member John Kline. Republicans have also mounted strong campaigns against three other incumbents—California Reps. Lois Capps and Calvin M. Dooley and Florida's Corrine Brown.

Equally important, the small number of Democratic retirements includes several in conservative-leaning districts where Republicans have the natural advantage. For example, Sam Graves appears poised to win the seat being vacated by Missouri's Pat Danner. Likewise, Republicans are expected to win the seat of retiring Congressman Owen Picket of Virginia. Furthermore, the GOP is steadily gaining ground in several open seats in Orlando, Salt Lake City, and western Pennsylvania—for which the Democrats had high hopes.

It appears as though the success of their efforts will turn on the parties' ability to turn out base supporters. This has prompted them to pour staggering amounts of resources into grass-roots activities in the campaign's final days. Both parties also have recount teams in place, prepared to fly out the day after the election to contest narrow victories by the other side.

Meanwhile, President Clinton has been unleashed upon the campaign trial to energize the party faithful. He has campaigned on behalf of Eleanor Jordan, who is challenging Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) in Louisville and several other Democratic candidates in California, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Jersey. In fact, many Democratic and swing voters have received phone calls from the President attacking the Republican candidate.

Even the smallest effort can provide the margin of victory in a close race. In one California district, Republicans have promoted the use of absentee ballots, and of the 70,000 that have gone out, 49 percent are Republican, compared with 39 percent that are Democratic. The party has engineered an elaborate precinct-walking program on Congressman Rogan's behalf in which 500 volunteers will monitor the polls and round up GOP voters who have yet to cast their ballots.

Last-minute purchases of television airtime provide hidden insight into which races the parties are focused on: Republicans have pulled out of the district of Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.), and AOPA member Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), who was expecting stiff competition in a traditionally Republican district. Meanwhile, Democrats are no longer running ads in the districts of GOP Reps. C. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and George R. Nethercutt (Wash.). Democrats are now going on the air to defend AOPA supporter Shelley Berkley in Nevada and Congresswoman Brown in Florida, while Republicans are on the air in California to support incumbent Brian P. Bilbray.

After seemingly conceding their effort to unseat Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel III (D-Pa.) in the Philadelphia suburbs, Republicans are now running ads on his tax record. The GOP also may run ads against Democratic Reps. Bobby R. Etheridge (N.C.), Maurice D. Hinchey (N.Y.), and Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) in the final days of the campaign.

The key House battleground states include California—where four GOP-held seats are in jeopardy—along with Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, which offer opportunities for both parties.

In Pennsylvania, Melissa Hart is favored to win the seat of Rep. Ron Klink (D), who is running for Senate, while freshman GOP Rep. Don Sherwood faces a bitter rematch with Pat Casey, son of the state's late governor.

The Midwest boasts two of the most competitive open-seat contests in the nation in the Chicago suburbs and the Lansing, Michigan, area, along with a relatively close race in Ohio, where Pat Tiberi is running to succeed Republican John R. Kasich. Kentucky is home to three contested elections, including one involving Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) who has only the slightest edge in his race against Scotty Baesler, who previously represented the Lexington area district for six years.

The narrow margin of most of these races has left political experts and pundits scratching their heads. Most are simply forced to throw up their hands and say that the House is just too close to call. However, one thing is certain, the final outcome will not be known until well into Wednesday morning, and Americans may be left with the most divided Congress in a generation.

November 1, 2000

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