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Not Nearly as ‘Unlike 1994’ as the New York Times Thinks


The New York Times:

Unlike 1994, when Republicans shocked Democrats by capturing dozens of seats held by complacent incumbents, there will be no sneak attacks this year. Democrats have sensed trouble for more than a year, with the unrest from town-hall-style meetings last August providing indisputable evidence for any disbelievers.

The premise of this story is flat-out wrong. Although an outright GOP takeover did not seem likely until the very end of the 1994 campaign, Democrats had known for months that they were in deep trouble. Here are some excerpts from newspaper articles of the time:

— “Angry White House officials yesterday sharply rebuked the political director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) after he was quoted as saying Democratic candidates were free to distance themselves from President Clinton in their campaigns if that is what it will take to win.… In an interview with the Washington Times, [Don] Sweitzer was quoted as saying, ‘There are clearly some areas of the country where it is not going to benefit a candidate to associate himself with Bill Clinton, and if you want us to stay away, we’ll stay away.’” —Dan Balz, “DNC Aide Rebuked After Talk About Shunning Clinton,” Washington Post, June 9, p. A13.

● “The White House’s recent move to shore up the national leadership of the Democratic Party confirms the political scuttlebutt: President Clinton’s dwindling popularity has produced high anxiety over the November elections. Concern grows that a fall fiasco in congressional elections — including a Republican takeover in the Senate — could cripple the president in the last two years of his term.” —Carolyn Barta, “Democrats Running Scared,” Dallas Morning News, August 16, p. 13A.

● “As they take to the stump this Labor Day weekend for the traditional opening of the fall campaigns, politicians of both parties share a like-minded view of the electoral landscape: The prospects for Democrats at all levels are bleak. The only unknown is just how bleak.… Senator John Glenn of Ohio said that at a recent private luncheon many of his Democratic colleagues were in such despair — some fretted that they would in fact lose control of the Senate — that he wound up scolding them.” —Richard L. Berke, “Democrats Glum About Prospects As Elections Near,” New York Times, September 4, p. 1.

● “Charles Cook, a veteran election watcher, says Democratic anxiety is escalating with barely two months left before the election. Mr. Cook, editor of ‘The Cook Political Report,’ says: ‘The question is whether Democrats are going to take a hit, take a big hit, or take the big hit’ — that is, lose control of the House, the Senate, or both.” — John Dillin, “GOP Has a Shot at House Majority,” Christian Science Monitor, September 6, p. 1.

● “Sixty days before the November elections, the one question ricocheting through the political world is: How bad will it be for the Democrats?… ‘Even under the best of circumstances, this would be a hard year for Democrats,’ Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said. ‘But frankly, this isn’t close to the best of circumstances.’” —Dan Balz, “Democrats Agree They’ll Lose Seats — Worry Is, How Many?” Washington Post, September 8, p. A1.

● “‘I think it’s pretty bad,’ says Rep. Bob Matsui, D-Calif. “There’s just this sense that we could lose significant seats, and some are even suggesting we could lose effective control of the institution. . . . There’s a sense that the public is still angry.” —William Welch, “Dour Days for Democrats,” USA Today, September 12, p. 4A.

● “With little more than five weeks until Election Day, the Democratic Party seems to be headed for one of its worst midterm drubbings since World War II, which would present President Clinton with enormous legislative problems in the last two years of his term.… ‘It’s bleak, very, very bleak,’ a leading Democratic campaign consultant in the Midwest said recently, and a senior White House official commented, ‘We’re in the soup up to our neck, and it’s hot.’” —R. W. Apple, “Democrats See Only Negative Numbers,” New York Times, October 2, 1994, p. 1.

John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.


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