November 3, 1999
Results were mixed in Tuesday's off-year elections in several states across the country. Margaret Warner discusses the elections with NewsHour regulars Wall Street Journal Columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant.
MARGARET WARNER: More than 20 states held various city and state elections, and the results were decidedly mixed. To try to make sense of them, we turn to two NewsHour regulars, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant.
Paul, there was just a blizzard of races yesterday. Does either party when you look at the results have bragging rights?
PAUL GIGOT: Both and neither. They both -- I talked to Republican strategists who said that it was like looking at in partisan terms an absolutely calm pond out there. We took one of theirs; they took one of ours. There didn't look to be any real deep, profound partisan trend, and with one exception, there wasn't a great ideological trend. I would say the exception to that is taxes, which we can talk about later. But taxes still showed their potency. But other than that, this is the politics of prosperity. There wasn't a lot of anger or great movement.
MARGARET WARNER: Both parties are crowing, Tom, but privately how do they feel?
TOM OLIPHANT: That it was a wash; that it doesn't really carry any great implications for government in the next year or for elections in the next year. And I think it wasn't just that the results were mixed. You had candidacies all over the lot this time. It was like the wedding list for a marriage of two families that had nothing in common. In each party you had incredible variety of candidacies.
|Republicans victorious in Virginia|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look at one that was very hotly fought, and this was in Virginia. Both the Senate and the House were up. Republicans held control of the Senate, which they already had, and for the first time ever took control of the House. How did they do it, Paul, and how significant is it?
PAUL GIGOT: It's significant because doing that gives them the ability to rewrite the districts after 2000, and I think that could add a seat or two to the Republican side in Congress. So that's very tangible.
How they did it, I think Governor James Gilmore is an example of the governing conservatism, of pragmatic conservatism of a lot of the Republican governors. You go ahead and you take on the education issue. You don't cede it to the Democrats. You use tax cuts to rally your base. And in Gilmore's case, a lot like George W. Bush, he's pursued a kind of muted partisanship. He didn't wave the flag and say this is a victory for me or Republicans, but he worked very hard to raise money, really to pick candidates, and it was a kind of strategy that fit the times, the times which aren't terribly partisan times, in certainly Virginia.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, sort of a nonideological --
TOM OLIPHANT: Oh, very much so, because we have a benchmark. Four years ago then-Governor George Allen tried this. Some people thought he would succeed. And he was trying to get a legislature to back his conservative agenda. This time around Gilmore largely decoupled the effort to win control of the lower House from his agenda, and indeed he adopted a few measures that the Democrats in the legislature had supported.
PAUL GIGOT: I mean, there were some ideological differences. The tax issue was a big one, and the educational accountability issue was a big one. So it wasn't as if there were no real issues in the race or ideology, but the partisan edge, the saying that you need do this for a Republican Party versus the Democrat was mute.
|A seesaw in the South|
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in another very closely watched race in the South, Tom, the Mississippi governorship the Republicans didn't fare as well.
TOM OLIPHANT: Apparently not. This is an interesting seesaw election where the Democratic Lt. Governor, Ronny Musgrove, came back from a deficit in the middle of the campaign in a largely issue-oriented campaign, oriented toward Mississippi's future, I think, more than to ideological battles of the past. It's very narrow, but it appears to be in line with the trend in the deep South of the last few years, which is a little bit back toward the middle, a little bit back toward Democrats.
MARGARET WARNER: And just explaining the results, Musgrove got more than his Republican opponent, but not quite 50 percent, and therefore it will probably go to a Democratic legislature.
TOM OLIPHANT: And depending on recounts, the legislature I think is most apt to go for whoever ends up with a plurality.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Paul, that these elections, both yesterday and also the '98 governorship races in the South, suggest that the Democrats in the South are making something of a comeback, that we aren't seeing this sweep, this Republican sweep that seems to have been going on for 20 or 30 years now?
PAUL GIGOT: There were some Republicans who that thought the sweep was going to be so great they would dominate the South as completely as the Democrats had dominated the post-reconstruction -- the Jim Crowe era. That's clearly not going to happen. Democrats that can get -- they start out with an enormous black voter base, you know, which goes almost 90 percent Democratic. When they can forge biracial coalitions, they can still win, and what they're doing is they're nominating people now who are running often on conservative agendas. Mr. Musgrove ran on family tax relief and made it more difficult for the Republican to drive the tax issue. But the problem Republicans had in Mississippi was there were 90,000 fewer votes this time than in 1995. And some of that was a reaction against the sitting governor, Kirk Fordice, whose -- he had Fordice fatigue in Mississippi, a lot like Clinton fatigue.
MARGARET WARNER: A scandal problem.
PAUL GIGOT: Scandal problems that carried over to the Republicans.
|Mayoral races generate interest|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look at the mayor's races. There were more than 200, I think.
TOM OLIPHANT: Each one.
MARGARET WARNER: Three biggies.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, the three big ones, one in Philadelphia was essentially the dodging of a bullet by the Democrats. John Street, who was elected very narrowly, there was a question whether Republicans had a chance and just came up short. I think President Clinton may have made a difference last week actually. The big change elections were in the Midwest. The city of Columbus, Ohio, Ohio's capital, elected its first Democrat since 1972, a black man who is the president of the city council and quite convincingly.
Even more interestingly I think was the election in Indianapolis, which is a county system where suburbs are involved. And there a Democrat came from nowhere over the last two years, Bart Peterson, who used to work for Evan Bayh, the state's new senator, and won quite convincingly. He's the first Democrat to be mayor of Indianapolis since 1963. That is a change of some significance that indicates that Democrats -- moderate ones -- are still capable of competing in suburban constituencies quite well.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the mayoral elections, and also what it says about race as factor in these urban contests?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the Philadelphia race, I think, Tom is right. President Clinton probably did play a role in getting turnout at the end, particularly the black vote. It was, I think, for those of us who would like to see a little more competition for racial politics, for the -- the ratio was not so divided this was a disappointment. Sam Katz, the Republican, only go 6 percent of the black vote, John Street only 23 percent of the white vote. So some of the biracial coalitions that you've seen in say Jerry Brown's victory in Oakland and some of the other cities like Giuliani and Mayor Riordan in Los Angeles didn't show up here. It was still very polarized by race, despite Sam Katz's, the Republicans' attempt to really run on school choice, which was popular by a 2-1 margin among black Philadelphians.
TOM OLIPHANT: A small point though. When Wilson Goode was elected -- a black man -- was elected and beat Frank Rizzo more than 20 years ago, this pattern in Philadelphia was very much like it was last night. So that here's the first time a black person is elected in Philadelphia tends to be close. If this guy does a good job, I would be amazed if he had a serious opponent four years from now.
|Implications for the 2000 elections|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Finally, let's look at the ballot initiatives. Again, there were a whole flurry of those. Tell us about the one you thought was most significant.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the big one was Initiative 695 in Washington state, where all of the elites in the state were against it.
MARGARET WARNER: That's the car tax. It gives the voters veto over all future taxing.
PAUL GIGOT: It says you have to have a referendum if you want to raise taxes. All of the elites in the state, labor, media, big business, Microsoft, Boeing, Democratic Party and for a while a lot of the Republicans, opposed it. But there really was a grassroots activist talk radio reminding in many ways of the 1994 movement that said, look, you're spending all the surplus for yourselves. The economy is doing fine. We want some of our taxes back. And it was very, very effective. And I think this does have an impact on the national election because it shows the potency that still exists of the tax issue.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain it in such a progressive state that this would --
TOM OLIPHANT: First of all, Washington state is a lot more complicated than that. It can seesaw and has many times. Secondly, at the grassroots level to raise an issue like this, this directly -- simply an over-taxation issue -- can work. This is very much like the earthquake that happened in California 21 years ago, in Massachusetts 17 years ago. In addition, though, what I think limits its applicability nationally is that this was a proposal that is not spending a surplus. This is creating a hole in the state government. The Seattle Times, the local newspaper estimates about 7.5 percent. And the question is whether a predominantly Democratic state government can put this into effect without harm to public services, and I think, as we speak, the governor is announcing his plans.
MARGARET WARNER: So if you don't think the tax message is the one or the big clue for the next year's elections, what do you think if you look at all these that happened yesterday, what is it telling us about the year 2000 election?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, the first thing I would say is that the basic front-runner establishments in each party that are trying for the nomination should feel comfortable. I think that means John McCain and George W. Bush and the Republican Party can find a lot of people like themselves who did very well yesterday. On the Democratic side, maybe a slight edge to Al Gore here, maybe symbolized by the change in the city government of Manchester, N.H., where one of his supporters was elected mayor.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think Governor Gilmore's success in Virginia helps explain why George W. Bush has been doing so well, because it's an example of the governing conservative, that pragmatic conservatism. A private Republican poll was read to me today that was taken comparing approval and disapproval ratings, Republican Congress approval, 44, disapproval 52. Republican office holders in your state, 64 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove. Gilmore is an example of that. He was able to carry a majority into the legislature based on that popularity, and that kind of problem-solving conservatism.
TOM OLIPHANT: Of course, that could just simply mean also that incumbents tend to win.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both very much.