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WILL ANTI-WASHINGTON FEELING AID GOP?

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If Republicans still held every seat in Congress that they controlled at some time in the 1980s, they would now command both houses - and not just dream about it.

They haven't had such control in four decades, and then only briefly. They haven't had firm, long-term control in 60 years. But Republicans hope a growing anti-Washington feeling that polls say is emerging may somehow help them win back control by 1992.Republicans could already have it if they simply had not lost 55 House seats and eight Senate seats they once won but couldn't hold in the '80s - a decade when they won three presidential races and even controlled the Senate from 1981-87.

Those seats would have resulted in a 53-47 Senate majority for Republicans instead of the 55-45 margin Democrats actually have. Republicans would also have a 231-202 House majority (with two vacancies), compared with the real 257-176 Democratic majority.

One of those Republican losses was Utah's 2nd District. Republican Reps. Dan Marriott and David Monson held it until 1987. Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens has held it since.

National Republican strategists hope to bite into Democratic leads this year - with an outside chance at majority control in 1992 - if a now swelling-but-unfocused, anti-Washington feeling that polls are finding festers through election day.

"It could turn into a massive `throw-the-bums-out' vote in November," worries pollster Geoffrey Garin, who usually works for Democratic clients.

An example of such feelings - according to Karlyn Keene, editor of the poll-evaluating American Enterprise magazine - is that usually when people are asked simply if their incumbent should be re-elected, a majority says yes. But the opposite is now true. "The numbers are the lowest we've ever seen."

Also, she said polls show Americans have such little confidence in Congress that most believe any tax increase would be wasted.

Since most incumbents are Democrats, Republicans hope the negative feelings will benefit them. They say privately they hope to push such issues as heavy free-mailing by incumbents, or incumbents "not keeping anything sacred" by killing an anti-flag burning amendment.

But Democrats hope the negative feelings will be directed instead toward President Bush and that voters will support Democrats to punish him.

They say privately that incumbents in risky districts such as Utah's 2nd will be portrayed as trustworthy people who vote their conscience. In a time of low expectations for politicians, they believe people will vote for someone they trust even if they don't like his views.

History seems to give more support to the Democrats' expectations of voters turning against the president's party, even though Bush's approval ratings have been near all-time highs.

In fact, only in one election since the Civil War (1934) has the party holding the White House not lost seats in Congress during a non-presidential election year. A worse omen for Republicans may be that even when Bush won 40 of 50 states in 1988, Republicans still lost three House seats.

But Democratic strategists say their party now holds such a huge majority and almost all of the closely contested districts that it would be surprising if Republicans did not win back at least a few House seats this year. Democrats still hope to win three to five more seats, while Republicans hope for five to 10. Both sides expect little or no change in the Senate.

For Republicans to make any large long-term gains, they must overcome House district boundaries drawn to favor Democrats. Realistically, they say they cannot do that until 1992 - and only if they win enough state legislative races this year to control redistricting in the states.

That could be especially important because many members of Congress are expected to retire in 1992 - the deadline for those elected before 1980 to leave if they want to convert their often huge campaign accounts to their private use.

Such open races are more competitive because no incumbent is in them to use such powers as the free-mail "franking privilege" to build name recognition. Incumbents also attract about 90 percent of money from special-interest political action committees.

Republicans controlling Congress by 1992 looks like a long shot with history, district boundaries and incumbent advantages working against it. But anything's possible with a growing anti-Washington sentiment, considering Republicans would already have control if they could hold the seats they win.