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Politics '86: satisfaction, surprise

SATISFACTION dominates the American public mood. Satisfaction with one's lot, by and large. Satisfaction with the President. In this context the status quo should be the winner in 1986. Though Republican leaders argue otherwise, no particularly strong GOP wind is blowing. A ``Reagan wind,'' perhaps. But, as in the midterm elections during the President's first term, it isn't likely to help other Republican candidates overmuch.

Republicans again will gather by far the most money. They also possess the better campaign and organizational savvy. But in off-presidential years the electorate tends to vote along party lines. This gives the Democrats their traditional although slimming edge.

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Thus, the Democrats will probably increase their big majority in the House -- and they just might be able to take over the Senate. Mr. Reagan could have to deal with a Democratic-controlled Congress during his last two years. That of itself might pull the President into lame-duck status.

But if the economy keeps rolling along pretty much as it is now, the prospect is for the divided Congress to remain -- with the President able to rally conservative House Democrats behind him at least on some issues.

One may have to look hard to find any candidates, at any level, going to the public with an anti-Reagan campaign. Some Democrats may assert that they were ahead of the President in pushing tax revision; still, few politicians will tangle with Mr. Reagan. Instead, Democrats will suggest that they -- and their record -- are ``pro-Reagan,'' much as in earlier times Democrats made themselves out to be pro-Eisenhower, or at least hinted that they ``liked Ike.''

Looking ahead, these developments will mark the political year:

Republicans will concentrate attention and funds on seats in state legislatures. The GOP goal is to reshape legislatures all around the US so that the next reapportionment of congressional seats will improve party prospects.

Republicans will pick up governorships, if only because more Democratic incumbents face reelection. However, the Republicans will win more governorships only if they field the superior candidates. It is too early to assess the strength of the GOP roster.

Some bright new political stars will likely emerge, some new faces for the presidency. Is there an FDR, a Thomas Dewey, a Nelson Rockefeller, a George Romney, or even a Ronald Reagan among the unknowns now seeking a governorship? Perhaps. Peter Ueberroth, for example, could quickly dominate the GOP nomination picture should he run for the Senate in California and win handily.

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Thus my vote for 1986 calls for an election paradoxically dominated by status quo satisfaction and the possibility of surprise.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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