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GOP Hopes to Pick Up Three Seats in US Senate

MASSACHUSETTS Republicans, like the Boston Red Sox, have an ``impossible dream'' - winning it all. But unlike the Sox, this may finally be the GOP's year. Not only are Republicans threatening to capture the Massachusetts governorship on Nov. 6, they also have a shot at whipping one of their liberal nemeses, Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

``We're putting Massachusetts way up at the top'' as a possible upset, says Wendy Burnley of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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With Hawaii and Iowa, Massachusetts could help Republicans trim the Democrats' 55-45 margin in the United States Senate and put control of the upper chamber within GOP reach in 1992.

Republicans' resurgent hopes in Massachusetts partly offset less favorable news in other Senate races, including those in North Carolina, Oregon, and Illinois.

In North Carolina, Democrat Harvey Gantt surprised just about everyone by raising nearly as much money ($3.2 million) in the past three months as Republican Sen. Jesse Helms ($3.4 million). The race is dead even, but Mr. Helms now has just $100,000 left in the bank, while Mr. Gantt has $789,000 for the final few weeks. After seeing the latest campaign finance numbers, Mr. Gantt says: ``I've been smiling for more than a week.''

In Oregon, Democrat Harry Lonsdale, a wealthy businessman and scientist, suddenly is threatening Republican Sen. Mark Hatfield. Mr. Lonsdale, advertising heavily on TV, gained 30 points on Senator Hatfield in a single month.

In Illinois, once considered the GOP's best chance to oust incumbent Sen. Paul Simon, the Republican challenger, Lynn Martin, is running short of cash in an expensive, media-oriented state.

But Republican problems go well beyond a few races. The party's troubles, starting with the federal budget crisis, became deep and fundamental, analysts say.

The budget impasse, a weakening economy, and President Bush's declining approval ratings are taking the steam out of many Republican campaigns.

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Political analysts say that when Mr. Bush reversed his no-new-taxes pledge this summer, it undercut the campaign strategies of scores of Republicans across the country. It was the ``tax versus no-tax'' difference that once made Republicans stand out and gave them their identities.

Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin offers an analysis of the tax issue with which many Republicans privately agree. Before Mr. Bush changed his course on taxes, the political debate was: ``Do we have new taxes, or not?''

That debate, says Mr. Garin, strongly favored the GOP.

But when Bush reversed himself and threw the door open to higher taxes, the debate became: ``Who will pay the new taxes?''

That debate, says Garin, strongly favored Democrats.

The impact of this new debate was swift. As the White House and Congress argued over which taxes to raise to close the deficit, Democrats focused on boosting levies on the wealthy. They wanted to put a 10 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million and hike the tax rate from 28 percent to 33 percent for upper-income earners. They also tried to reduce or eliminate proposed tax increases on gas and heating oil, which would affect middle- and lower-income Americans.

Throughout much of this debate, the only audible cry coming from the White House was one in favor of reducing the capital-gains tax. That may be good economics - it would theoretically boost investment and create jobs - but it makes the president appear to be a politician mainly concerned, as Democrats charge, with ``protecting his rich friends.''

Suddenly the battle became ``rich vs. middle class,'' and Democrats reaped the benefits.

The Democratic strategy has split Republican ranks in the House of Representatives. It has forced some Republican candidates to distance themselves from Bush. And it has put the White House on the defensive. For the first time in years, Democrats are talking with a unified voice.

Except, perhaps, in Massachusetts, where anger has boiled into voter rebellion against almost anyone in office. And most officeholders there are Democrats.

Even prominent Democrats like Senator Kerry admit that voters are dismayed. ``There is an angry mood in the state,'' says Douglas Whiting, communications director for the Kerry campaign. ``Certainly we will feel some of the mood against incumbents,'' Mr. Whiting admits. ``But Kerry says he shares the anger.''

``Sure he's angry. It's probably going to cost him his job,'' says Republican Gary McMillan.

Mr. McMillan, an official with the Senate campaign of Republican Jim Rappaport, says it's too late for Kerry to get angry. ``He's had 18 years to paint the spots on his back, and he can't change in one year. Kerry is part of the Massachusetts Democratic leadership. His philosophy is exactly the same: a liberal in favor of big government.''

If Kerry can be defeated, if the GOP takes Hawaii and perhaps one other Democratic-held state, this could still be a banner year.

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