Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Changing Map of American Politics

Moderation was the theme in the Pacific West, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast. In this election, these regions provided a more defined counterpoint to the conservative strains that have resounded from Dixie in recent years. Some analysts suggest states in those regions may form a new base for the Democratic Party. Even the Mountain West, which for the most part remained solidly conservative, elected some officials with moderate leanings.

The South, for its part, was instrumental in keeping Republicans in power in Congress. The party's Senate candidates gave the GOP a net gain of two seats in the region, and Southern Republicans seized seven open House seats formerly held by Democrats.

About these ads



For the second presidential election in a row, the Democratic Party swept the Pacific West, with the exception of Alaska. President Clinton's convincing victories in California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington were mirrored by significant gains in the Congress, with the Democrats picking up at least six seats in the House.

The results suggest the beginning of a historic realignment of the Pacific West, once a Republican stronghold. This region is now forming, along with the Northeast and upper Midwest, a new base for the Democratic Party to balance the loss of the South to the GOP.

"As the Republican Party has become a party speaking with a Southern accent, the West Coast and East Coast and upper Midwest have reacted to that," says Mark Petracca of the University of California at Irvine.

The Pacific West has proved particularly open to the themes defined by Mr. Clinton. With a booming regional economy driven by high-technology industries and trade with the Pacific Rim, voters responded well to talk about the importance of education, jobs, and preservation of the environment.

An attempt by the Dole campaign to mount an all-out effort to capture California, the nation's largest electoral prize, was a failure. Clinton did better here than in 1992, improving from 46 percent of the vote to 51 percent.

About these ads

Bob Dole's California push also appeared to have done little to help the rest of the ticket. The 52-seat California House delegation had been evenly split, but the Democrats picked up two seats, defeating Republicans Andrea Seastrand in the 22nd District and Bill Baker in the 10th District, with a third seat held by conservative firebrand Robert Dornan in southern California's 46th undecided. Democrats also took back control of the state legislature.

Washington State was perhaps the most closely watched House contest in the country. In 1994, the GOP captured six of the eight Democratic-held districts. But this time, three Republican freshmen incumbents - Randy Tate, Linda Smith, and Jack Metcalf - lost their seats. Democrat Gary Locke also easily won his race to become the first Asian-American governor of a mainland state.

In Oregon, a race for the Senate seat vacated by veteran Republican Mark Hatfield is too close to call, with a large number of write-in votes uncounted.

-- Daniel Sneider


Parts of the Mountain West added sweetness to Clinton's reelection victory. But the region also played a big role in adding to the Republican margin in the US Senate and in keeping GOP losses in the House of Representatives to a minimum.

Yet while some elections continued to reflect the historic conservatism symbolized by saddle-tough ranchers and those suspicious of government, the results across this vast area of mountains and deserts also confirmed the shift toward a more moderate "New West."

In winning Arizona - the home of "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater - Clinton was the first Democrat to do so since Harry Truman in 1948. Clinton also took New Mexico and Nevada.

Elsewhere in the region, Dole was the winner. And in four of the five Senate races, Republican candidates prevailed - including in the races for open Senate seats in Colorado and Wyoming that Democrats had hoped to win.

Meanwhile, Democratic plans to knock off "vulnerable" GOP House freshmen were not fulfilled in the Mountain West. Helen Chenoweth in Idaho (one of the most controversial of the newcomers), Barbara Cubin in Wyoming, and John Ensign in Nevada will be back on Capitol Hill in January.

But there were signs that overtly moderate Republicans can also do well in a region where hard-core conservatism sometimes is the norm. GOP governors Marc Racicot in Montana and Mike Leavitt in Utah were easily reelected.

Traditional Western conservatism was indicated in some ballot measures. Nevadans strengthened rights for crime victims and made it harder to raise taxes. Idahoans rejected a ban on bear-baiting. Montanans refused to toughen water-quality standards for mines. Several states passed term limits.

Three voter initiatives drew national interest. Arizona approved the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. In Colorado, an effort to remove property-tax exemptions for churches and other nonprofit institutions was rejected. Coloradans also said "no" to a proposed constitutional amendment to affirm the right of parents to "direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children."

Montana - site of antigovernment militias and the alleged "Unabomber" - passed a measure against such extremists. The state now allows lawsuits against those whose threats or intimidations cause injury or harm.

-- Brad Knickerbocker



To nobody's surprise, Southern voters stepped to the polls Tuesday and reaffirmed their growing commitment to the Republican Party. But the GOP's victory here could prove pyrrhic.

In the positive column, Republican candidates won two of four open Senate seats while embattled Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of N.C. and Strom Thurmond of S.C. survived, giving the GOP a net gain of two seats in the region. In the House, Republicans seized seven open seats formerly held by Democrats. And Mr. Dole triumphed in Texas, Oklahoma, and a band of Dixie states from Mississippi to Virginia.

Yet Democrats showed signs of resilience here. Democratic Senate candidates won in Louisiana and Georgia, and Clinton carried Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Democratic incumbents ran strong regionwide, and at least two Southern House GOP freshmen will not be returning to Washington.

Political scientist William Connelly at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., says Southern Republicans, now the party's most powerful and reliably conservative group, may make the party less competitive in more moderate areas like the Pacific West, Northeast, and Midwest, where Democrats made headway. "What happened in the Northeast happened because of the Republican realignment in the South," he says. "Voters there are not as comfortable with the direction [Southern Republicans] are taking the party."

The results also provide some evidence that the conservative trend in the South may have a hard ceiling. "As the South becomes more Republican, it's also becoming more like the rest of the country," he notes. "The suburbs are filling up with people who are not revolutionary Republicans. They may be conservative, but they're not radicals."

This scenario seemed evident in Georgia, where Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney, an African-American, won by a large margin despite a redistricting order that left her without a black majority in her semirural district.

University of Texas political scientist Walter Dean Burnham says Clinton's victory in Florida shows that GOP stances on Medicare and immigration may have alienated many elderly voters and immigrants - two fast-growing portions of the electorate nationwide.

-- Sam Walker



Democrats prevailed in several key races across the Midwest, signaling an erosion of the heartland as a traditional GOP stronghold and perhaps a shifting of allegiances by moderate GOP voters.

In US Senate races, most striking was the smooth reelection of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) of Minnesota, considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate. By strongly endorsing a second term for Mr. Wellstone, who opposes sweeping welfare reform and backs a government takeover of health insurance, voters indicated the taboo on the "liberal" label may be overstated. Wellstone easily defeated his challenger, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

Other races suggest that Midwest voters share what election-night polls indicate is a general public dissatisfaction with the Republican-led Congress.

Voters in Ohio nudged out US House GOP freshman Frank Cremeans in favor of Ted Strickland (D), who accused his opponent of being anti-labor, anti-Medicare, and anti-student loans. In Illinois, voters ousted another GOP freshman, Michael Flanagan, to elect Democratic state Rep. Rod Blagojevich.

In a telling Senate contest, Rep. Tim Johnson (D) won a difficult battle to unseat three-term incumbent Larry Pressler (R) in the historically Republican state of South Dakota.

Democrats retained Senate seats in Iowa and Michigan, where long-serving Sen. Carl Levin won a fourth term. In Illinois, liberal Rep. Richard Durbin defeated conservative Al Salvi to fill Sen. Paul Simon's (D) seat.

Another major vindication for Democrats in the Midwest was Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon's successful bid for the governorship of Indiana, long a stalwart GOP state. In the most hotly contested gubernatorial contest in the country, Mr. O'Bannon came from behind to beat Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.

O'Bannon's win represents a vote of confidence for the moderate conservatism of New Democrats such as Indiana's popular outgoing Gov. Evan Bayh. It also solidifies the Democrats' grip on Indiana, a prized counterpoint to the GOP-held governorships in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Still, Republicans made some headway. In Nebraska, Chuck Hagel (R) took the Senate seat of a retiring Democrat. In Kansas, conservative Republicans retained both seats vacated by retiring Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum.

-- Ann Scott Tyson



While much of the country was realigning itself, the Northeast stood its traditionally Democratic ground.

In the region's marquee race, women flexed their electoral muscle by helping defeat Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) and sending Sen. John Kerry (D) back to Washington. The message from voters: Governor Weld's pledge to be tough on crime and welfare moms was too harsh.

"Maybe Kerry has not been as effective a senator as many hoped, but ... he stressed the issue of fairness," says Elizabeth Sherman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. "For a lot of women, that note of compassion just really spoke to them."

All 10 of the state's House seats went to Democrats - a history-making sweep.

Democrats prevailed in New Jersey's Senate race - one of the country's nastiest. A large urban turnout helped Rep. Robert Torricelli defeat Rep. Dick Zimmer in the $20 million race for Sen. Bill Bradley's seat. "In exit polls, Zimmer was considered the more negative," says Neil Upmeyer of the Center for Analysis of Public Issues in Princeton.

Even in New Hampshire, a state that normally bucks its region's liberal leanings, voters elected a Democratic governor - the first since 1980. State Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won support from women, but also "crowded [her opponent] off the middle of the spectrum" by being more moderate than he was, says Richard Winters, a professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

In tight races for the state's Senate and two House seats, Republicans did triumph. But the closeness of the contests showed a new Democratic strength in the state, Professor Winters says.

In Connecticut, Rep. Gary Franks (R), one of the nation's two black House Republicans, lost to Democrat James Maloney in a rematch in which AFL-CIO money played a strong role.

In Maine, Republican Susan Collins captured the seat of retiring GOP Sen. William Cohen. But GOP freshman Rep. James Longley Jr. lost to Democrat Thomas Allen, who had strong labor backing. The state also approved one of the strictest campaign-finance reforms in the nation and voted to put some restrictions on clear-cut logging.

Clinton's coattails apparently ushered in many Democrats in the mid-Atlantic region. Democrat Carolyn McCarthy defeated GOP freshman Dan Frisa on Long Island, New York. But the Clinton surge did not help any Democratic challengers in Pennsylvania. All the freshmen Republicans kept their jobs.

- Christina Nifong and Ron Scherer

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.