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Tuesday's Indicators

Tuesday's smattering of elections around the country gave no clear forecasts of outcomes next year, or in the year 2000. But they did give some reading of ongoing trends in American politics.

Republican/conservative ascendancy. Republicans triumphed in two governor races that had attracted national attention, including campaign forays by President Clinton. Jim Gilmore, a former state attorney general, won Virginia's top office by amplifying a tried and true GOP theme: chopping taxes.

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In Mr. Gilmore's case, one tax, the state's property levy on cars and trucks, became his vehicle. He promised to phase it out in five years, while his Democratic opponent only reluctantly came around to a partial cut in the tax. Republicans also won lieutenant governor and attorney general posts in Virginia, affirming the GOP's tightening grip on the South.

New Jersey's gubernatorial race was much less of a GOP cake walk. Incumbent Christine Todd Whitman barely survived a challenge from Democratic challenger Jim McGreevey, who focused on auto insurance costs and property taxes. Thus he almost unseated a Republican known as a tax cutter by turning pocketbook issues back on her, in the best Clintonesque manner.

Incumbency pays. In a number of large-city mayoral contests, incumbents had virtually no contest. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani swept back into office on positive feelings about a rising economy and falling crime. Other mayors who rode positive feelings to victory: Dennis Archer in Detroit, whose pro-growth policies proved popular, and Thomas Menino of Boston, who ran unopposed. The results would suggest that the country's cities, for all their problems, are hardly hotbeds of discontent.

Finally, the power of "soft money." The Republican National Committee poured more than $750,000 into assuring that the House seat vacated by New York's Rep. Susan Molinari stayed in the fold. Those "party building" dollars went mostly to negative ads about the opponent. With national Democrats deep in debt, the Republicans' money edge is telling.

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