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Incumbent Victories

by David Corn

Election was no win for Democrats and progressives
Clinton and the Democrats don't deserve such luck. Yes, it would better for them if Gingrich stuck around, but they were feeling pretty gleeful after hearing the news. The incumbent-friendly, special- interest- money- drenched elections was a defeat for Republicans and conservatives -- who giddily anticipated victory -- rather than a win for Democrats and progressives.

D'Amato did finally succumb, but to a Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who practically matched him dollar for dollar in squeezing money out of corporate interests. Feingold's narrow escape was cast by election-night analysts as an example that will prompt others not to emulate his walk-it-like-he-talks-it politics. North Carolina trial attorney/millionaire John Edwards likened himself -- favorably -- to Jesse Helms in his successful campaign against conservative Republican Lauch Faircloth.

Labor unions and the African-American and Latino communities were able to spur their people to vote against the right, and consequently, they diluted the impact of Christian conservative voters. But too often Democratic loyalists confronted Democratic candidates with a bland, centrist, I'm- not- a- Republican line. Will Bill Clinton be as loyal to black voters as they were to him? Ask Lani Guinier.

Happy Democrats, however, shouldn't revel too much in the election results or Newt's self-beheading, for the hole in which they reside merely has stopped deepening. Neither party has an agenda to fuel a breakthrough. This fall, the Republicans sat on issues such as tax cuts for the well-to-do, and the Democrats could not generate compelling enough themes to return to the majority.

It is amusing how so much is read into the elections. Mandate for impeachment? A middle-finger for the GOP? A sign of future Democratic successes? In the Senate 90 percent of the incumbents won. In the House, 98.3 percent was reelected. The House shifted one percent. It's like the Politburo of old: There isn't much change going on (not a surprise when in 60 percent of the House races there's a 10-to-one funding advantage). Two of the three Senate incumbents who lost -- D'Amato and Illinois Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun -- were burdened with ethics baggage. And all three were defeated by moneybags candidates. U.S. politics is a pond of brackish water, not a river of motion.

This commentary first appeared in New York Press

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Albion Monitor November 16, 1998 (

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