- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush's growing strength in key states could improve Republican chances of keeping majority control of the House, election analysts said yesterday.

The Democrats need a net gain of six congressional seats to take over the House, and most campaign analysts think they will pick up some seats in November. But Vice President Al Gore's weakness in many states where there are competitive House races could prevent them from winning a sufficient number of close contests to gain control, said elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

"At this point, four months before Election Day, we continue to expect Democratic gains, most likely in the order of four to seven seats," Mr. Rothenberg said in his latest newsletter analysis of the House races.

But he added, "For the first time in months, it may be wise to think how a strong showing by GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush might affect the fight for the House."

"We would not expect long 'coattails,' but it is possible that a considerable Bush victory (in excess of a half dozen points nationally) would improve GOP prospects," he said.

"I have said all along that the atmospherics of the presidential campaign will have an impact on the congressional elections," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Times yesterday, Mr. Davis said the GOP has its best chance of gaining seats in the states where Mr. Bush is strongly ahead of Mr. Gore in the polls.

"There are a number of states where Bush is going to have double-digit wins over Al Gore and in many of these states the Gore campaign will not engage us, such as Mississippi, Virginia, Utah and Kansas and many others," he said.

"These are states Gore knows he's going to lose and where Bush will win by double-digit margins and the turnout will bring out more Republicans than Democrats," he said.

"There are at least a dozen competitive races in those states" where Mr. Bush is leading by large margins, he said.

Mr. Davis disagreed with Mr. Rothenberg's contention that Mr. Bush needs to be more than six points ahead of Mr. Gore nationally to have an impact on key House races.

"The point is not how you perform nationally, but how you perform in these marginal districts," he said.

"And in those marginal districts, the presidential equation dictates that Gore moves his resources elsewhere," he said.

Republican elections analyst John Morgan said Mr. Rothenberg's coattails analysis holds up when he matches the list of the GOP's most competitive House races with the states where polls show Mr. Bush running well ahead of Mr. Gore.

"Bush's strength will prevent us from losing as many seats as the Democrats think we will and allow us to pick up a few more than we think we will," Mr. Morgan said.

"It's hard for me to see how we don't pick up at least six or seven of their seats," he said.

Moreover, Mr. Morgan said the number of seats that the Democrats need to pick up to take control of the House "realistically has grown to at least eight seats" with the decision by Virginia Rep. Virgil H. Goode's decision to leave the Democrats and become an independent, and a threat by Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Ohio Democrat, to vote with the Republicans next year.

But Mr. Rothenberg says his "race-by-race analysis continues to suggest that the Democrats have greater opportunities for gains than do the Republicans."

"In fact, 11 or our 15 tossups are currently held by the GOP, as are five of the eight tossup/tilting races," he said.

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