- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

Two weeks after yet another Democratic debacle at the polls, a crowd estimated at 30,000 celebratory partisans joined Bill and Hillary Clinton in a literal and metaphorical rainstorm to commemorate his two-term presidency at a ceremony dedicating the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. With Bill reportedly still weak and tired from his recent heart-bypass surgery, Hillary handled many of the non-stop media interviews, including a lengthy prime-time appearance on the Fox News Channel the night before the dedication.

How appropriate. Having been clobbered in the Nov. 2 elections, the Democratic Party lies in tatters. Meanwhile, Hillary, emerging as her party’s front-runner for the 2008 nomination, turns in a co-starring performance at the Clinton library celebration in Little Rock, where the all-Hillary-all-the-time media extravaganza effectively turned into a debutante party with all the presidential trimmings.

While the last 12 years have obviously been great for all Democrats named Clinton, perhaps their party colleagues should take a closer look at how they have fared since the self-styled “Comeback Kid” turned a 25 percent, second-place performance into victory in the Feb. 18, 1992, New Hampshire primary. The record for the Democratic Party is as definitive as it is devastating.

Going into the 1992 elections with Bill Clinton at the top of his party’s ticket, Democrats occupied 266 seats in the House, producing a 100-seat advantage over Republicans. With only 166 representatives, Republicans hadn’t controlled so few House seats since the day after the 1982 election, when the highest post-World War II unemployment rate (10.8 percent) contributed to the defeat of 22 incumbent Republicans. In November 1992, as the coattails-free Mr. Clinton captured the presidency, the GOP picked up 10 seats in the House by defeating 16 Democratic incumbents. Democrats fared better in the Senate, but they were still unable to add to the 57 seats that they controlled in the 100-member chamber before the election.

The first electoral experience of House Democrats with Mr. Clinton as the head of their party wasn’t very good. But those results were nothing compared to the debacle that was about to envelop them (and their party colleagues in the Senate) during the 1994 midterms.

Less than a week after his inauguration, Mr. Clinton appointed his wife to head a new commission to reform health care. The plan she produced evolved into a political catastrophe. On Sept. 26, 1994, six weeks before the midterm elections, the health-care overhaul overseen by Mrs. Clinton was officially declared dead by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. The very next day, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich gathered more than 300 Republicans on the Capitol steps to unveil the party’s 10-point Contract with America, which Mr. Gingrich intended to use to nationalize the congressional elections.

The Nov. 8, 1994, election was a landslide of historic proportions. Republicans: 1) defeated 34 Democratic incumbent representatives (without losing a single Republican incumbent in the House) and captured 52 Democratic-held seats in the House; 2) won majority control of the House (230-204 with one independent) for the first time in 40 years; 3) defeated the Democratic speaker of the House; and 4) recaptured majority control (52-48) of the Senate for the first time in eight years by beating two Democratic incumbents and winning six open seats vacated by retiring Democrats. The next day, Democratic Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama switched parties. He was followed three months later by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, whose defection to the GOP produced a 54-46 Republican majority.

The 1994 election produced epochal political results at the state level as well. Three-term New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was one of five Democratic incumbents defeated as Republicans gained control of 30 governorships, the same number controlled by Democrats after the 1992 election. In 1992, Democrats controlled 29 state legislatures; control of 14 others was split; and Republicans held majorities in six state legislatures. After the 1994 elections, Republicans controlled 19 state legislatures, one more than Democrats.

Mr. Clinton easily won re-election in 1996, but Republicans maintained control of the House and increased their majority in the Senate. While Democrats again achieved incremental gains in the House in 1998 and 2000, and actually tied the GOP in the Senate (50-50) in 2000, Republicans continued to exercise majority control in both bodies after both elections. In large part due to the Clinton-related baggage that Vice President Al Gore had to carry throughout the 2000 presidential campaign, Democrats lost the White House despite the fact that the unemployment rate had fallen below 4 percent by Election Day. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton won her Senate race in New York.

Republicans temporarily lost control of the Senate in June 2001, when James Jeffords became an independent, but the GOP regained majority status at the ballot box in November 2002. Republicans improved their majority in the House in the 2002 and 2004 elections. Today, the GOP controls more House seats than it has since the 1946 election. Republicans also added four Senate seats in 2004 (55-44-1) as George W. Bush won re-election by 3.5 million votes.

Today, Republicans continue to control more state senates and state houses than Democrats do. Indeed, the 20 state legislatures over which Republicans exercise complete control today represent more than three times the six legislatures the GOP controlled in 1992 before Mr. Clinton won the presidency. Meanwhile, with Washington state’s gubernatorial race still undecided, GOP governors outnumber Democrats (28-21). That’s 10 more governorships than the GOP held after the 1992 elections. And Republicans now control the governorships of the four largest states (California, Texas, New York and Florida).

Yes, yes, yes. But Mrs. Clinton is the front-runner for 2008. Well, maybe that simply represents a continuation of the Democrats’ political problems.

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