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Clinton Makes Final Push for Critical Dem. Votes

By Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post
WILMINGTON, Del.

President Clinton Monday made a final push for the Democratic votes that are critical not only to maintaining his party's majority in Congress but also to shaping his political future.

With Democratic control of the Senate, and possibly the House, hanging in the balance, Clinton teamed up with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for his eighth straight day of campaigning in what he described as "an amazing election."

All 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats are at stake Tuesday in what will be the voters' first assessment of the first two years of the Clinton presidency as well as the entire 103rd Congress. There are also 36 governors' races at stake.

Democrats have a 56 to 44 majority in the Senate, meaning Republicans need to pick up a net of seven seats to gain control for the first time since 1986. Republicans will need to win a net of 40 seats to capture control of the House for the first time since 1954.

A batch of weekend polls that measured the electorate's predilection to vote Republican or Democrat all held good news for Republicans - most finding for the first time since the 1950s, more Americans prefer Republicans to Democrats this election.

The Senate could turn on a handful of races that appeared too close to call, including contests in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, where Democratic incumbents are fighting for their lives, and in Michigan and Minnesota, where incumbents are retiring.

Republicans are favored to gain seats in Maine, Ohio, Arizona and a second seat in Tennessee, where Democratic incumbents are retiring. They rate a small edge as well in the Democratic open seat in Oklahoma. Democrats hope to defeat perhaps one GOP incumbent in either Washington, Vermont or Delaware.

Democrats are braced for heavy losses in the House, but with so many close races and so many voters in those close races telling pollsters they have not made up their minds, predictions are more difficult to make.

In the governors's races, Republicans anticipate gains, but several Democratic incumbents, including Florida's Lawton Chiles, Georgia's Zell Miller and New York's Mario M. Cuomo, have fought back from earlier problems. Chiles is now rated a narrow favorite to defeat Jeb Bush, son of the former president, and Miller is a favorite to defeat businessman Guy Millner.

Clinton began his final day of campaigning in the state that appears to present Democrats with their best, and perhaps only, hope of winning one of the nine open Senate seats, stumping for the second time in four days for Minnesota Senate candidate Ann Wynia.

As the president and first lady campaigned, Vice President Al Gore directly took on House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., for making a campaign issue out of the South Carolina mother who confessed to killing her two sons.

While campaigning Saturday in his home state, Gingrich said, "I think the mother killing her two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we have to have change. I think people want to change and the only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."

Gore called Gingrich's comments "outrageous" and said though the nation is grieving over the children's deaths, "we should have a bipartisan agreement to stop stirring up hatefulness and bringing something like this into partisan politics."

Gingrich, responding to a question from two Georgia school teachers Monday, said his comments Saturday were no different from what he has been saying for the past two years about how violence sweeping the country illustrates the failure of the Democratic-controlled political system. "This is an example of the press taking out of context a very specific statement I've made for two years," he said. "The system is decaying and we need very deep change if we're going to turn this country around."

The intensity of the rhetoric on all sides reflects how high the stakes are for the president. With Democrats likely to lose - at the very least - their governing majorities in both houses, the election will largely determine Clinton's ability to achieve any of the many remaining unfinished pieces of his agenda, including health care and political reform.

If the GOP wins the Senate, the White House also fears the prospect of day-to-day governing with Republican Senate committee chairman in charge of confirming administration nominees or empowered to hold hearings on difficult issues such as the Whitewater real estate investment.

In addition, Democrats' ability to retain or seize control of some of the largest statehouses, including New York, California and Texas, will provide an important boost - or not - to Clinton's organizational efforts in the presidential election only two years away.