POLITICAL NUMBERS No Watergate Landslide

Ehrenhalt, Alan

POLITICAL NUMBERS No Watergate Landslide by Alan Ehrenhalt It is comforting as well as logical to assume that somebody will pay the price for Watergate at the polls in 1974. The corning...

...Normally this would not be enough to win, but in 1973 it was...
...If turnout is low in primaries and general elections because the ordinary person has the same frustrated feeling about his vote as the fat cat does about his money, interesting things may happen...
...Philbin fans saw it as nothing in particular, and most of them stayed home...
...Take the situation facing a 6 6-y ear-old House Democrat named Frank Stubblefield, a druggist from Murray, Kentucky, who was elected in 1958 and has been reelected ever since, usually without serious opposition...
...These financial problems are likely to be accentuated in 1974...
...Of the Republican 14, Charles Mathias Of Maryland and Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania are about as far from Nixon and Watergate as it is humanly possible for a Republican to be...
...Both can win by running against Congress, as long as the voters refuse to believe that their own representative is part of the problem...
...Low turnout is a godsend for the well organized and the highly motivated...
...An epic change in the make-up of the Senate almost certainly requires that the vulnerable party begin the campaign with a number of potentially marginal seats...
...In each case, the partisan turnover in the House has been minimal-four in 1968, nine in 1970,13 in 1972...
...And they are precisely the kind of candidates who will not be able to make up the difference with volunteers...
...Added together, the existing signs about turnout and financing point to defeat in 1974 for a certain kind of incumbent: the complacent veteran...
...It is foolish to predict any one of these elections nine months in advance, but it seems extravagant to assume that Republicans will lose nearly all of them...
...George McGovern won the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination on the strength of primary victories in states where most of the voters stayed home...
...Candidates with these kinds of ties will get their money in 1974...
...If people are as convinced as they seem to be that politicians as a class are crooks, 1974 ought to be a disastrous year for any incumbent...
...Republican candidates have been saying, without sounding very convinced of it, that voters are smart enough to know that the party as a whole didnít commit burglary...
...In 1972, for example, Utah voters gave Nixon nearly 70 per cent of their vote, but were discriminating enough to reelect their Democratic governor with an even higher percentage, defeat their only Republican congressman, and still manage to return their Republican attorney general to office by a comfortable margin...
...Philbin to Robert Drinan, an anti-war Roman Catholic priest...
...It is nothing more than human nature that voters tend to prefer the known to the unknown...
...A shortage of campaign contributions increases the importance of the money that does come in...
...In many districts, the candidates inflicting the punishment will be the ideologically comniitted of both parties...
...But consider a curious fact: between 1966 and 1972, public approval of Congress dropped precipitously from 64 per cent to 26 per cent, according to the Gallup Poll...
...Alan Ehrenhalt covers national politics for Congressional Quarterly It has happened twice since World War 11...
...It seems unlikely that even a shock like Watergate will be enough to drive the current generation of voters back to a narrowly partisan view of the world...
...But it also wouldnít be very dramatic...
...There are not many Phil Philbins left in Congress now for the zealous to pursue...
...Neither organized labor nor organized business will stop giving because of Watergate...
...But McGovern supporters took the primary seriously, and others did not...
...Such an electoral debacle would require the defeat of incumbents like Robert Packwood of Oregon, Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, and Jacob Javits of New York, all of whom are strong political figures in their home states and not dependent on a national Republican tide to sweep them to victory...
...But in fact tight political money really helps them...
...Without an incumbent on the ballot, these constituencies have been about as likely to prefer one party as the other...
...Turnout is another...
...the one whose supporters wake up election morning, watch the sun disappear behind a cloud, wonder whatís in it for them, and find some: thing better to do than vote...
...Money and volunteers offer some clues to who the losers will be in 1974...
...There are 34 Senate seats up in 1974...
...Since Nixon took office there have been 18 special elections to fill House vacancies, most of them in traditional one-party districts...
...The Republicans gained 120 sezts after the panic of 1893 and lost 101 in the Depression year of 1932...
...If people had been allowed to vote from their beds, it is unlikely that he would have won...
...Last November in Philadelphia, for example, Republican district attorney Arlen Specter was beaten for reelection even though polls showed him far ahead of his Democratic challenger...
...Nor will the ideological spenders, both left and right, who are likely to feel that now is a good time to influence things in their direction...
...This year Hubbard is taking the calculated risk he might have otherwise avoided and is aggressively challenging Stubblefield for the Democratic nomination...
...In addition, the Democrats seem likely to lose Mike Gravelís seat in Alaskaif Walter Hickel decides to come out of retirement and run against him...
...Specter was well liked in Phila The answer to the Janualy puzzle: delphia, but the projections had assumed a normal turnout of 60 to 65 per cent...
...The most common assumption is that since Watergate was a Republican crime, 1974 will be a Democratic year...
...What matters is not how they perceive the institution as a whole, but how they perceive the individual incumbent on the ballot...
...They still find it convenient to write about midterm congressional elections as if they were a national world series between the two parties, although the voters are ceasing to look at them this way...
...We donít have that this year...
...Wisconsinís Seventh District faithfully returned Melvin Laird to the House for eight elections in a row, with his victory margin in 1968 nearly 2 to 1. But that didnít mean these voters felt Republicans were inherently superior...
...This means that the Republicans will enter the campaign defending 11 seats which they have a reasonable chance to lose...
...While this would be a dramatic denouement to Watergate, it is not likely to happen...
...Two months later, when Drinan won the general election, the turnout was 170,000, but by this time Philbin was available to his traditional supporters only as a rather pathetic writein candidate...
...In 1946 high prices and postwar frustration erased a vestigial New Deal Congress and brought in William Knowland, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, and a new generation of conservative Republicans...
...Within recent memory, Democrats picked up 38 in the Johnson landslide of 1964 and lost 47 two years later...
...Instead, the punishment will have to be applied through scapegoating, and the composition of the next Congress may depend on the level of symbolic vengeance to which the voters descend...
...Elsewhere, popular local and state political figures may see 1974 as the year to exploit whatever antiin cumbent feeling Watergate has spawned...
...Twelve years later an Eisenhower recession gave the Democrats 17 new Senate seats and installed the mildly liberal Senate we have been living with ever since...
...Incumbents who have returned from fund-raising excursions to their home districts have been complaining about this in the congressional cloakrooms...
...Although Mathias and Schweiker are concerned, as any prudent Republican would be at this point, it is hard to imagine any Democrat beating them without money or issues...
...Les Aspin can campaign in Wisconsin against the swollen defense budget and the refusal of the House to do anything about it...
...A number of them were beaten in primaries in 1972, were forced out by redistricting after the last census, or took advantage of a generous new pension plan when it became available last year...
...the middle-of-the-roader, the one who has depended for years on a loosely defined sort of good-will, or on a machine he hasnít cranked up in years...
...All three of those defeats came in primaries where the turnout was low...
...The corning election will be our first real chance to punish the corrupt and to reward the innocent...
...In Massachusetts only 50,000 voted in the Democratic primary that chose Drinan over Philbin...
...If no one had a dime to spend, every incumbent would win...
...For example, last yearís 49 to 43 vote against reducing military aid to South Vietnam might be next yearís 47 to 45 vote in favor of cuts...
...Special congressional elections provide another barometer of the decline in rigid party-line voting...
...Virtually all of them have been close...
...When money is scarce, incumbents can live off the fat of their other built-in advantages-the franking privilege, regular television appearances, the staff allowance...
...That primary will not make a great deal of difference in the make-up of the next Congress, but it may be typical of what is happening in districts around the country...
...Those who fall in between the cracks-the moderate, the vaguely well-liked, the ones who are everybodyís second choice, the congressional-level Muskies of 1974-will be hit the hardest if the faucets are turned off...
...Traditional contributors, struck by the shoddiness of what they have been buying, are not eager to go back to market...
...Such a change wouldnít be totally insignificant...
...That would make 1974 one of those rare midterm elections that determines the course of legislation for years to come...
...The lesson can be equally applied to lackluster Republicans challenged by committed conservatives...
...McGovern was a cause...
...They are probably right...
...He is a quiet man, the sort who rarely comes out strongly on either side of any issue that does not involve tobacco...
...The men of 1958-Edmund Muskie, Philip Hart, Frank Moss, Gale McGee-are only now coming into seniority and power...
...The last three congressional elections, for example, have been held in three remarkably diverse sets of circumstances-a violent year and a close presidential contest in 1968, a mild but broad recession in 1970, and a presidential landslide in 1972...
...But every Congress has its share of members who stand for nothing in particular, and they may be the ones we decide to punish in 1974...
...What national polls often obscure is that voters do not elect a Congress, they elect individual members, one to a customer...
...It would not necessarily be fair if the ultimate casualties of Watergate were to be the Frank Stubblefields of Congress, but in a year of low turnout and little interest, they may be the ones who have the most to lose...
...Friedel lost to Parren Mitchell, a black sociologist...
...In recent years, with the price of a House campaign approaching $100,000 in many districts, and with incumbents receiving about two thirds of the funds, few challengers have had the resources to make an effective case...
...H. R. Gross can campaign in Iowa against the swollen domestic budget and the refusal of the House to do anything about that...
...Such political independence is likely to increase because party identification is weaker among the millions of young voters entering the electorate than it is among their elders...
...It is a lot easier to manipulate the turnout in primaries than in general elections, and that was what Drinanís supporters did in 1970, making sure their friends voted and doing nothing to alert anyone else that an election was taking place...
...Politicians in ~ both parties are raising the possibility of 40, 60, or even 80 new Democratic seats in the House, and a bumper crop of Democratic senators, as well...
...Instead, the turnout on election day was 43 per cent and he was defeated by the remnants of the local Democratic machine, which had come up with a hard core of 230,000 Ďvotes for its candidate...
...Muskie and Humphrey were just candidates...
...But whom do we punish...
...unless significant numbers of voters are willing to vote for candidates they have never heard of...
...In Massachusetts he collected all 102 convention delegates with the votes of less than onequarter of the stateís registered Democrats...
...During the same years, the reelection rate for members of the House was about as high as it could go-98 per cent in 1968 and 96 per cent in 1970 and 1972...
...Hubbard is the sort of bright young politician who normally develops into a congressional heir apparent, waits patiently for the retirement of the older incumbent, and then moves up...
...Those directly involved in the scandal like H. R. Haldeman, Egil Krogh, and E. Howard Hunt are not planning to run for office...
...More likely than an across-theboard disaster for the Republicans is something like this: defeat for several of the weaker Republicans, close calls for some of the stronger ones, an incalculable upset or two, and a Senate three or four votes more Democratic than it is now...
...Given our current system of campaign finance, there can be no massive repudiation of incumbe...
...With the decline of traditional party organizations, it is the ideologically committed (doctrinaire conservatives as well as staunch liberals) and a few special interest groups like labor who provide the bulk of political volunteers...
...Losers Anonvmous Although 1974 is unlikely to be a political watershed, there will be some turnover of congressional seats...
...Democrats already hold 20 of these, so this effectively limits their targets of opportunity...
...They have the friendship and financial assistance of the AFL-CIO...
...And voters in Kentucky, who gave McGovern the lowest percentage of any Democratic presidential candidate since the Civil War, elected a Democratic senator for the first time since 1954...
...Drinan voters saw the primary as a referendum on the Vietnam war and organized in his behalf...
...Specterís appeal was broad but soft, and it did not survive apathy...
...Political reporters have failed to keep pace with the publicís increasing reluctance to vote a straight party ticket...
...Also from Murray, Kentucky, is a Democratic state senator named Carroll Hubbard, a 36-year-old lawyer who represents six counties in the legislature...
...Fallon to Paul Sarbanes, a reformist state representative...
...A Plague on Both Your Houses , If voters are too sophisticated to assume that all Republicans are guilty and all Democrats innocent, they still might express their anger by declaring both sides guilty...
...The prelude to what is coming may have occurred on a day in September, 1970, when three of the most senior and least distinguished Democratic members of the House-Samuel Friedel and George Fallon of Maryland and Philip Philbin of Massachusettswere all defeated for renomination...
...The Partvís Over ~~ In the House, of course, all 435 seats theoretically are up for grabs...
...If 1974 brings us another upheaval like 1946 or 1958, we may feel the impact into the 1990s...
...And it is possible to hazard a guess about the characteristics of the most likely losers...
...But to assume a similar reaction in 1974 would be to argue with the most important political fact of the past decade: voters are not making decisions on the basis of party the way they did in the past...
...POLITICAL NUMBERS No Watergate Landslide by Alan Ehrenhalt It is comforting as well as logical to assume that somebody will pay the price for Watergate at the polls in 1974...
...when Laird became Secretary of Defense in 1969, they picked a liberal Democrat, David Obey, to replace him...
...It is equally unrealistic to assume that Arizona will rise up and throw out Barry Goldwater as a protest against White House corruption...
...Candidates of both parties, incumbents and challengers alike, are finding it difficult to raise money this year...
...The House is supposed to be the more volatile chamber, reflecting fluctuations in the public mood, and historically it has been...

Vol. 5 • February 1974 • No. 12


 
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