The history books will forever regard the 1994 mid-term elections as the Republican Revolution. But I prefer to consider the other side of same coin. In my mind 1994 was spectacular not as a national embrace of conservative Republican ideals (much as I wish that it were so), but as a repudiation of William Jefferson Clinton.
It’s easy to forget now, but by the late 1980s, Democratic control of the House of Representatives seemed, if not exactly divinely ordained, at least certainly on par with death and taxes. There was no more futile hope than that the Republican Party might control Congress, and no idea more seemingly out of the realm of possibility in our lifetimes.
Then along came Bill Clinton, who in his first two years in office gave us gays-in-the-military, the LAX tarmac haircut, a socialized-medicine proposal, the Travelgate debacle, a big tax hike … and let’s not forget that wife of his.
The result was an electorate that came out in droves at the first opportunity to register their displeasure, and that meant voting against anybody with a D next to his name in 1994. (And it’s likely Clinton would have suffered the same fate in 1996 if the GOP hadn’t nominated a walking corpse as an opponent.)
One man is responsible for loosening the Democrats’ iron clad grip on Capitol Hill in 1994, and his name is not Newt Gingrich. No, 1994 will forever be to Bill Clinton what 1930 is to Herbert Hoover — his party’s Waterloo.
Interestingly, the 2002 mid-term elections are in some ways another referendum on Bill Clinton. And just like eight years ago, they could end up a rout on the president’s reputation.
A number of prominent former Clinton Administration officials have tossed their hats in the ring for elective office this year. What is slightly surprising is how badly they have either done (and several are certainly done for) or are doing.
Take Robert Reich, Clinton’s Oxford pal who served as his first labor secretary (and who had a subsequent falling out with the Big He over policy). Reich gave a go at the Massachusetts governorship. But his campaign came up as short as he is (what, you honestly couldn’t expect me to resist a crack like that, could you?) and Reich just barely avoided finishing third in the Democratic primary. Ouch.
But Reich at least gave it a good shot. The same cannot be said for two other Clintonite cabinet officials whose gubernatorial ambitions fizzled.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno’s bizarre campaign to take on Florida Governor Jeb Bush was a disaster from the get-go. Perhaps the best publicity she was able to generate came when fainting onstage at a campaign event. And her dance party fundraiser was just an awkward parody of Saturday Night Live‘s already sad parody of her. Not the sort of thing to get you to Tallahassee.
But give Reno credit: At least she stayed in the race (and only lost the primary by a percentage point, though she likely would have been crushed in the general). Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo didn’t even make it to the starting line in the race for New York’s Democratic gubernatorial nod. Polls showed state Comptroller Carl McCall set to whup Cuomo. Knowing he was about to be trounced (and at the prodding of Clinton himself), Cuomo pulled out of the race in a bid to, ahem, preserve his future political viability.
(Interestingly, Cuomo’s father Mario was himself a Clinton casualty in 1994. However, unlike many of the members of Congress who swept away in that year’s anti-Clinton tide, the senior Cuomo’s own particular brand of liberalism probably did more to contribute to his defeat that year.)
Come the morning of November 6, it could look even worse for the men and women who represent Bill Clinton’s political legacy. Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles is a likely loser in his North Carolina Senate race against Liddy Dole.
And even Bill Richardson is reportedly having a bit of trouble in his bid to be elected governor of New Mexico. Richardson, Clinton’s rotund former energy secretary and United Nations ambassador, has been expected to romp in this race, but recent polls show it tightening somewhat. Richardson is still the heavy (sorry, couldn’t resist that, either) favorite. But this race against a freshman state legislator who is not particularly beloved by the state GOP establishment shouldn’t be close at all.
The only other hopes for salvaging Clinton’s pride on election day rest with former White House aide Rahm Emanuel, who is certain to win his election to the House from Illinois, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is in a dead heat for governor of Maryland.
What a minute, you say. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend didn’t serve in the Clinton Administration. Oh yes, she did. Just before being elected Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor in 1994, Townsend served as a deputy assistant attorney (DAS) general under Janet Reno. Hardly cabinet level, but it was an administration position nonetheless; DAS is a third-rung job whose title sounds much more impressive than the job actually is.
But if KKT wins on November 5 — right now it’s a coin-toss — it will be one of precious few victories to salvage a bit of pride for our nation’s 42nd president. (No doubt he’ll take full credit for any victory by Walter Mondale, who was ambassador to Japan during his first term — and who if elected to Paul Wellstone’s seat will really owe everything to the late senator and nothing to Bill Clinton.)
So here’s to the Clinton Rout of 2002. And while we’re at it, let’s raise a glass to the possibility of another one down the road, specifically in New York, say in 2006? Cheers.
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