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Electorate’s 1991 Message a Reflection of Economic Worries

November 9, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Still unsure what voters were trying to say in Tuesday’s stormy elections? Never mind the political analysts, just ask people like Claire Brinn and Roger Weck.

″Economy-wise, they’ve got to do something. People are giving up,″ was the post-election analysis of Brinn, an electronics technician from Manchester, N.H.

″I would like to see a limit of one term for everybody in everything,″ said Weck, a middle school teacher in Jackson, N.J. ″Then maybe they wouldn’t say, ’I have to spend my time trying to get re-elected.‴

It’s hardly the kind of talk any incumbent politician wants to hear, but the ominous rumbling of Tuesday’s vote has them listening.

Traditionally, off-year elections are forgotten soon after the results are in. But the surprise upsets in the Pennsylvania Senate and Mississippi governor’s race and dramatic turnover in legislative and mayoral contests have caught the attention of politicians from President Bush down.

″It was a scary election for incumbents of any party,″ said Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, whose easy re-election win was an exception. ″It’s more than a wake-up call. It’s like getting hit over the head in the middle of the night while you’re sound asleep.″

Conversations with voters in a handful of states in the wake of last week’s elections revealed an electorate that is angry to say the least, mostly at perceived government inaction at a time of economic trouble. Most voiced frustration with their government, from the White House and Congress down to state legislators and mayors.

″I didn’t like the incumbents,″ Paul Pugliese of Long Branch, N.J., said in explaining why he skipped over Democratic and Republican candidates to vote for independents. ″It’s the lesser of two evils.″

And voter after voter professed a willingness to abandon traditional party loyalties in favor of candidates they believe will bring change.

″I voted Republican for the first time in my life and I feel guilty about it,″ said Patricia Santoro, a high school teacher from Middletown, N.J.

In the Pennsylvania contest, Democrat Harris Wofford defeated heavily favored Republican Dick Thornburgh by elevating concerns about health care costs and tying them into job security worries. Unquestionably, the race made health care a dominant 1992 issue.

And the change of power voters forced in New Jersey’s Legislature was a clear backlash against Democratic-sponsored tax increases, a message not lost on politicians elsewhere.

Officials and analysts in both parties said that while Tuesday’s results reflected widespread disillusionment with incumbents, many simply paid the price for being on the ballot in tough economic times.

″Anybody who was in charge got punched unless people believed they were committed to change,″ said Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful.

Clinton and others running for president are counting on the anti-incumbent mood to last.

But the same sentiment that gives Democrats newfound optimism about beating Bush could work just as much in the GOP’s favor at the congressional, state and local levels, where Democrats generally have the upper hand.

″I’m kind of tired of the same old people up there,″ said Shane Straw, a bartender in Little Rock, Ark., who directed his anger at Washington. ″A lot of them have been there so long - we’re just recycling the same old people.″

Not surprisingly, campaign consultants are urging clients to spend less time behind their desks and more time on the streets. As for Bush, he’s decided to spend more time at home tending to domestic matters.

Bush said Friday he doesn’t feel pressured to make dramatic steps to spur the economy. A few conversations with voters might change his mind.

″The government keeps saying the recession is ending and I don’t know where (Bush) is looking,″ said Mark-Andrew Cleveland, 34, a New Hampshire musician.

In Pennsylvania, 58 percent of respondents in a post-election poll said their vote in the Wofford-Thornburgh race was a message to Bush ″for a major overhaul and change in programs and policies.″

The criticism of Bush, and Democrats for that matter, for not moving decisively to ignite economic growth were most common in areas hurting most, the Northeast and industrial areas.

Robert Fleming, 69, of Manchester is no fan of Democrats but had this message for Bush:

″Charity begins at home. There are people who are out of work. You spend billions of dollars overseas. I’m usually Republican, but I’ll look at both sides this time.″

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