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GOP Eyes Senate Wins in Carolinas

October 11, 1998

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ For Republicans hoping to secure a filibuster-breaking majority in the Senate, nothing could be finer than to win in the Carolinas.

Re-electing Republican Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and defeating Democrat Ernest Hollings of South Carolina would give the GOP a 56-44 edge in the Senate. Take advantage of a weak field of Democratic candidates elsewhere, pick up four more seats and _ presto _ Republicans get their magic number 60.

That’s how many votes are required to stop a filibuster, the talkathon that is a minority party’s principal parliamentary tool to stall the majority’s legislation. And if the House sends articles of impeachment to the Senate, an additional five seats would stack President Clinton’s jury.

``It’s a real possibility,″ said Michael Tucker, spokesman for the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee, which is warning donors and party faithful that the GOP plans to outspend Democratic candidates in the push toward 60.

``We are still confident we can break even or pick up a Senate seat or two,″ Tucker said.

Calling talk of a five-seat pickup ``hopeless prognostication,″ Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told CBS’ ``Face the Nation″ on Sunday, ``I think that 60 would be a stretch based on the numbers at this time.″

Indeed, operatives in both parties say the Republicans’ chances are 50-50 at best. With 34 Senate seats up for grabs, a lot would have to break the Republicans’ way, including:

_Ohio, now a Democratic seat, went to Republicans. Indiana, now a Republican seat, is just as likely to become Democratic. Call it even.

_Republicans have five vulnerable seats: New York, North Carolina, Missouri, Colorado and Georgia. They need to hold them all. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato is in a tough New York race, and Faircloth is fighting for his political life.

_Democrats have eight vulnerable seats, and all could end in tight races: South Carolina, Illinois, California, Kentucky, Nevada, Wisconsin, Washington state and Arkansas.

Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun is trailing conservative state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald in the polls by as much as 10 points. Democrats have all but written her off.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, related to Clinton by marriage, has mishandled the president’s legal troubles. State treasurer Matt Fong has her on the ropes.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, another member of the ``Year of the Woman″ class of 1992, is doing better than Boxer and Moseley-Braun. But her foe, Rep. Linda Smith, is a populist whose support is easily underestimated.

Even the strongest of these Democratic candidates, Blanche Lambert of Arkansas, can’t be said to be a sure thing.

``There is no question that we still have a decent shot at hitting 60,″ said GOP pollster Neil Newhouse.

Roger Davidson, a University of Maryland political science professor, said Republicans have a 50-50 chance of gaining five seats. If that happens, ``Clinton will face a more hostile Senate″ if the impeachment process moves that far.

Even with 60 seats, Republicans would need to get at least seven Democratic votes to convict; it takes 67 votes in the 100-seat chamber to toss out a president.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday big GOP gains Nov. 3 wouldn’t make things any worse for Clinton. ``It’s going to come down to what the evidence is,″ he told NBC’S ``Meet the Press.″

GOP strategist Ralph Reed predicted that Democrats, not Republicans, would move against Clinton.

``I believe if there’s an implosion in November, and losing five or so seats would be an implosion, I predict there will be a strong undercurrent in the (Democratic) party to see him out of office,″ he said.

In the Carolinas, incumbents are on the run.

Faircloth is in a dead heat with millionaire attorney John Edwards, and both are flooding the airwaves with negative ads.

``If you listen to TV, neither one of them is qualified,″ groused Sam Edge, heading into a Charlotte restaurant for breakfast. Two miles away, Edwards was visiting the Little Flower Nursing Home.

``You’re going to vote, aren’t you?″ Edwards asks Leo Jane Clark, bending deeply at the waist so he could shout in her ear. Democrats like Edwards need Democrats like Clark to vote in droves Nov. 3.

``I can’t vote,″ the gray-haired woman said.

``Sure you can,″ said attendant Kelly Gibson, assuring the older woman. ``Don’t you remember 1996? Y’all got on the bus.″

``I love those buses,″ Edwards said with a chuckle.

In South Carolina, Hollings worried that the buses may not roll for him; Republicans, he says, may be more likely to vote than Democrats.

``People are disinvested. Disenchanted and disgusted,″ said the senator, who holds a narrow lead in polls over his GOP challenger, Rep. Bob Inglis. ``A cynical to-hell-with-it atmosphere has developed, not only because of Clinton but because of the good economy.″

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