WASHINGTON—Climaxing a tumultuous political year, every seat in the House of Representatives and one-third in the Senate will be contested at the polls Nov. 3. While the woes of President Clinton appeared to overshadow these elections a few weeks ago, it now seems that many close races may be decided on more traditional issues.
The Republican party, which holds a 19-vote majority in the House and 10-vote edge in the Senate, is likely to increase its numbers. Some observers believe the current composition represents a pro-life Congress. But the lack of any significant pro-life legislation in the 105th Congress, which adjourned Oct. 21, might suggest otherwise. (See last week's Register article.)
Because of this disappointment, prolifers hope to pick up seats, especially in the Senate. One important goal is to gain at least three supportive Republican seats to overturn Clinton's expected veto of a partial-birth abortion ban bill in 1999.
An increase of five Senate seats would give Republicans enough votes to cut off filibusters, such as the one which doomed the Child Custody Protection Act. Also important will be maintaining and even increasing a fairly dependable pro-life majority in the House.
While about 20 percent of the Democrats in the House consistently support life issues, the solid majority of pro-life support comes from the Republican party. In the Senate, all but four Republicans voted to override the president's partial-birth abortion veto, while 32 Democrats voted to sustain it.
Among the most hotly contested senatorial races is in Illinois. Incumbent Carol Moseley-Braun, a Democrat, is one of 10 Catholic senators who supported Clinton on partial-birth abortion. She is running against Peter Fitzgerald, a pro-life Catholic state senator. Fitzgerald appears to have a commanding lead.
Another seat which could change party hands is a surprise. Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat and one of the Senate's most outspoken abortion supporters, appears to be in trouble in her contest with Matt Fong, the Republican state treasurer. Fong is a pro-choice candidate, but has indicated a willingness to vote for a partial-birth abortion ban and other parameters on abortion.
Washington state voters can choose between two ideologically opposite women. The Democratic incumbent, Patty Murray, a staunch liberal and abortion supporter, appears to be ahead of Linda Smith. Smith told the Register the Senate needs pro-life women, such as herself, because “it is very hard for a man to talk about the birth process. Women who care about women don't let abortionists do” infanticide, she said.
President Clinton's home state of Arkansas also faces a clear choice in the seat occupied by retiring pro-abortion Sen. Dale Bumpers. Pro-life physician Fay Boozman, a Republican state senator, is running against Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln. Polls seem to indicate Lincoln, an abortion supporter, is pulling away.
Another spirited contest is in Kentucky, where pro-life Republican Jim Bunning appears to have a narrow lead over fellow congressman Scott Baesler for an open seat. In Wisconsin, liberal pro-abortion Democrat Russell Fein-gold is locked in an increasingly bitter contest with Republican Mark Neumann, who is pro-life.
Perhaps the most acrimonious race is in New York. Three-term incumbent Alfonse D‘Amato, a Republican with a pro-life record, is running neck-and-neck with liberal Democrat Charles Schumer, a Brooklyn congressman.
The House, considered to be more reliably pro-life than the Senate, should remain so. It also may pick up some additional Republican and anti-abortion seats. The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Martin Frost of Texas, has been recruiting pro-ife candidates as part of an effort to regain control of the House.
One success story has been in northeastern Pennsylvania. Here two pro-life candidates are vying to succeed veteran Rep. Joseph McDade of Scranton. The Democratic candidate, Patrick Casey, is the son of long-time pro-life supporter Robert Casey, a former governor and hero to many around the country. The Republican candidate is Don Sherwood, who is running on a pro-family, pro-life platform.
Another interesting race is in Indiana's 10th congressional district, which includes Indianapolis. Challenger Gary Hofmeister, a Republican, is the ideological opposite of one-term incumbent Democrat Julia Carson. But the big issue is school vouchers, which pro-life Hofmeister supports.
There also are gubernatorial elections in 36 states. Republicans now hold 15 more governorships than Democrats and hope to increase that figure.
One of the most newsworthy contests is in Michigan, where popular incumbent John Engler, a Catholic, is running against Geoffrey Fieger.
Fieger has achieved wide name recognition as Dr. Jack Kevorkian's attorney. During the campaign, he has alienated many, including fellow Democrats, through his outrageous comments. Engler, who is pro-life, holds a huge lead.
In an interview on the upcoming elections with the Register, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., urged Catholics to be informed and to vote. “I think Catholics not only should vote as a civic duty, but in some instances there may be a moral obligation to do so,” he said.
He added that “overwhelming weight” should be given to pro-life issues when casting a ballot. “Life on both sides of the spectrum — both at the beginning and at the end of life — is sacred.”
The bishop was especially critical of Catholic politicians who vote for abortion. Suggesting such votes are “fundamentally immoral,” he questioned the sincerity of Catholics who seek to detach their apparent religious views from political opportunity.
Auxiliary Bishop William Lori of Washington, D.C., added, “I hope Catholics will try to follow those things which the Holy Father calls the promotion of the culture of life. We should look at things which the Church teaches with clarity and solemnity” when casting ballots.
For those Catholic politicians who are elected but who disregard Church guidance, he said it is important “to persuade them to a more enlightened view, to engage them to bring about a change of mind and heart.”
An outspoken critic of pro-abortion politicians, Redemptionist Father Richard Welch, president of Human Life International, recently wrote: “The ugly truth is, abortion remains legal in the United States largely because Catholic voters and politicians help keep it that way.
“So as the 1998 congressional elections approach, every Catholic should review what the Church tells us about the moral obligations of voters. When you vote, put principle before party. Defend the babies!”
Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.