Caution: Close Vote Ahead

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WASHINGTON: In the end, the 1998 midterm elections will come down to questions as mundane as this: If the weather is bad, how many people will change their minds about voting? Does rain benefit Republicans or Democrats? A stormy day –- at least for the East Coast –- is predicted Tuesday, as the parties enter the final stretch with little to separate them. Key Senate races are going right down to the wire; in weekend polls, you couldn’t put a pin between Schumer and D’Amato in New York or Boxer and Fong in California. And while the consensus for months has been that the GOP would reap the midterm benefit that traditionally goes to the party not in the White House, the size of that reward is now looking embarrassingly small.

Special Report Still, turnout is key. And the kind of no-show being predicted for Tuesday, which may beat the 1942 record for least voter participation, has historically helped Republicans –- whose base tends to be more motivated. "We know this is going to be a low-turnout election," said Kentucky's Sen. Mitch McConnell. "The economy is good and voters are content." Both sides have abandoned all pretense of appealing to the center; President Clinton spent the weekend motivating key liberal constituencies such as the black church vote, while the Republican National Committee continues to run those infamous Lewinsky scandal commercials in states like the Carolinas -– where the Clinton-bashers live. The Democrats' secret weapon? A voice from the heavens: Senator John Glenn, who urged America to "get out and vote" from the space shuttle Discovery Sunday. "I’d like to see a record turnout," he added. That -- along with fine weather -- is what his fellow Dems will be praying for.