Bringing Down the House G.O.P. Guerrilla

Newt Gingrich rides a surge of voter anger, but where does he want to go with it?

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But what happens when the guerrilla fighter actually has to govern? That's the question for America as Gingrich amasses his powerful minority, which next week could, possibly, become a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Even if it does not, a combination of Republicans and conservative Democrats will control Congress and bedevil Bill Clinton. All his political life, Gingrich has been perfecting his ability to disrupt the majority and move the opposition into an increasingly radical position on the right. But now that Gingrich has arrived, what does he want? His record as a builder is shaky at best, and his grand vision is mostly implicit. When Gingrich rallied more than 300 G.O.P. candidates in Washington in late September to unveil a position paper called "Contract with America," the supposedly revolutionary document contained mostly warmed-over Reaganomics. The risk of Gingrich in near control is that he will remain in his bomb- throwing role and never be accountable for the messy specifics of lawmaking. Nothing will do more to ensure gridlock in Washington.

Though the Democrats have staged a last-minute resurgence in the polls, Republicans still stand a good chance of gaining seven seats in the Senate, which would give them a majority there for the first time since 1986. Not only would Bob Dole become majority leader, but committee chairmanships would go to ranking -- and sometimes fang-baring -- Republicans. None other than Jesse Helms would run the foreign relations committee. New York's Alfonse D'Amato, who performed loudly and often during the Senate banking committee hearings on Whitewater in July, would be wielding the gavel next time.

In the House, where Republicans haven't been a majority since the Eisenhower days -- and have been powerless in all that time to so much as bring a bill to the floor without begging for Democratic help -- the prospects are a little less bright. Just a few weeks ago, Gingrich could seriously entertain dreams of G.O.P. gains of 40 seats, enough to make his party the majority and him the next Speaker. Now, though the Republicans can still be expected to score at least 25 seats, their chances for more are clouded by a Democratic rebound made evident by the latest TIME/CNN survey. Asked how they would vote in the congressional race in their district, 40% of those questioned said they would go for the Democrat, 35% for the Republican -- the first time the Democrats have been favored since mid-August. Those results are in keeping with the turns of some closely watched races for Senate and Governor. New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who was in deep trouble for most of this year's campaign, has pulled even with his opponent George Pataki. Florida Governor Lawton Chiles is now neck and neck with Jeb Bush. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, the billowing Jupiter of the old Democratic religion, has pulled from a dead heat to a 20-point lead over his opponent, newcomer Mitt Romney.

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