President Clinton reached for a second term Tuesday with a string of big-state victories that appeared to doom the hopes of Republican Bob Dole. Two years after storming into control of Congress, chastened Republicans battled to extend their rare hold on the House and the Senate.
Clinton bid to become the first Democratic president to be re-elected since Franklin Roosevelt - and his victory in the GOP stronghold of Florida was a dramatic early show of strength. To punctuate his dominance, he crushed Dole across the industrial belt - winning Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and New Jersey.
Clinton also won big in New England and the Midatlantic, winning Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Tennessee - home state of Vice President Al Gore - also chose Clinton over Dole and Jack Kemp.
All told, Clinton held 198 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Dole carried Oklahoma and his native Kansas - for 14 electoral votes, and led for 40 more in Texas and South Carolina.
As Dole watched the results from his Watergate apartment, the loss in Ohio was especially telling: no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio, a point Dole made time and again on his frequent visits to the state.
As Clinton looked for his place in history, Republicans hoped to break a record of their own: Not since 1930 has the GOP won both chambers of Congress in consecutive elections. The House was in doubt, with Newt Gingrich's tenure as speaker at risk. Democrats needed an 18-seat gain to regain the gavel they had held for 40 years until the 1994 Republican sweep.
Republicans began the evening with a 53-47 Senate majority, but lost a seat in the early going when Dick Swett toppled Sen. Robert Smith as GOP fortunes faded in New Hampshire. In neighboring Massachusetts, Sen. John Kerry withstood a stiff challenge from popular Republican Gov. William Weld.
Republicans were optimistic of offsetting any losses in the South, where four Democratic retirements left open seats in territory friendly to the GOP. Sen. Jesse Helms won his rematch against Democratic challenger Harvey Gantt in North Carolina.
Robert Torricelli was elected to an open Senate seat in New Jersey, defeating Dick Zimmer in one of the nation's most costly and negative campaigns. Democrats also held an open seat in Illinois.
Overall it was a good night for incumbents, with Democrats holding Michigan, West Virginia and Delaware, and Republicans winning in Texas, Missisippi and Oklahoma. The GOP kept an open Senate seat in Kansas.
Dole based his challenge to Clinton on a pledge of dramatic tax cuts and an indictment of Clinton's ethical record. Clinton asked for four more years by citing the 10 million new jobs and low unemployment that marked the first four. Beyond policy differences, the White House campaign offered a stark generational contrast, pitting a graying 50-year-old baby boomer against Dole, 73, a veteran of 35 years in Congress and the battlefields of World War II.
The nation was at peace and in relative prosperity as it chose the last president of the American century. Voters trudging to schools, fire stations and libraries to renew the national democracy appeared more contented than in 1992 and 1994 when a clamoring for change powered first Clinton's election and then his repudiation in the form of the Republican midterm rout.
A majority of voters said the economy was in good shape - fewer than 20 percent thought that way when they denied George Bush a second term in 1992. About half voiced disapproval with the performance of the Republican Congress over the past two years, and 60 percent disapproved of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Six in 10 Americans said they did not consider Clinton "honest and trustworthy," but more than half said positions on issued matter more than personal character when they decided how to vote. These findings were from voters surveys conducted by Voter News Service, a consortium of The Associated Press and television networks.
In addition to picking a president and Congress, voters in 11 states were electing governors. Most of these were lopsided affairs favoring popular incumbents. But New Hampshire had a race of note: Jeanne Shaheen was elected the state's first woman governor and she was the first Democrat elected to that post since 1980. Democrats held Indiana, Vermont, North Carolina, Missouri and Delaware.
In a record year for ballot propositions, California had the headliner: a proposal to repeal state affirmative action programs. As always, the results in the nation's most populous state were certain to shape the national debate.
After frenetic final campaign pushes, Clinton was home in Arkansas, Dole in Kansas as the candidates handed off to the voters. "I have never doubted their wisdom," said Dole.
This year's calmer climate favored incumbents and created a bipartisan paradox: Seeking new mandates at the same time were an activist Democratic president and a conservative Republican Congress.
There were 34 Senate races in all, 14 of them without an incumbent on the ballot - guaranteeing the chamber a new face regardless of the partisan balance. All 435 House seats were up, and Democrats needed a net gain of 18 to take the gavel back from Gingrich after two years.
The key to House control was in the Democrats' challenge to the 74-member Republican class of '94. The GOP banked on gains in the South to offset losses elsewhere.
In Kansas, standing outside his Maple Street home with friends and relatives, Dole said, "The arguments about this election are over." He voiced no regrets.
"We have been on a long, uplifting journey across America. We've given our all but with a full heart," said Dole.
On a sunny day in Little Rock, the president and Mrs. Clinton cast their ballots, facing each other in open voting booths at an old rail station.
"It's a good day for America," Clinton said of the election tradition.
After a barrage of TV ads questioning candidates' competence and character, voters were ready for an end.
"Nobody's perfect. Nobody's growing wings and halos. People are people," said Juanita Davis, voting at a barber shop in Philadelphia. "I just want to know, `Can you do the job?"'
The 1996 campaigns were not as dramatic as in recent years. Mindful of the nation's mood, neither Clinton nor Gingrich tried to match the ambitious agendas they carried into their previous campaigns.
Dole pushed the year's boldest idea, a call for a 15 percent tax cut, but it was greeted with a skepticism that only reinforced the notion that voters weren't in the mood to embrace broad promises. Dole recruited Jack Kemp as his running mate, an energetic tax cut champion set against Gore.
Ross Perot competed against Clinton and Dole, as the nominee of his new Reform Party. The Texas businessman was not the force in this campaign as he was running as an independent four years ago when he earned 19 percent of the vote. Despite his diminished standing, Perot already was hinting at running again in four years.
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