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Flat-broke future hurts Democrats

Democrats this year are feeling President Clinton's pain, and the signs are they will feel it even more next year.

In Tuesday's state and local elections, Republicans swept the four top political prizes, helped in part by a huge money advantage over a Democratic Party hamstrung by a $15-million debt _ the cost of fund-raising scandals left over from Clinton's successful re-election campaign last year.

"This is very bad news for Democrats. The Republicans' coffers are overflowing and the Democrats are broke," said American University political scientist Allan Lichtman.

Money helped Republican Jim Gilmore win the governorship of Virginia and may have made the difference in a close race in New Jersey, where Republican incumbent Christine Whitman barely survived a challenge from Democrat James McGreevey.

In New York City, Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani looked unbeatable from the start because of the city's falling crime rate and good economy.

But money certainly made the difference in Tuesday's only congressional race where an $800,000 Republican TV blitz turned a close race in Staten Island into a blowout.

Last year, Clinton's re-election campaign set off a Democratic fund-raising frenzy. All the resources of the White House were deployed to avoid being outspent by Republicans, who traditionally enjoy a money advantage.

Cash flowed in from a cast of characters with connections to Asian business interests. Clinton made the Lincoln bedroom available and hosted over 150 White House coffees for big donors.

Clinton duly won his second term, but his party may be paying the cost of their excesses for years to come and particularly in 1998, when 36 governorships, 34 Senate seats and all the House seats will be at stake.

But money was not the only lesson from 1997. Message was also important. Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition and now a political consultant, said Gilmore's victory held an important message for Republicans.

The Virginian won by promising to abolish a despised tax on the value of cars and trucks. Said Reed: "Taxes are back and they are back with a vengeance. Abolishing the car tax was political manna."

Another theme of the election was the continuing shift of power in the South from the Democrats to the Republicans, a process that has been going on for years but now appears to be speeding up.