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Clinton Rolling Up Big Margin : Election: Democrat takes a huge lead in the Electoral College as he heads for stunning victory over Bush. He is sweeping traditional GOP states in East, South and Midwest.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the self-styled “new kind of Democrat” who promised immediate help for the nation’s troubled economy, appeared to be headed for a lopsided victory over President Bush on Tuesday, sweeping states and regions that Republicans had called their own for more than a decade.

Clinton swept much of the East and Midwest and carried Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other traditionally Republican states in the South that had been considered crucial to Bush’s reelection chances.

Shortly after 6 p.m. PST, television networks said Clinton was already winning in states with a total of 238 electoral votes and within easy reach of the 270 votes needed to win. At that point, Bush was ahead in states with 33 electoral votes.

Clinton, 46, fought off attacks on his character first by Democratic challengers and then by Bush in a long, bitter and brutal campaign that began with a defeat in the New Hampshire primary last February and ended Tuesday with a pre-dawn rally in Albuquerque.

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Clinton would become the first Democrat to win the White House in 12 years and only the second in the last 24 years. He would also be the first President born after World War II and one of the youngest ever to assume the office.

Bush was seemingly invincible only 19 months ago when he led the nation and its allies to victory in the Persian Gulf War, the incumbent President entered the campaign with the highest public approval ratings ever recorded. But the perception that he failed to appreciate the depth of the nation’s economic troubles and his opposition to a larger role for the government in combatting them doomed his presidency.

Independent Ross Perot, the quixotic Texas billionaire who spent $60 million of his own money in an unorthodox campaign, was getting between 15% and 20% of the ballots cast. Perot cut into Bush’s vote among both Republicans and independents and took the ballots of many young voters away from the Democrats.

But in the end the support Perot drew was not a factor in the outcome.

Exit polls of voters showed Clinton outgunning Bush on the issue of jobs and the economy, which three out of five voters said was the top issue for them. And the Democrats ran even with the President--or ahead of him--among voters who said they put a premium on personal character--the issue Bush hammered Clinton on throughout the campaign.

Voters also chose 34 senators, 12 governors and the entire 435-member House of Representatives on Tuesday. And, with Clinton’s large victory margins helping his party’s candidates in some states, the Democrats threatened to add to their dominance among those officeholders.

Not long ago the GOP had hoped to win control of the Senate--where Democrats presently hold a 57-43 seat majority--and make significant inroads into the Democrats’ 268-166 majority in the House. But the stagnant economy and Bush’s unpopularity turned those GOP dreams to ashes.

Clinton’s apparent victory was built on solid support among Democrats--including many of those who had deserted their party to vote for Bush in 1988 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984--as well as major gains among independents.

Blacks, a traditional bastion of Democratic strength, gave nine out of 10 votes to Clinton. He was also winning the smaller Latino vote and all age groups and most income brackets except the very highest.

Although the final tally of Tuesday’s heavy turnout would not be known until the tabulation of West Coast ballots, Clinton was closing in on a victory that would far exceed the 270 electoral votes needed for election. Some exit polls projected that he would beat Bush by perhaps as much as 10% or more in the popular vote.

As early as 1 p.m. PST, the television networks were privately projecting that Bush might poll as little as 36% of the popular vote. That would be the lowest of any presidential candidate since 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt overwhelmed Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, 60.79 to 36.54, with Landon carrying only Maine and Vermont.

Clinton, anticipating the outcome of the election at a rally Tuesday in Denver, declared he had made the best case for change and vowed to celebrate “a new future for the greatest country in the history of the human race.”

Bush, asked how he felt as the returns began to pour in, replied ruefully: “I’ve been better. We’ll see.”

Bush’s last campaign ended in Houston, his adopted hometown, where he took an early morning jog Tuesday and signaled thumbs up when asked about his chances of victory. Casting a ballot with his wife, Barbara, later in the morning, he said he was “very, very pleased” that the campaign he had called the “ugliest” in his lifetime had finally ended.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Al Gore, ending the campaign in his home of Carthage, Tenn., called for unity after accusing Bush of conducting an “all-out negative smear campaign.” He declared earlier in a tumultuous airport rally in Columbus, Ohio: “Our democracy deserves better.”

Although history has recorded many brutal and dirty presidential campaigns, not in modern times has one been so consistently nasty and negative over such a sustained period of time. Clinton, battered repeatedly by Republicans over charges of womanizing, waffling on issues and evading the military draft during the Vietnam War, repeatedly fired back at Bush, accusing him of lying about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal and aiding the arms build-up of Iraq before its invasion of Kuwait.

Clinton’s counterattacks and his emphasis on economic issues apparently scored heavily. Exit polls showed the Iran-Contra scandal hurt Bush more than the draft issue hurt Clinton. And many more people said they voted on the basis of jobs and the economy than on the moral issues and “family values” that Bush had made a keystone of his campaign strategy.

A plurality of voters said they were worse off financially than they were four years ago. In exit polls in 1988 when Bush swamped Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, only 17% said they were worse off financially than they were four years earlier.

Exit polls also showed that among a relatively small group of voters who said the vice presidential candidate influenced their vote, Gore helped Clinton and Vice President Dan Quayle hurt Bush.

Inside the Clinton-Gore campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., aides greeted early exit poll results signaling a large victory with stunned silence. “We’re all sort of processing it right now,” said communications director George Stephanopoulos. " . . . But the awesomeness is starting to set in.”

Campaign chief of staff Eli Segal, a longtime Democratic activist from Massachusetts, sounded close to tears as he spoke. “You’ll pardon me if I sound a little emotional,” he said. “You’re talking to someone who lost 24 years straight, going all the way back to Hubert (H.) Humphrey.”

The dimensions of the apparent Democratic victory left many of Clinton’s aides hoping they were seeing a political development that would go beyond a single night’s election return.

“We’re talking about something far beyond what we could have expected when we woke up this morning,” said Segal. Just as the Democrats’ loss of the White House in 1968 signaled a major shift of voters to the Republican Party, “it’s at least possible that this could represent a movement of people to the Democratic Party” that will begin a Democratic era, he said.

Whether the Democratic victories will prove to be lasting or as transient as Jimmy Carter’s triumph in 1976, of course, remains to be seen, with much depending on Clinton’s ability to bring about the renewed economic growth he has promised voters.

But for now, for the people around Clinton--Democratic activists who have spent the vast majority of their adult lives watching their party lose presidential elections to the Republicans--the prospect of a Democratic victory brought a flood of emotions. Like Republicans in 1952, who pinched themselves as they watched Dwight D. Eisenhower’s victory put an end to 20 consecutive years of Democratic rule, many of Clinton’s aides found the news hard to believe.

Among the factors cheering the Democrats were widespread reports of increased turnout, with voting officials across the country reporting long lines at polling places. Actual estimates of turnout will not be available until the vote count is complete, but in Detroit, for example, “the lines are so long, our big problem is making sure people don’t leave,” said Donald Sweitzer, a key Clinton aide in the state. “We’re sending out coffee and apple juice and doughnuts for them while they wait.”

Four years ago, only 50.2% of voting age Americans showed up to vote, the lowest turnout in half a century. The heightened public interest in this election--as measured by the viewership of the presidential and vice presidential debates, the large numbers of people voting early in states that allow early balloting and the percentage of people telling pollsters they are following the election closely--led many experts to predict an increase this time, breaking a pattern of decline that has persisted for more than a generation.

In the past, large turnouts have usually coincided with a switch in political party control. In 1952, turnout jumped as voters ended five straight terms of Democratic rule and elected Eisenhower as President. Eight years later, turnout jumped again to 63.1%--the modern record--as voters chose John F. Kennedy. The last election in which turnout topped 60% came in 1968, when Richard M. Nixon’s victory opened the current era of Republican dominance.

Many of the most carefully watched races nationwide involve women, running for office in unprecedented numbers. Earlier in the campaign, analysts had dubbed this the “Year of the Woman,” but with many female candidates locked in tight races, the question remained open on whether the election would live up to that billing.

One early female victor, according to exit poll projections, was Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, who would become the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate in history.

Braun apparently defeated Rich Williamson, a lightly regarded Republican who had been a White House official under Reagan, to succeed Democratic Sen. Alan C. Dixon, who lost to her in the primary.

Despite the widespread anti-incumbent mood, leading senators from both parties seemed headed toward easy reelections, according to the exit polls and early returns.

Among the projected winners were Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and legendary space hero Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio).


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