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Demos Consider Fallout From Scandal White House Uproar May Play Role In Campaign Decisions

Mon., Feb. 9, 1998

President Clinton wants Americans to be patient while the Monica Lewinsky case plays itself out. But Joe Turnham can’t wait. He needs to make up his mind about running for Congress. Now.

The predicament facing Turnham, a promising Democratic prospect in Alabama, illustrates the subtle ways in which fallout from the Clinton sex scandal could touch Democrats this election year.

Just three weeks into Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation of Clinton’s relationship with a former White House intern, it is too early to predict whether anger against the president could wind up hurting his party’s chances this November.

But with candidates to recruit and campaign coffers to fill for the mid-term election, politicians in both parties are watching closely to see whether the scandal in Washington makes 1998 a less attractive year for Democrats to run or hurts their fund-raising efforts.

In Auburn, Ala., Turnham says he’s experiencing “decisional schizophrenia” as he wrestles with the question of running for a Republican-held House seat smack in the center of the Bible Belt. He expected to announce his plans as early as today.

“I vacillate from day to day,” he said. “One day, I think I’m going to be Harry Truman. And the next day, I feel like George McGovern.

“You don’t know whether you’re on top of the world or fixing to get blown away.”

Throughout the first week of the White House scandal, the news from Washington was “pre-eminent” in his thinking, Turnham said.

Since then, it has become a secondary factor. His decision will turn more on personal factors, such as what being a member of Congress might mean for his wife and two small children or the future of the family business.

Turnham, 38, acknowledges with a sigh that the president’s problems are likely to rub off “to the negative” on other Democrats. But he believes he could overcome any drag on his candidacy by reminding voters that they know him personally and telling them that he wouldn’t be an automatic vote for Clinton’s policies.

“I go to a very, very conservative evangelical church in Opelika - Trinity Methodist Church,” he said. “Clinton wouldn’t carry Trinity Methodist Church. But I would.”

He’s proud to have cast the Alabama delegation’s votes for Clinton at the 1996 Democratic National Convention - Turnham chairs the state Democratic Party - but he hesitates when asked if he’d want the president campaigning for him in rural east Alabama.

“I certainly think that it’s an option that we would look at, and probably not shy away from,” he finally said.

Not all potential Democratic candidates express concern about Clinton’s woes translating into Democratic defeats in November.

Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls insists the furor in Washington will have no bearing on whether she decides to run for Congress from Ohio’s 1st District.

“This is a local race that involves an individual representing their constituency in Congress,” said Qualls, who was meeting over the weekend with Democratic officials in Washington to talk about what fund-raising help she could expect from the national party.

Tags: ethics

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