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The 1994 Midterms: When Newt Gingrich Helped Republicans Win Big

October 9, 2018 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

A strategy to give congressional campaigns a unified, national message under the “Contract With America” led to a Republican sweep.

American politician Newt Gingrich, who served as the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999.

A balanced budget amendment. Tax cuts. Welfare reform. Those were just three of the 10 points of the Contract with America, Newt Gingrich’s conservative plan, signed by 300-plus Republican candidates and presented at a press conference just six weeks before the 1994 midterm elections.

The proposal by Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, has been credited with the “Republican Revolution” that ensued at the polls, with the GOP easily taking control of the U.S. House and Senate, gaining 12 governorships and regaining control in 20 state legislatures.

Republicans had long been in the minority in Congress and the key to the Republican sweep, says Paul Teske, dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver, was in making the campaigns national.

“The Democrats controlled the House for 40 straight years prior to 1994, with an interesting coalition of northeast/midwest liberals and southern Democrats, who by today have all become Republicans,” he says, adding that Democrats had held the House for 58 of the prior 62 years and the Senate for 34 of 40 years prior to 1994. “So, Republicans were not used to having congressional power. Their thought was that by nationalizing the election, it could be a way to get power back.”

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA), holding up a copy of the Republican party’s ‘Contract With America’ during a rally to celebrate the first 50 days of the Republican majority in Congress in February, 1995.

President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were campaign targets.

Teske adds that Republicans had some easy “targets to attack,” from the unpopular, early years of President Bill Clinton, to the Hillary Clinton-led health care proposal to individual corruption cases in Congress.

The overarching goal of the contract involved cutting taxes, reducing the size of government and reducing government regulations, taking aim at Congress, itself, to be more transparent, less corrupt and more open with the public.

“Essentially, it claimed that it would ‘drain the swamp’—though they didn’t use that term, in terms of what Donald Trump would later articulate,” Teske says. “If successful, the contract specified 10 bills they would bring up …read more


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