1994: Revolution Takes Hold

Posted April 1, 2005 at 5:08pm

[IMGCAP(1)]November 1994 is an enormously important month in the history of the modern Republican Party. But the nation didn’t just decide on Election Day to vote for a change in power. Rather, there was a rising tide, one led by then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

While Gingrich paved the way, Democrats seemed to fall at his feet, opening the doors for the takeover — mostly by retiring.

“Already facing the prospect of heavy losses in open-seat House contests this year, Democrats got more bad news last week when four more incumbents in swing seats said they will leave at the end of the 103rd Congress. The latest departures … increase the likelihood the GOP will be able to score significant gains in the House this fall,” Roll Call reported in April.

One of the biggest retirement announcements came in March from then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine). Roll Call reported that Mitchell’s decision “sent shock waves across Capitol Hill.”

And other losses dogged the Democrats such as eight-term Rep. Mike Synar’s (D-Okla.) defeat in a runoff. Out of nowhere, Virgil Cooper, a 71-year-old retiree, took 51 percent to Synar’s 49 percent. Cooper went on to face — and lose to — Tom Coburn (R) in the general election.

Roll Call reported that “Democrats attributed Synar’s loss to his outspoken style on controversial issues, where he has often taken politically risky positions.”

Eager Republicans unveiled their “first 100 days” initiative — known as the “Contract with America” — at a late-September gathering featuring all Republican Members and House candidates.

The plan included “a major overhaul of House rules, the chamber’s first-ever vote on term limits and consideration of nine other major pieces of legislation.”

According to then-House GOP Conference Chairman Dick Armey (Texas), the objective “is to convince voters that electing a Republican House majority in November will be in the best interests of the ‘most open, effective, and honest’ government.”

More than 330 Republicans signed Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” which garnered GOP “control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1952.” The Republicans needed only 40 seats to claim rule over the House and seven to take the Senate — they went well above that mark by taking 52 House seats and eight Senate seats.