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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 17:48 GMT

The impeachment game

By American affairs specialist Gordon Corera

[an error occurred while processing this directive]At the start of the year, even most political junkies were not very excited about America's 1998 elections. Despite the fact that the entire 435-member House of Representatives and one-third of the hundred-member Senate are up for election, this year was expected to be boring as usual.

But the year has been full of surprises. Since August, the elections have become closely linked to the Lewinsky scandal and the attempt to impeach President Clinton. The result: Small shifts in the vote could mean a big difference for the country's direction and the future of the Clinton presidency.

Republicans only have an 11-seat majority in the House of Representatives. At the start of the year it was thought the Democrats could regain control the House, but the Clinton scandal has almost certainly eliminated that possibility. With November 3 looming, the election remains largely up for grabs.

Click the links to find out how the impeachment inquiry could affect the elections and how the election could decide the Clinton presidency.

How impeachment affects the election

Mid-term elections are normally defined by a low turnout of voters. The expectation is that this year will see an even lower turnout than usual. The Republicans have been gambling that their pursuit of the president will push their supporters to the polls and that disillusionment among Democratic supporters will keep them away.

But support for President Clinton has remained remarkable strong and stable throughout the Lewinsky affair. According to a recent poll, 63% of people approve of the way Mr Clinton is doing his job. Polls show that many would like to see president punished, but still approve of the way he does his job and want him to stay in office.

Leaders of the Republican party have been worried by reports which show a significant decline in their support. With the November 3rd closing in, it looks like the focus on trying to impeach a popular president may be costing the party dearly.

A New York Times/CBS poll showed approval of Congress dropped from a high of 56% in September to 43%. Forty-eight percent now disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The general perception, aided by White House and Democrat rhetoric, is that by focusing on a partisan bid to remove Bill Clinton from office, Congress has made little progress on the issues that really matter to people like education and health.

This could mean things may not go as well as hoped for Republicans and Democrats may not lose too many seats.

How the election affects impeachment

The party that holds the balance of power in Congress ultimately has the final say on the success of any impeachment action against President Clinton.

If Democrats were to recapture the House of Representatives - something most analysts believe is impossible - they could bring the impeachment process to a quick conclusion. In the Senate, which would act as a jury in any trial of the president, every seat the Republicans win makes it more likely they can reach the magic number of 60 - a filibuster-proof majority.

A filibuster is a tactic where senators block a piece of legislation by, literally, talking it to death. A 60-seat majority would allow Republicans to force legislation through.

Equally importantly, both sides will to some extent interpret the result as a national referendum on impeachment.

If the Republicans win big, they will likely claim support for their actions in the last few months and step up the pressure on the president.

Democrats would see defeat as the result of being too closely associated with President Clinton which could lead to a serious erosion of his support. On the other hand, if Republicans do badly, it will be interpreted as a sign that people view the pursuit of a popular president as a partisan and unnecessary.

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In this section

Surprise gains for Democrats

Clinton: People before politics

Impeachment process in spotlight

Analysis: Lewinsky leaves voters cold

What the papers say

What they said: Quotes and soundbites

Hillary: America's most popular politician

Al Gore: On the trail for 2000

Black America backs Clinton

From the House to the White House?

Bush brothers celebrate

George W Bush: Front-runner for 2000

Jeb Bush: Third way Republican

Fred Tuttle: Man with a plan?

Smear tactics in New York race

Finding the Right way

Democrat women running to stand still

Hillary fan club stands by its woman

Lewinsky in Loveland

California prize for Democrats

Close second for dead sheriff