The presidential contest may be all but over, but the race to control Congress is going down to the wire.
About a dozen of the 34 Senate races and more than 70 House races are still in question as Campaign 1996 enters its final week.
A host of House Banking Committee members face tough battles for the Nov. 5 ballot. The Senate banking panel, on the other hand, has only two members up for reelection. But one race, by two-term Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, is among the country's hottest.
Sen. Kerry, locked in a dead heat with Gov. William Weld, must retain his seat if the Democrats are to regain control of the Senate.
Gov. Weld is considered a moderate because he supports abortion rights, but the two have argued over the death penalty and cutting taxes. The candidates have resorted to personal attacks since the Boston Globe reported Oct. 18 that Sen. Kerry received free housing from two developers and a key lobbyist in the 1980s. The Democratic incumbent retaliated by criticizing Gov. Weld for accepting a free stay at a hunting lodge from a developer vying for a state construction job.
Bank and thrift lobbyist Richard F. Hohlt said the newspaper's revelations could sway the election against Sen. Kerry. "The Globe, which is one of the most liberal papers in the country, is really going after Kerry. He's in real trouble and Weld could win that one."
Mr. Hohlt, who has strong Republican ties, predicted the GOP will retain control of Congress.
Peter Brereton, a lobbyist for Cleveland-based KeyCorp, said Republicans are gaining in key House races in his state, boding well for their party's overall outlook. "If the Democrats don't gain seats in Ohio, they can't retake the House," he said.
C. William Landefeld, incoming chairman of America's Community Bankers, said a Republican-controlled Congress is in the industry's best interest.
"If the Democrats win, there will be more consumer-oriented legislation. That's the type of thing we have been trying to get rid of," said the president of Citizens Savings Bank, Normal, Ill.
ACB president Paul A. Schosberg agreed. "With the Democrats there won't be any attempts to nibble away at the edges of the Community Reinvestment Act."
Still, the most important banking issue in the upcoming Congress - expanding industry powers - will move forward no matter which party wins, Mr. Schosberg predicted.
"I think there's consensus among both parties for financial modernization," he said.
The Democrats are especially targeting GOP freshmen, the corps of right- wing reformers who stormed Congress in 1994. The banking panel has 18 freshmen members - nine of whom face tough reelection contests.
North Carolina Republican Fred Heineman has the biggest battle as he faces again the opponent he knocked off in 1994, former four-term congressman David Price. Rep. Heineman's margin of victory was thin, just 1,200 votes. Mr. Price has been able to make hay out of a Rep. Heineman's comment in 1995 that people earning $133,000 should be regarded as middle class.
On the Banking Committee, Rep. Heineman has taken a decidedly pro- industry stance, supporting efforts to roll back Community Reinvestment Act requirements as well as many other regulatory relief provisions.
According to surveys conducted by private pollster John Morgan and Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Price is the favorite as the race heads into its final week.
Other Republican freshmen in difficult races:
*Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Tex., is trying to stay alive in a traditionally Democratic district against former county tax assessor Nick Lampson. The Democrat appears to have the edge and is using his party's scripted gameplan to paint Rep. Stockman as a conservative ideologue bent on slashing Medicare and stripping back environmental programs.
Rep. Stockman also has had to answer allegations that he has ties to right-wing militia groups after a woman linked to the Michigan Militia faxed a message to his office on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing.
*Rep. Frank Cremeans, R-Ohio, like Rep. Heineman, faces a challenge from Ted Strickland, the Democrat he ousted two years ago. Though polls showed the Republican lagging by a big margin this summer, he has closed the gap and the race is now too close to call. At times the race has been ugly: Rep. Cremeans accused Mr. Strickland of trespassing on his property and of being anti-Christian. The Democrat accused his opponent of being beholden to corporate PACs in order to pay off campaign debts.
Banks certainly have rewarded Rep. Cremeans for his pro-industry votes - their PACS have contributed more than $102,000 to his cause, according to the National Library on Money and Politics. He's received more banking funds than any other committee freshman and, among all members, he is second only to Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla.
*Rep. Dick Chrysler, R-Mich., in one of the most country's most heated races, is under the gun to keep Democrats from retaking the Lansing, Mich., district they held for 20 years. The race is a toss up.
His challenger is former State Sen. Deborah Ann Stabenow, who is trying to capture the state's large union vote. Helping her out is the AFL-CIO, which is running a series of attack ads against Rep. Chrysler for his votes to cut Labor Department funding.
Three other Republican freshman in close races appear to have the edge. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio is stretching his lead over State Sen. Robert L. Burch. Rep. Ney has largely backed the conservative agenda laid out by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Richard Armey, but is trying to cast himself as a moderate Republican to retain his seat in the traditionally Democratic district.
Rep. Jon. D. Fox of Pennsylvania is defending his Main Line Philadelphia district against Joseph M. Hoeffel, a county commissioner. Though Democrats boosted Mr. Hoeffel by giving him some speaking time at the Chicago convention, the district is solidly Republican.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, a former television sportscaster, has been happy to trumpet his support for Newt Gingrich during the past two years and isn't backing down now. His opponent, Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Steve Owens, is casting himself as a centrist.
Rep. Ken Bentsen of Texas is the only freshman Democrat, and must run in a newly redrawn district that favors Republicans. A total of 11 contenders are vying for the seat and Rep. Bentsen must win the seat outright on Nov. 5 or face a runoff if he finishes in top two. Although Rep. Bentsen opposed a number of key regulatory relief measures last year, banking PACS have donated more than $46,000 to his campaign.
Among veteran House Banking members, only Democrats appear vulnerable.
Rep. Bill Orton of Utah has the toughest struggle as he battles Republican venture capitalist Chris Cannon. Trying to win a fourth term in conservative central Utah, Rep. Orton considers himself a moderate Democrat. In a race too close to call, Mr. Cannon has gained ground by criticizing Rep. Orton's vote against a balanced budget amendment and his inability to stop the Clinton Administration from designating 1.7 million acres of coal-laden land a national monument.
On banking issues, Rep. Orton is best remembered for sponsoring an amendment to tap the Federal Reserve's $4 billion surplus to help pay off Financing Corp. bonds. The House Banking Committee approved his plan, but lawmakers ultimately dropped the proposal in the final version of legislation capitalizing the Savings Association Insurance Fund.
Rep. Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, has what is perhaps the country's most bizarre race. Vying for a fourth term, the socialist- leaning Rep. Sanders has the endorsement of Vermont's Democratic Party. Nevertheless, his three-way race includes Democrat Jack Long, who is running as a third-party candidate. The Republican nominee is State Sen. Susan Sweetser. Rep. Sanders has a slight lead.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey is ahead in central New York State, but he won by less than 1,000 votes in 1994. This is a clear-cut contest between a conservative and a liberal, as Rep. Hinchey is a strong supporter of abortion rights and his main opponent, wallpaper store owner Sue Wettig, has the backing of the state's Right to Life Party.
On the Banking Committee, Rep. Hinchey fought Republican efforts to roll back CRA and consumer laws, winning a grade of "A" from the activist group Acorn.