WASHINGTON --

The resounding Republican victory in the midterm elections marks a historical event of huge proportions -- a kind of populist revolt that occurs only once or twice in a century.

The initial spin out of the White House was that voters were expressing their discontent and frustration with the party in power.

That may be correct, but it does not explain the breadth and scope of what happened. Not a single incumbent Republican was defeated in the House, the Senate, or in any of the gubernatorial races. Besides capturing Congress, the Republicans now control 30 governorships -- including those in all the big industrial states except Florida.

They also took over 15 state legislative chambers. In the Midwest, they took full control of the legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.

The 1994 elections mark the end of an era, a time of faith in big government and federal programs that began when Franklin Delano Roosevelt embarked on jacking the nation out of the Great Depression with public works programs. People responded to the Republican message that government has gotten too unwieldy, too big, and too costly.

Republican operatives said that they captured nearly all of Ross Perot's voters from two years ago, those dissatisfied with an ossified and seemingly un-responsive political system. The GOP also capitalized on the public's gut mis-trust of President Clinton, who failed to get any credit for the strong economy and the foreign policy successes of his administration.

But these are partial explanations for what happened.

The Republican tide swept away nearly all of the liberal Democratic rulers in a wave of public anger.

In the New York race for governor, Mario Cuomo, the most eloquent spokesman for the Democratic left, was defeated by George Pataki, a virtual unknown only two months ago. In Texas, the popular Gov. Ann Richards was beaten by George W. Bush. In Washington State, Tom Foley became the first sitting House speaker to be thrown out of office since the collapse of the Whig Party in 1862.

Clinton himself acknowledged that the voters were taking out their anger on him. But he also admitted that the Democrats' attempt to run government better by doing things differently did not sit well with this year's voters.

"I think they want a smaller government that gives them a better value for their dollar, that reflects both their interests and their values, that is not a burden to them but that empowers them," said Clinton. The Republicans, Clinton admitted, "did a good job of defining us as the party of government, and that's not a good place to be."

It remains to be seen whether Clinton and Republicans can agree on anything from welfare reform to taxes over the next two years. But the days of seeking big-government solutions, begun during the Roosevelt era, are gone.

And the Republicans are now the majority party, with an eye on taking control of the White House in 1996. Practically speaking, Senate Republican leaders Bob Dole of Kansas and Phil Gramm of Texas are already in the running for the party's nomination.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.