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After the triumphant re-election of President Nixon a year ago, Republicans were talking about becoming the new majority party for the rest of the century. After last month’s elections against the somber backdrop of Watergate, some Republicans are wondering where next year’s votes are going to come from. Though the party did not suffer a rout and there was no consistent pattern across the U.S., the more the professionals examined the returns, the more it appears that voters, especially Republican voters, had decided to punish the G.O.P. for Watergate. Says Ronald A. Sarasin, a Republican Congressman from Connecticut, where the Democrats captured an additional 22 town halls: “Too many outstanding officials were defeated for no discernible reasons to attribute it to normal local considerations. We must not sit back and think that the Washington situation had no effect even though it was so far removed.”

The nation’s top pollsters have much the same point. Addressing the G.O.P. Governors in Memphis last week, George Gallup said that the Republican Party was in the worst shape since he began polling in 1935. If the 1974 midterm elections were held today, he continued, so many Republicans would lose that the President could no longer expect his vetoes to be sustained in Congress. Louis Harris has reported that the Democrats would win the elections by as much as 53% to 31%. Watergate, said Harris, is further eroding the already shrunken Republican Party, which now makes up only 25% of the electorate, lower than the 28% listed as Independents and the 47% as Democrats.

Because of Watergate, many qualified candidates are hesitating to run as Republicans. “There isn’t that old drive to win,” says a Midwest G.O.P. state chairman. “There is no rush of new candidates.” National G.O.P. Chairman George Bush had considered running for Governor of Texas next year, but a glance at the polls convinced him that his party was too weak to put him over.

Even though surveys showed him within striking distance of Illinois Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, G.O.P. Congressman John B. Anderson decided not to make the race because Watergate had dried up party contributions in the state.

In Ohio, where the G.O.P. is having trouble finding local committeemen for the first time in memory, no credible candidate has come forward to run for the Senate seat that is expected to be vacated by William B. Saxbe.

Many Republicans who are planning to run for office are doing their best to disguise their Republicanism. New Hampshire Congressman Louis C. Wyman, who is campaigning for the Senate seat of retiring Norris Cotton, is playing down his party affiliation. “This seat belongs to the people, not to any particular party,” says a Wyman aide.

Wheelock Whitney, a Republican businessman in Minneapolis, is considering running as an Independent against Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Wendell R. Anderson. Senator Richard S. Schweiker, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, has no plans to bolt the ticket next year, but he has already let the voters know that he is no friend of the White House. He began a recent radio interview: “Well, you know I was on the White House enemies list.”

Sorry Page. Oregon Governor Tom McCall has made himself equally clear. “We’re not going to be housemen for the White House and try to whitewash one of the sorriest pages in American political history.” G.O.P. Strategist F. Clifton White has offered a campaign survival kit for Republicans. His suggestions include making a complete financial disclosure, accounting for all campaign funds, relying on small contributors rather than large ones, refusing to take cash and trying not to look, talk or act like a politician.

The G.O.P. appears to be least weakened in the South—and in recent days, thanks to Nixon’s forays there, perhaps strengthened. There were few resounding Republican defeats in the region, and a Republican, Mills E. Godwin, won the governorship of Virginia. In Texas, a November appeal to Republicans for contributions has so far drawn more than $37,000—a much greater response than three earlier mailings elicited. Republicans believe that Democrats are scarcely in a position to make hay of Watergate. Muses Robert J. Shaw, a vice chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Can you imagine Lester Maddox, whose own closet is so full of skeletons, trying to get at his Republican opponent for Governor of Georgia on grounds of Watergate? No Democrat incumbent wants his own administration investigated.”

Elsewhere, in their blacker moments, some Republicans conjure up visions of Stygian gloom. “It’s hard to get a handle on how the President’s dog-and-pony show has been doing,” says a senior House Republican. “There’s a general feeling that the President’s position has stabilized, but nobody knows.” Republicans wish that their President would somehow leave office with the least possible commotion. A conservative G.O.P. Senator admits that he would hate to see the President resign “because it would set a bad precedent. But it certainly would be good for the Republican Party.” There is, of course, an irony in all this that is not lost on many Republican leaders. It was, after all, Richard Nixon who separated himself from the party to enhance his majority in 1972.

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