Three veteran politicians suggested as possible mediators between President Clinton and Congress over the Lewinsky affair say there won't be a deal before the November elections. "Probably not much can happen until maybe next year," said former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

"Right now, instead of a race to judgment, you are looking at a race to the election," said former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who appeared with Dole and former Senate Republican leader Howard Baker on NBC's "Meet the Press."The White House and some Democrats are looking at some sort of settlement, likely to involve censure or reprimand of the president by Congress, that would avoid months of impeachment hearings culminating in a Senate vote on whether to remove Clinton from office for trying to cover up his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Republicans on the whole have insisted that a House Judiciary Committee must go ahead with an impeachment inquiry. "I don't read about a deal anywhere in the Constitution," Judiciary Committee member Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I don't think we ought to rush in that direction."

Democrats, said leading Clinton critic Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., on "Fox News Sunday," "want us to have a congressional cover-up."

Dole, Panetta and Baker have been mentioned as men with the experience and respect to broker a deal. All three said it was too early for that.

"It's a nonstarter now," Dole said. "Look down the road three or four months, who knows, but now it's a nonstarter."

"Impeachment hearings are necessary," Baker said. "If it goes over to the Senate, then maybe there is time to talk about a plea bargain, but it is way too soon for that."

Panetta, a Democrat who has both advised and criticized Clinton, said at this point the election is more important than the impeachment process to Clinton's future. If the Republicans win more seats in November, "I think that's trouble for the president" both in terms of having more Republicans sit in judgment of him and undermining his support among Democrats.

If the Democrats hold their own, "I think there is a much better chance that this issue will be settled sooner rather than later."

"That's the poll that probably counts," Dole told CNN's "Late Edition" about the importance of the elections. "The referendum will probably be on Clinton's conduct or the Clinton presidency in November."

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., on CBS' "Face the Nation," also said the constitutional process must take place before there can be any talk of a negotiated deal. But because "the House justifiably is insisting on its prerogatives does not mean this is not ultimately going to happen."

Other Democrats, buttressed by signs of a national backlash against GOP insistence on releasing the lurid details of Clinton's sexual affair, said the president did not commit an impeachable offense and that, for the good of the nation, the crisis should be dealt with quickly.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last month said Clinton's credibility had been "shattered" by his admission he misled the country over the Lewinsky affair, said on NBC that the partisan nature of the process so far was "plain wrong" and that if the case came to the Senate, "there will be no impeachment."

"I think the American public understands what's going on and I think the American public is saying very clearly we've had enough of this."