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Is Klink On the Brink In Pennsylvania Primary?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 24, 2000

Question: There are quite a few candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, a seat held by Rick Santorum (R) and one the Democrats firmly believe they can win. What's the outlook for the primary? – Peter Schweyer, State College, Pa.

Answer: Since the beginning of the campaign, Rep. Ron Klink (D), who hails from suburban Pittsburgh, seemed to be in the driver's seat. A personable former television news anchor, Klink is the only candidate from the western part of the state, and the only abortion opponent in a field of five pro-choice Democrats from eastern Pennsylvania. This is one state where being an anti-abortion Democrat is not an electoral kiss of death. For example, former Gov. Robert Casey and his son, Auditor General Robert Casey Jr., are anti-abortion Dems, yet both are extremely popular. In fact, Casey Jr., who is up for reelection this year and is seen as a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2002, has endorsed Klink.

No Pa. GOP senator has been unseated since James Duff in 1956. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

On the other hand, Klink's candidacy does not resonate with many liberals, who see little difference between him and Republican Rick Santorum, the senator they contend is vulnerable. Liberal support is split between state Sen. Allyson Schwartz and former Pennsylvania secretary of labor Tom Foley. Schwartz got a boost in January, when former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, another liberal Jewish woman from suburban Philadelphia, dropped out of the race. The Philadelphia Daily News, Philly Mayor John Street and EMILY's List have since endorsed Schwartz. But Foley, a relaxed campaigner who has run statewide twice before, has things in his favor as well. He is strong with organized labor, is not seen as a regional candidate (unlike Klink and Schwartz), and has the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The polls show Klink, Foley and Schwartz tightly bunched at the top; none holds a lead outside the margin of error. I'm surprised Klink hasn't broken out of the pack, especially given the plethora of candidates in the east. I still think he holds on and wins the primary, but it will be closer than anyone thought several months ago. An unimpressive showing might lead some Democrats to wonder if Santorum's seat is as endangered as they thought. The primary is April 4.

Question: Why has Sen. Chuck Robb's (D-Va.) once-rising star become so faded that you think he might be a casualty in the 2000 election? – Jeffrey Sachs, Springfield, Va.
Robb is seen as the most vulnerable Democratic senator this year. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: While there are still more than seven months to go and it is too early to count anyone out, Democrats are privately worried about Robb's campaign. It seems to have a sleepwalking, defensive-like quality, whereas former Gov. George Allen, the putative GOP candidate, is active, visible and aggressive. Plus, the Old Dominion Republican Party has been on fire in recent months – they captured the Virginia General Assembly for the first time in history, recorded a huge turnout for its presidential primary, and got assurances from Rep. Virgil Goode, the Democrat-turned-Independent, that he would vote with the GOP to organize the House. Robb, who was entangled in a personal scandal years ago that effectively ended any hopes for the presidency, owes his 1994 reelection to the caliber of his Republican opposition: Iran-Contra figure Oliver North. This time, he may not be so lucky.

Question: Suppose Hillary Clinton is elected to the Senate. Would she be treated as a junior senator? Or is there special treatment for being a former first lady? – Tony Wilson, Washington, D.C.

Answer: A victorious Clinton would be at the bottom of the seniority ladder, along with any other newly elected senator. Until the Senate changed its rules in 1980, she could have gotten a leg up in seniority if her predecessor – in this case retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan – resigned his seat early and the governor – in this case, Republican George Pataki – swore her in early. But the Senate eliminated that practice 20 years ago. There is no special treatment for a first lady running for office, and in fact Clinton is the first one to do so.

Senators rank in the seniority hierarchy based on when they were elected. However, prior experience (such as Senate, House and gubernatorial service, in that order) count toward seniority in the Senate. A Senate victory by any of the following candidates running this year – Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.), Gov. and former Rep. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), former Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gov. Mel Carnahan (D-Mo.), former governor Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), former Rep. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.), former governor and former Rep. Jim Florio (D-N.J.), Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.), Rep. Robert Weygand (D-R.I.), forrmer governor George Allen (R-Va.) or former Rep. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) – would place them higher than Clinton on the seniority list, because they all have prior House or gubernatorial service. Carper, Florio and Allen, in fact, have both congressional and gubernatorial service.

Question: How many seats are up this year in the Senate and the House? And why aren't all the seats up for election? – Keith Quesenberry, Centreville, Va.

Answer: Every two years, all 435 members of the House and one-third of the Senate (33 or 34 seats of 100) are up for election. Once the Constitutional Convention set the length of a House term at two years, they debated about how to define a term in the Senate. Agreeing that they wanted the Senate to serve as a brake on any rash actions taken by the House, they voted on June 26, 1787 to make a Senate term last six years.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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