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Two Party Switchers, Two Different Stories
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 21, 2000

Question: What is the outlook on the reelection prospects of the two party switchers of the 106th Congress? Are Reps. Michael Forbes (D-N.Y.) and Virgil Goode (I-Va.) drawing much opposition from their former allies? – Zac McCrary, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Only Forbes may pay the price for party switching. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Both Forbes and Goode left the parties that nurtured and sustained their political careers, but their subsequent tales are completely different. While Forbes has essentially become the number-one target of the House Republicans, Goode seems to be coasting in his bid for a third term.

No one was surprised when Goode left the Democrats in January to become an Independent. And few were surprised when he announced he would vote with the Republicans to organize the House. Goode switched partly for ideological reasons; he voted against Clinton more often than any other House Democrat, and he has already endorsed GOP Senate hopeful George Allen over Democratic incumbent Charles Robb. But pressure was another reason: Republicans, who control the legislature in the Old Dominion, had broadly hinted that if Goode didn't cross over they might unfavorably redraw his rural, conservative Southside Virginia district. By leaving the Democrats but not quite joining the Republicans, Goode keeps his independent image, keeps a district that will be to his liking, and seems destined to win reelection for as long as he chooses. Two years ago the GOP didn't even put up a candidate against Goode, and the same will happen this year.

Democrats will choose a nominee at a May 20 convention. The leading candidate is tobacco farmer John Boyd, the former president of the National Black Farmers Association. Boyd is trying to stir up resentment against Goode's abandonment of the party, but by and large he is not succeeding. In fact, many local Democratic officeholders in the district have stuck with Goode.

It's a different story with Forbes – it isn't hard to get Republicans angry about him. Forbes is the first GOP House member to bolt the party since Michigan's Don Riegle in 1973. Republicans mostly seem to have rallied behind local Suffolk County (Long Island) supervisor Felix Grucci, whose family runs a well-known fireworks business. Republicans want Forbes to pay for his insolence and have worked hard to unite behind Grucci. Party luminaries including Sen. John McCain and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have come to the district to campaign for him.

And many Democrats are mad as well. While Democratic leaders in Washington have been patting themselves on the back for last July's coup in getting Forbes to cross over, many Dems back in the district are still steaming. They're furious at the prospect of having Forbes, who opposes abortion and who voted for every Clinton impeachment article, as their nominee. Several have talked about a Democratic primary challenge but one has yet to come forward; the filing deadline isn't until July.

Forbes always has had this maverick streak; witness his 1997 vote against Speaker Newt Gingrich. But he seems to have painted himself into a corner this time, infuriating both his fellow Republicans by switching and the Democrats in the district who had spent the past six years trying to defeat him. My early guess is that Forbes will not be back for the 107th Congress.

Question: Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) voted to impeach President Clinton when in fact a few weeks before the vote he said he wouldn't do it. The Democrats said that they will target this seat in 2000. Who are his possible challengers? – Geoffrey Schaab, Tonawanda, N.Y.

Answer: If you buy the argument that the vote to impeach the president was unpopular, then the place you'd expect to see some backlash is New York's 30th Congressional District. It holds a huge Democratic advantage, and President Clinton carried it by 20 points in 1996. But Quinn, a moderate pro-labor Republican seeking his fifth term, looks unbeatable this year. Two Dems are seeking the nomination in the Sept. 12 primary: John Fee, a 26-year-old publisher who says he will spend up to $250,000 of his own money on the race, and Thomas Casey, 51, an engineer and community activist. Fee is favored to win the Democratic nomination, but it seems to be an uphill battle to defeat the mighty Quinn.

Question: Where do you see the seat of Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) going? – John Marshall, Columbus, Ohio
Kasich's retirement gives the Dems hope in Ohio's 12th District. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: This seat, which Kasich is vacating after 18 years, is one of the Democrats' top targets in their bid to recapture the House. The Democratic nominee, Columbus City Council member Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, has been squirreling away an impressive amount of money, while two Republicans fought through in a nasty and expensive primary. Pat Tiberi, with Kasich's endorsement, easily defeated fellow state legislator Gene Watts in the March 7 primary, but he depleted much of his campaign treasury in the process. Democrats banked on a divisive GOP contest to help them win the seat in November, but Tiberi's impressive 73 percent primary tally indicates that the Republicans are united. It'll be the only congressional race in Ohio worth watching this fall, but I say Republicans hold onto the seat.

Question: In 1984, 1992 and 1994, Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), an unabashed liberal, came very close to losing his seat. In '94 the margin was just two votes, then a recount put it at four, and finally the courts decided he won by a mere 21 votes. Republicans put up only a token opponent in 1998. Now Bob Simmons, a five-term state representative, is raising a lot of money. Does Simmons have a shot? – John R. McCommas, Danielson, Conn.

Answer: The Republican establishment, led by Gov. John Rowland, seems to think so. Gejdenson has made few missteps in his 20 years in office, but Republicans are well aware that he has at times struggled to win. Right now Simmons does not appear to threaten Gejdenson's career. But they said that in 1992 about Ed Munster, the Republican challenger who was a clear underdog but managed to win an impressive 49 percent of the vote. A close race, but nowhere near as close as the '94 rematch, when Munster came within an eyelash of winning.

Question: Could you tell me who is running against Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and what his or her chances are? – Rob Owen, Palo Alto, Calif.

Answer: Eshoo is sure to shoo away Republican Bill Quraishi in November. In the March open primary (in which all candidates run on the same ballot regardless of party), Eshoo took 71 percent of the vote to Quraishi's 11 percent. The general election is not likely to look much different.

Eshoo has come a long way since her maiden House race in 1988, when she lost to Republican Tom Campbell. When Campbell gave up the seat for a U.S. Senate bid in '92, she ran again, won, and has held it since. She played a leading role in this year's controversy over naming a House chaplain, suggesting that Speaker Dennis Hastert and the GOP may have harbored an anti-Catholic bias when they initially failed to name a Catholic to the post. She got roasted over the coals by angry Republicans, but the episode did not resonate back home.

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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