By Ken Rudin
Question: The American Heritage Party has fielded two candidates for Congress in Washington State Bruce Craswell, running in the 1st District, and John Beal, running in the 5th. It is my understanding that both are former Republican activists.
Is this the beginning of the departure of the ultra-conservative arm of the GOP? If so, do you see this as a national trend? I assume that these third-party candidates will ultimately hurt Reps. Rick White (R-1st) and George Nethercutt (R-5th) and not the Democratic nominees. Roel van der Lugt, Potomac, Md.
Certainly Rick White will need every vote he can get to win a third term in his swing district. After conspicuously showcasing his family as a campaign asset in his 1994 and 1996 races, he now has to make do with the fact that he recently left his wife after 16 years of marriage. That may be one of the factors that pulled Craswell, who strongly supported White two years ago, into the race.
Craswell is a longtime anti-abortion, anti-tax, pro-family activist whose wife Ellen was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1996. He has blasted White for votes he claims betrayed the conservative cause, including some on abortion. The beneficiary of Craswell's campaign would logically be former representative Jay Inslee, a well-financed Democrat who represented a different district for one term before being ousted in the GOP landslide of 1994. But in the September 15 open primary, where all candidates run on the same ballot, White did better than expected, getting just over 50 percent of the vote, compared to 44 percent for Inslee and only about 7 percent for Craswell. This leads one to conclude that White, while still facing a tough race, may be in better shape than what was once thought.
As for Rep. Nethercutt, some conservatives expressed dismay when he backed away from the three-terms-and-out pledge he made in 1994. But he ran strong in the open primary, capturing 58 percent of the vote (more than 20 points better than his Democratic opponent), and is considered safe in November.
Is there a national trend here? There are those religious conservatives who are clearly distressed at the "Big Tent" thinking among some GOP leaders, and have hinted about leaving the party. They already have a vehicle, if they choose to use it, in Howard Phillips's U.S. Taxpayers Party. But unless the Republicans put a pro-abortion rights candidate on their 2000 ticket, I don't see any large-scale desertion.
Question: What is your outlook for the two open Republican House seats in Wisconsin the 1st and 2nd Districts? I say the Democrats will win them both. Andy Wiesner, Madison, Wisc.
The 2nd, based in Madison, is much more of a Democratic district. Robert Kastenmeier (D) held it for 32 years before being upset by Klug, a popular TV news anchor, in 1990. The Democratic nominee is state Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who would become the first openly gay woman elected to Congress. She pulled more than twice as many votes in her primary than the GOP nominee, former state Insurance Commissioner Jo Musser, did in hers. Musser argues that Baldwin's appeal beyond the liberal enclaves of Madison is limited. But Musser has trouble with conservatives in her own party, and is well behind Baldwin in the money race. The guess here is that Democrat Baldwin takes the seat, but in any event it is a battle between two female candidates in a state that has yet to elect a woman to Congress.
Neumann is leaving, Spottswood is running again, and another close race is expected. She faces Paul Ryan (R), a 28-year-old former Hill staffer. In a normal year, Spottswood might have the edge. But with Senate nominee Neumann heading the ticket, and Clinton's problems a clear problem for many voters in this conservative swing district, Ryan has a shot.
Question: We all know the Democrats controlled the House for 40 years before being booted out in 1994. But what was the longest period before then that a party controlled the House? Russ Walker, Alexandria, Va.
Answer: The 40-year period was the longest any party has been in the majority since the advent of the current two-party system. Previously, the GOP held control from 1895 through 1911 (16 years), a streak matched by the Democrats between 1931 and 1947.
Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Rudin, the political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline, writes the "Political Graffiti" column for The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly. He is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.
© Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin