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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Hits and Misses

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Tuesday, November 10, 1998

    Question: In your pre-election column, you said that Jean Leising (R) was ahead in the battle to succeed retiring Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) but you thought that Democrat Baron Hill would win (see the Nov. 2 column). You were correct and I was wondering how you came to that conclusion. – Lisa Carlson, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

    Answer: Nothing really scientific here. Polls from both parties showed Leising up anywhere from 8 to 10 points. But she had already run for the seat in the last two elections, including a blowout defeat in 1996, and I just felt that voters had already made up their minds about her. Plus, Hill had a big financial advantage and had been on the air for weeks before Leising ever started running her own ads – two factors in my picking Hill.

    That's not to say that I was perfect in my election calls, and it wasn't just Jesse Ventura that threw me for a loop either.

    I could argue that I had a pretty good night – correctly picking 425 out of 435 House seats and 32 out of 34 Senate contests. In the Senate, for example, I had Feingold over Neumann in Wisconsin, which many pundits missed; Bunning over Baesler in Kentucky, when most folks were writing of a Baesler surge; and Edwards over Faircloth in North Carolina, which was seen as too close to call.

    On the other hand, I had D'Amato over Schumer in the high-profile New York Senate race – which wasn't close. And I really went astray in the gubernatorial elections – missing six out of 36. And I was wrong on 10 House seats, including one that wasn't even on my radar screen.

    Here's a brief look at the races I missed, and why. (For the record, I had the Republicans picking up two seats in the House and two in the Senate – not too far off the mark.)

    Colo. 2nd District In recent election cycles, the Republicans ran far-right candidates against Rep. David Skaggs (D), turning off moderate voters in this swing district. With Skaggs retiring, the GOP ran former Boulder mayor Bob Greenlee, whom I saw as an attractive candidate who was moderate on social issues but conservative on fiscal ones. However, the seat went to state Rep. Mark Udall (D).

    Conn. 5th District I thought Jim Maloney (D) only won this seat in 1996 because the GOP incumbent was over-confident and failed to take the race seriously. And I thought that with Gov. John Rowland (R), who used to hold this seat, on his way to a sweeping reelection this year, the district would return to its usual Republican ways and elect state Sen. Mark Neilsen (R). However, Maloney was reelected.

    Hawaii Governor: If it really is "the economy, stupid," then Gov. Ben Cayetano (D) should have been in trouble. The state was in an eight-year recession. Thus, I saw Maui Mayor Linda Lingle (R) winning, the first Republican to do so here since 1959. But Cayetano held onto his job.

    Ill. 17th District: Rep. Lane Evans (D) nearly lost his seat in 1996, and his prospects for '98 were hampered by the revelation that he suffered from Parkinson's disease. To me, one sign the liberal Evans knew he was in trouble was his vote in favor of going ahead with the Clinton impeachment inquiry – one of only 31 Democrats to do so. Republican Mark Baker had money and key endorsements and looked like he was going to win the rematch. But a superb effort by organized labor carried Evans in for another term.

    Iowa Governor: Jim Ross Lightfoot (R) almost toppled Sen. Tom Harkin (D) in 1996, and led in the race to succeed retiring Gov. Terry Branstad (R) from the outset. But I failed to account for the very aggressive campaign of Democratic state Sen. Tom Vilsack, nor did I expect Lightfoot to run a campaign that lacked an overriding theme. Vilsack came on strong at the end and won, ending 20 years of GOP rule.

    Kan. 3rd District: Yes, I know, freshman Rep. Vince Snowbarger (R) was too conservative for this district. Yes, I know, Democrat Dennis Moore was out-raising and outspending the incumbent. But this is Kansas, for goodness sake, and no Democrat had won the seat in 40 years. So I predicted Snowbarger. Moore won.

    Md. Governor: One indication that Gov. Parris Glendening (D) was in trouble was the relentless negative ads he ran attacking Ellen Sauerbrey (R), who came within 5,993 votes in their 1994 contest. Would an incumbent who was ahead employ such a tactic? Plus, he was on the outs with the state's leading black pols, despite their lukewarm endorsement, which led me to think that the African-American community was less than enthused about his candidacy. I was wrong, as black voters came out in huge numbers to reelect Glendening.

    Minn. Governor: OK, so maybe there were problems with both St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman (R) and state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III (D). But Jesse "The Body" Ventura? A former pro wrestler, running on the Reform Party ticket? No way. But a slick advertising campaign, good exposure in the debates, an appeal to young voters and the ability to register to vote on Election Day all benefited Ventura, who won a stunning upset. Way.

    Nev. Senate: I thought that by representing Las Vegas, the most Democratic part of the state, Rep. John Ensign (R) had the advantage in his battle against Sen. Harry Reid (D). A respectable showing in Vegas, added to the likelihood of a solid win in the rest of the state, would elect Ensign, according to my thinking. Reid is the unofficial winner as of this writing, but the margin was a mere 459 votes.

    N.J. 12th District: This district added some Democratic areas following the redistricting of 1990, but it was still solidly Republican. And I know many moderate Republicans grumbled when anti-abortion conservative Mike Pappas (R) won the seat in 1996 following a hard-fought GOP primary. But I confess this race was not on my radar screen at all this year – despite the fact that impeachment remained an unpopular cause, and that Democrat Rush Holt ran effective ads focusing on Pappas's little ditty on the House floor that praised Kenneth Starr. But this is, after all, a district that hadn't elected a Democrat since 1976. Holt's upset victory changed that.

    N.M. Governor: Gov. Gary Johnson (R) owed his victory in 1994 to the candidacy of the Green Party nominee. But there was no Green Party nominee this time, and Johnson had spent his term ensconced in a nonstop confrontation with the Democratic legislature. With polls showing him trailing for much of the year, predicting former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez (D) didn't seem to be a difficult guess. But Johnson ran a very aggressive campaign that focused on Chavez's tenure as mayor, and won a surprise second-term victory.

    N.Y. Senate: It was remarkable to watch how Sen. Al D'Amato's (R) use of the word "putzhead" became so crucial here, but in a way he got his just desserts. Many credit D'Amato's win in 1992 to Democratic opponent Robert Abrams' calling D'Amato a "fascist," which a "wounded" D'Amato milked for all it was worth, claiming it was an anti-Italian slur. Still, for the life of me, I don't know why D'Amato focused on such trivial issues as Democrat Charles Schumer's attendance record. And when Hillary Rodham Clinton came into New York and blasted D'Amato as a "Jesse Helms clone," I never understood why D'Amato didn't respond by reminding voters of the First Lady's support for a Palestinean state – a position not wildly popular in New York City. But D'Amato never faced an opponent like Schumer who was equally willing to get in the gutter, or equally willing to do and spend whatever was necessary to win.

    Ore. 1st District: This seat had been voting Democratic since the Watergate year of 1974, but Republicans have been coming increasingly closer in recent elections. With Rep. Elizabeth Furse (D) giving it up after some nail-biting contests, I thought the voters would look kindly towards Molly Bordonaro, a conservative who had she won would have become the youngest woman in the House. But Democrat David Wu effectively pointed out some key Bordonaro flip-flops, and won the seat.

    Pa. 10th District: I saw Patrick Casey as the only Democrat who could end the GOP's 38-year control of the district. Casey, son of former governor Robert Casey, fit the district with his pro-union and anti-abortion views. He was also considerably younger than Republican nominee Donald Sherwood. But Sherwood held on to win.

    Pa. 13th District: Here's how it looked to me. If you were going to beat Rep. Jon Fox (R), it would have happened in 1996, with Bill Clinton on the ballot. Fox narrowly held on that year, defeating Democrat Joe Hoeffel by 84 votes. This year there was no Clinton on the ballot – instead, there were popular Gov. Tom Ridge and Sen. Arlen Specter, two Republicans headed towards reelection landslides. Shouldn't that have helped Fox? Well, Ridge and Specter did win big, but Fox – distrusted by both sides of the abortion question – fell to Hoeffel in their rematch. It was Hoeffel's fourth run for the seat.

    S.C. Governor: It was clear that Republican Gov. David Beasley had things to worry about. There was the well-financed opposition of the video poker industry. There was a Christian conservative electorate dismayed over his attempt to remove the Confederate flag, as well as rumors of an affair he had with his former press secretary. So maybe Beasley was in for a tough fight. But nobody had ever heard of Democrat Jim Hodges, and besides, this was South Carolina, one of the most Republican states in the South. No mind. Hodges won.

    Wash. 1st District: There was no doubt that Rep. Rick White (R) was in a tough battle for reelection. But when he topped the 50 percent mark in the September open primary against former representative Jay Inslee (D) and a conservative third-party candidate, when all candidates run together on the same ballot, I thought the worst was over for him. But Inslee adeptly used White's vote in favor of the Clinton impeachment inquiry to topple White by a fairly comfortable margin.

    Wis. 1st District: Here's the equation: Lydia Spottswood (D) narrowly loses the 1996 election to Rep. Mark Neumann (R). Neumann gives up the seat in 1998 to run for the Senate. The seat had been in Democratic hands since 1971, until Neumann narrowly took it in 1994. Spottswood runs again. Her opponent is Paul Ryan, who is but 28 years of age and only a recent resident of the district. So she wins, right? Wrong. What I saw as a Democratic pickup was won, and won big, by Ryan.

    By the way, congratulations to Tom Foley (no, not that Tom Foley) of Arlington, Va., and Graham Crowe, of Albany, Calif., who tied in the official Political Junkie Election Pool. Both answered 12 out of 14 key races correctly. In the tiebreaker, Foley had the correct number on the Senate, while Crowe showed a Democratic pickup of two seats in the House. They each win some old campaign buttons from the renowned Ken Rudin collection. Dan Weiner of Providence, R.I., also correctly picked 12 out of 14, but he (gasp!) failed to offer House or Senate predictions. No prize for Dan.

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

    Ken Rudin is the political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline. He is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin

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