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California Senate Race Heats Up
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 3, 1999

Question: I'm curious about the status of the Y2K California Senate race. Who is running for the GOP nomination? If Sen. Dianne Feinstein takes a VP slot with either Gore or Bradley, is there a solid candidate in the wings to replace her? – James Moore, Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

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The last Democratic senator from Calif. to be defeated was John Tunney in 1976. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: What portended to be a snoozer of a race now has at least the potential to become interesting. Feinstein has long been seen as nearly invincible – a status reflected by the prospective Republican challengers' lack of star power. Until two months ago, the GOP field consisted of state Sen. Ray Haynes, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn and banking consultant J.P. Gough – not exactly household names. Since then, more viable candidates have gotten into the race. On Oct. 5, millionaire software entrepreneur Ron Unz declared his candidacy. Unz, an unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial primary hopeful in 1994, is widely known around the state for writing and bankrolling California's Proposition 227, which passed overwhelmingly last year. An anti-abortion conservative, Unz said he would focus on campaign finance reform as well as push for federal legislation that would require all schoolchildren to be taught in English.

Next came Rep. Tom Campbell, one of the more liberal Republicans in the House, who hails from Silicon Valley. Campbell, a proponent of abortion rights and strong gun control, surprised his Democratic-leaning constituents by voting to impeach President Clinton last year. He had insisted he would seek reelection to his congressional seat; like Unz, he has run statewide before, narrowly losing the GOP Senate nomination in 1992.

Campbell has become the GOP front-runner, as Unz unexpectedly dropped out of the race this week, saying he probably couldn't defeat Feinstein and would be better off saving his money for his ballot-initiative efforts. Feinstein still has to be the general-election favorite. Since squeaking past Michael Huffington in 1994, she has vowed not to be caught by surprise in 2000; in fact, her popularity in the state has skyrocketed since her last campaign, including among Republicans. Meanwhile, the state GOP is in disarray, still smarting over last year's loss of the governorship it had controlled for 16 consecutive years, and still divided over issues like immigration.

A recent Research 2000 poll showed Feinstein leading Campbell 57 to 13 percent, with the other Republicans trailing far behind in single digits.

On the VP question, even if she is selected to fill the Democratic national ticket, Feinstein could still seek reelection to the Senate at the same time. If the Democrats were to retain the White House in 2000, Gov. Gray Davis (D) would name her Senate successor. However, any real discussion of DiFi for Veep would have to wait for the results of the March 7 open primary, in which all candidates run on the same ballot, regardless of party. If the numbers showed her with just a nominal lead over Campbell, Democrats might think twice before putting her on the national ticket.

Question: How do you rate the possible contest between Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.)? – Matt Swetnam, Las Vegas, Nev.

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Joe Ford's loss in the Memphis mayoral race may have hurt nephew Harold Jr.'s chances for a Senate run. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: When this question came up in the Dec. 23, 1998, column, I wrote that while some Democrats saw Ford as a "dream candidate ... the guess here is that he will stay in the House a bit longer before looking to make a statewide bid." Nothing has happened since to change that assumption. Ford has spent the past several months on a Hillary-esque "listening tour" of Tennessee, and his fellow Democrats have been telling him they would love for him to run. But Sen. Frist's war chest dwarfs Ford's, and a late October Mason-Dixon poll showed Frist up by 32 points. Earlier that month, the Ford family, a longtime political power in Memphis, backed Harold's uncle Joe, the Memphis city council president, for mayor against incumbent Willie Herenton; Herenton, like Ford, is African-American.

Herenton won a surprisingly easy (46-25 percent) victory in a campaign that was expected to be close. The results handed the Ford family a rare political defeat and is thought to have hurt Harold Ford's Senate chances, especially among the monied power brokers in Memphis. Tennessee is only 16 percent black, and many observers insist that Ford, at 29 the youngest member of the House, still needs some seasoning before he runs statewide.

By the way, there is an excellent new book out on Volunteer State politics entitled, appropriately, Tennessee Government and Politics (Vanderbilt University Press). Edited by John R. Vile and Mark Byrnes, the book is a superb, authoritative compilation of state political history, a must for devotees of Southern campaigns. One of the chapters describes in great detail the origins of African-American political power in the state, including the rise of Herenton and the Fords in Memphis.

Question: How many former senators are still living and which of them is the oldest? – Kenneth Black, Tishomingo, Okla.

Answer: There are 131 living ex-senators. The oldest is Mike Mansfield, the Montana Democrat, who served as Senate majority leader (1961-77) longer than anyone else in history. He was born (in Manhattan!) on March 16, 1903, making him 96 years old – nine months older than Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who still serves.

Question: Could Al Gore name Bill Clinton as his running mate? This way Gore could take a leave of absence or resign from office and have Clinton take over again. – Frank J. Guerrieri Jr., Youngstown, Ohio

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Such a ticket would be unconstitutional. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: No. The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution states that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-president of the United States." By January of 2001, President Clinton will have served two terms, the limit as decreed by the Twenty-Second Amendment. Since he would thus be ineligible to serve again as president, he would be ineligible to serve as vice president as well.


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 1999 Ken Rudin


 
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