Democrats Target 30 Congressional Seats in Effort to Retake House
By Gebe Martinez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 30) Buoyed by the low popularity ratings of Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and an already aggressive campaign to fill their war chest, Democrats on Thursday laid out their battle plan to end the GOP's four-year control of the House.
Pointing to the 1996 election results, in which 12 of the 18 tightest races were won by Republicans by less than a 2-point margin, leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claimed Republicans are more vulnerable now than they were two years ago.
Looking ahead to the 1998 congressional elections, the Democrats said they will target 25 "marginal" Republican-held districts, as well as four others where Republicans have given up their seats.
While they outlined a strategy to fight each race on a district-by-district basis instead of using a broad-themed approach, Democrats made it clear that Gingrich would be their favorite target, as he was in 1996.
"If one thing has remained constant in the last two years, Newt Gingrich's negatives have remained high. And as long as his negatives are high, his name will be mentioned," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Tex., chairman of the campaign committee.
Republicans, who will unveil next month their own list of "hot" races, downplayed the Democratic plan and the attack of Gingrich.
"They tried that in New York, and it hasn't worked," said Mindy Tucker, with the National Republican Congressional Committee. She was referring to the tight race in a special election to be held Tuesday for the congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y.
The high-monied, personality-driven contest between Democratic Assembly member Eric Vitaliano and Republican New York City Council member Vito Fossella is being fought as hard as a street fight. However, the GOP contends Fossella is pulling into the lead.
House Republicans and their national party have pumped more than $1 million into Fossella's coffers, prompting Frost to conclude: "They obviously are frightened to death that they could lose a district that is historically Republican...To me, that's a sign of weakness on their part."
Tucker, the Republican spokeswoman, argued the GOP money in the final weeks of the campaign, demonstrates "we are willing to do whatever we can to keep" the seat and may signal the Democrats' inability to raise enough money for their candidates.
The Federal Election Commission recently reported that through the first half of this year, the 227 Republicans in the House had raised $30.8 million, while 207 Democrats had taken in $22.1 million.
But Frost maintained the House Democrats' campaign operation is better positioned financially than in 1996. Through the first nine months of this election cycle, the party raised $10.1 million compared to $7.6 million for the same period two years ago. Also, President Clinton and Vice President Gore already have scheduled three major fundraisers for the congressional campaigns between now and mid-December.
The crossfire is a biennial rite of passage, in which both sides bring out charts, maps, statistics and their "challenger" candidates who will be counted on to increase each party's numbers in the House of Representatives.
Among the five Democratic candidates who were introduced to the news media on Thursday at Democratic National headquarters, or through satellite television, were two who lost in the tightest races of 1996: Joseph M. Hoeffel, who lost to Rep. Jon D. Fox, R-Pa., by 84 votes, and Brian Baird, who fell 887 votes short of unseating Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash.
The campaign leaders said that for the first time in a decade, sitting Republicans are more "vulnerable" than Democrats, based on 1996 election results.
"That position, combined with the sour taste their leadership has given the American public, opens the door wide for Democrats to reclaim control of the House," said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.
But Republicans argued the Democrats are lagging in candidate recruitment and have yet to find candidates for eight congressional districts where Republican freshmen won by less than 52 percent of the vote.
"They can target all they want. But if they don't have candidates, it's not going to do them any good," Tucker responded.
© Copyright 1997 LEGI-SLATE News Service