November Optimism in Both Parties
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 1998; Page A13
With the completion of virtually all the primaries, Republicans and Democrats have had equal success in fielding the House and Senate candidates they wanted for the fall election.
But, in the governor's mansions Democrats head into November in wounded condition.
In the closely watched primaries in nine states on Tuesday, Democrats emerged with what party officials consider their strongest nominees for Senate in New York, Rep. Charles E. Schumer, and for governor in Minnesota, state Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey, son of the former vice president.
Republicans, in contrast, chose Rep. Linda A. Smith (R-Wash.), a controversial social conservative with Christian right backing, over a more moderate centrist to run against vulnerable Sen. Patty Murray (D). Mainstream Washington state Republicans view Smith as a weak general election candidate, while conservatives strongly back her.
In the state's unusual primary allowing voters to choose among all candidates of all parties running for a given office, Murray decisively outpolled Smith, winning more than Smith and her GOP challenger, prosecutor Christopher Bayley, combined. Murray captured 48 percent compared with 31 percent for Smith and 14 percent for Bayley.
In a key Washington House race, Democratic challenger Jay Inslee ran less than 3,000 votes behind Rep. Rick A. White (R) in the state's open primary system, and White was kept below 50 percent. Republican officials concede that White faces a tough battle in November.
In the seat being vacated by Smith, both Democrats and Republicans said they see positive signs in the results. Democrats noted that their candidate, Brian Baird, got 48 percent, while the GOP victor, Don Benton, got just 22 percent of the total. The GOP has countered that Baird, who had no Democratic opponents, was kept under 50 percent, while the four GOP candidates garnered 52 percent of the vote.
While overall the Democrats got a slight edge Tuesday, the party's prospects in the 36 crucial battles for governor are not good.
In two key swing states, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, Democrats have fielded marginal candidates -- John Jay Hooker, who campaigns in a stove-pipe hat, to run against Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist (R), and unknown and unfunded state Rep. Ivan Itkin to battle Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R). Clinton carried both states in 1992 and 1996.
The Democrats' weakness in these two important states in presidential contests, one of which is the home of Vice President Gore, pale in comparison with the situation in Michigan, a state carried twice by Clinton.
There, Democrats nominated Geoffrey Fieger, Jack Kevorkian's attorney and a controversial figure in his own right. A Detroit News poll published earlier this week shows Gov. John Engler (R) ahead of Fieger by 61 percent to 20 percent, and Democrats are worried that animosity toward Fieger could spread to other Democratic candidates, including Reps. Sander Levin and David E. Bonior, the House minority whip.
In Illinois, another state important to Democratic Electoral College strategies in 2000, Democrat Glenn Poshard, who is antiabortion and pro-gun, is running well behind Republican George Ryan.
Two Democratic bright spots in gubernatorial recruiting are California, where Lt. Gov. Gray Davis has been holding a lead over Attorney General Dan Lungren (R), and Alabama, where Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman has an even chance of ousting Gov. Fob James (R).
A solid majority of seven of 11 Democratic-held governorships up for election this year are in the tossup, lean-Republican or likely-Republican categories, the Cook Newsletter said. Of the 24 GOP governorships, Republicans are favored to keep 18, six fall into the tossup category, and none even lean toward the Democrats. One state, Maine, is governed by an independent, Angus King, who is expected to be reelected.
On the Senate side, Republicans in a number of states were unable to recruit first-tier candidates. But the vulnerabilities of such Democratic incumbents as Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.) and Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.) have made respective GOP challengers state Treasurer Matt Fong, Rep. Bob Inglis and state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald competitive.
But, while they weren't the party's first choice, businessman Michael Coles (Ga.), Dottie Lamm (Colo.) and lawyer John Edwards (N.C.) have shots at defeating GOP Sens. Paul Coverdell (Ga.), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.) and Lauch Faircloth (N.C.). It is in these close contests that the Lewinsky scandal could make the difference between victory or defeat for the party's candidates.
The House primary fights produced successes and failures on both sides of the aisle.
Perhaps the most striking Democratic success was to avoid in many districts the bitter ideological battles that have plagued the party in the past.
Democrats point to their success in recruiting strong centrist candidates in such places as Mississippi with Ronnie Shows; northern Kentucky with Ken Lucas; Pennsylvania with Pat Casey; Las Vegas with Shelley Berkley; and Northern California with Mike Thompson.
"As far as having the right people in the right places, things have broken very well for us," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. The problem, he added, referring to the president's troubles, "is that we don't know what is going to happen in the next six weeks."
Republicans, in turn, cite two open Democratic-held seats in California where GOP moderates Doug Ose and Steven Kuykendall defeated conservatives with political baggage in primaries; and an open seat in Wisconsin, where a moderate female, Josephine Musser, won the nomination in the Madison-based district.
"We are in an environment now where there are more opportunities than anyone thought possible six months ago," said Mary Crawford, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
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