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  •   In Tuesday's Vote, Bright Spots for Both Parties

    Gov. Fob James (R)
    Incumbent Gov. Fob James must make it through a June 30 runoff to defend his governorship against Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman (D). (AP)
    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 4, 1998; Page A10

    As the smoke cleared yesterday from primary elections in eight states, Republicans and Democrats battling for the tiniest advantage emerged in a virtual standoff in the fight for control of the House.

    With nominations up for grabs in 86 House districts, the Tuesday primaries – crucial to the future of the GOP's fragile 11-seat majority – produced two pluses for each party, with each improving prospects of picking up opposition-held seats in two districts.

    In the battle for control of governors' mansions, Alabama Gov. Fob James Jr., an outspoken Christian right leader, has been forced into a runoff with a moderate, businessman Winton Blount. The costly and divisive runoff contest to pick a Republican nominee on June 30 sharply improves the prospects of Democratic nominee Don Siegelman, the state's lieutenant governor.

    Winton Blount
    Businessman Winton Blount cast his ballot in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday. (AP)
    The rhetoric between Blount and James has already escalated to the point where Blount declared that Alabama does not need a governor "dancing around a stage like a monkey," after James walked like a monkey to ridicule a school textbook on evolution. James countered: "If I dance like a monkey, then he must dance like a fat monkey. . . . I'm a monkey that's in good shape. I'm not a fat monkey." James yesterday accepted with pride his son's designation of him as a "God-fearing redneck."

    James, a former Democrat turned Republican, saw his substantial lead over Blount steadily erode, and on Tuesday, he got 48 percent to Blount's 41 percent. Siegelman, in the meantime, continued to campaign on his pledge to create a lottery. "I'm the only candidate who favors a lottery for education," Siegelman said. "If this state is going to change, we have to change our educational system forever."

    Iowa Democrats picked state Sen. Tom Vilsack, who had strong labor backing, over former state Supreme Court judge Mark McCormick to run for governor against former House member Jim Ross Lightfoot (R), who goes into the race as the favored candidate.

    New Mexico currently offers the Democrats one of their best chances of picking up a governorship. As expected, the party nominated former Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez to run against troubled Republican incumbent Gary E. Johnson. Republicans readily acknowledge in private conversations that Johnson is vulnerable and that, as one said, he has only recently "started to get his act together."

    The most unexpected favorable development for the Democrats was the solid victory of Ronnie Shows, a transportation commissioner, in the Jackson, Miss., district of retiring Rep. Mike Parker (R).

    By winning 54 percent over two primary opponents, Shows avoided a runoff. The nine-person Republican field, in contrast, was severely divided. The June 23 GOP runoff will be between attorney Delbert Hosemann, who got 22 percent in the primary, and banker Phil Davis.

    The second outcome favoring the Democratic effort to win GOP-held House seats was in New Mexico, where Attorney General Tom Udall beat Eric Serna. Serna lost a 1997 special election to Bill Redmond (R).

    The GOP countered by picking moderates who favor abortion rights in two Republican-leaning California districts currently held by retiring Democratic Reps. Jane Harman and Vic Fazio. The selection of GOP nominees Doug Ose, a businessman, and Assemblyman Steven Kuykendall makes the Republican Party the favorite to beat Democratic nominees Sandie Dunn, an attorney, and businesswoman Janice Hahn.

    In the inch-by-inch battle for control of the House, where both sides turn every small development into a cataclysmic event, the following caught the eyes of aficionados:

    In the Alabama district currently held by Robert Aderholt (R), who won in 1996 with only 50 percent, Democrats picked attorney Don Bevill, son of former representative Tom Bevill (D), who held the seat for 30 years. Democrats claim the Bevill selection gives them a shot at taking the seat.

    To the unrepressed glee of Democrats, former representative Robert K. Dornan (R) won the nomination to take on freshman Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who upset Dornan in 1996. Since then, Dornan's insistent claims of illegal voting in 1996 have made him a potent example for Democrats seeking to portray the GOP as anti-Hispanic.

    Republicans avoided a major setback when voters rejected the bid by Rep. Jay Kim (R-Calif.), who has been convicted of campaign finance violations, to win renomination. The selection of Kim would have given Democrats a good shot at taking the district, which is now expected to remain in GOP hands.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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