Dem, GOP Tests In Connecticut, Arizona
By Stuart Rothenberg
Connecticut 5 After surviving two very tough races in 1992 and 1994, Gary Franks should have been able to hold onto Connecticut's 5th Congressional District last year. Sure, the national environment wasn't good for Republicans, but Franks, one of only two black Republicans in the House of Representatives, represented a district that once sent Gov. John Rowland (R) to Congress and generally likes strong Republican candidates.
But Franks never adequately answered charges that he was a slumlord, and his congressional office suffered from turnover and turmoil. Moreover, he never became much of a player on Capitol Hill, in spite of the fact the GOP leaders were looking for a black Republican to help with the party's message. (Oklahoma 4th C.D. Republican J.C. Watts, elected four years after Franks, ultimately took over that role, but the Connecticut representative had the first shot at it.)
Democrat Jim Maloney, a Democratic state senator from normally Republican Danbury, defeated Franks last year after drawing 45 percent two years earlier. Although he represented a more upscale legislative district, Maloney had blue-collar appeal, making him a credible Democrat in Waterbury, a working-class town that nevertheless likes GOP candidates.
Connecticut Republicans believe that they have a good shot at regaining the district next year, and a number of local officeholders are either eyeing the race or openly talking about their imminent candidacies.
State Sen. Tim Upson of Waterbury probably starts off as the favorite. He has made no secret of his intention to run for the GOP nomination, and he has earned a reputation as an able and likable legislator. But he can't assume he'll be the nominee, especially if two other Waterbury-area Republicans enter the contest. State Sen. Stephen Somma and Waterbury mayor Phil Giordano are also looking at it, and if at least one of them jumps into the race for the nomination, they could divide the Waterbury vote, leaving an opening for state Sen. Mark Neilsen. Neilsen, who holds the same state Senate district that Maloney once held, has left his law firm to focus on the state Senate in preparation for a congressional bid. He is more focused on issues -- and ideology -- than Upson. (Former state representative Alan Schlesinger, now the mayor of Derby, is also interested in the race but is regarded as a much longer shot for the nomination.)
If Democrats have any hope of regaining a majority in the House, they'll have to keep their incumbent losses to near zero, so Connecticut 5 could become a test case of the Democrats' ability to retain all their incumbents.
Arizona 6 Organized labor tried to make Republican J.D. Hayworth the poster child for Republican extremism last year. But the freshman conservative from Arizona's 6th Congressional District turned back the attacks from both the AFL-CIO and from Democratic challenger Steve Owens, winning reelection by a mere 2,474 votes (47.6 percent to 46.6 percent).
But Owens, a former Democratic state party chairman, knows he came within an eyelash of defeating Hayworth, a former television sportscaster with a blustery, bombastic style, and he has already decided to take on the conservative congressman again next year.
Owens, who is originally from Tennessee and is an old friend of Vice President Al Gore, positions himself as a moderate and portrays Hayworth as too extreme. The Democratic hopeful complains that Hayworth leveled unsubstantiated charges late in the campaign, and Owens believes that he can increase his name recognition and familiarity with the voters, erasing any fears that they may have about him.
But Hayworth will also have a chance to overcome some of the negatives he picked up during 1995 and 1996, as well as during the last campaign. And the national environment, which helped Democrat Bill Clinton carry the state for his party for the first time since 1948, probably can't be as bad for Republicans next year as it was in 1996.
Hayworth clearly ducked a bullet in 1996, but Owens intends to shoot another one at him next year. The major question is whether Hayworth again proves to be his own worst enemy or whether he learned how to use his advantages of incumbency. Owens will run another strong race next year, and any Republican who assumed Hayworth will breeze to victory in '98 just because he won last year isn't facing the realities of Arizona's 6th C.D.
Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
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