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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Northern New Mexico House Race Could Be Hot

And in Kentucky, Dems see Rep. Northrup as a target

By Stuart Rothenberg

When Bill Redmond (R) won a special election last year to fill the seat of former congressman Bill Richardson (D), who became the United States' representative to the United Nations, most Republicans, Democrats and political pundits called the Republican's victory a fluke and predicted that Democrats would regain the seat in 1998.

 1998 Senate Ratings

But while Redmond still faces an uphill battle to retain his seat in November, private GOP polling suggests that reports of the congressman's political demise are a bit premature.

Redmond, a businessman and minister, ran against Richardson in 1996, drawing less than a third of the vote. But Redmond was picked by his party to run in the May '97 special election, and through a combination of events -- a divided Democratic Party, a controversial Democratic nominee (state corporation commissioner Eric Serna), a low turnout, and the candidacy of a strong Green Party candidate -- he pulled the upset.

Redmond is an outspoken conservative from a Democratic district. The 3rd C.D. gave Bill Clinton 53 percent of the vote in 1996, a couple of points better than he did in 1992. Hispanics account for about 35 percent of the district's population.

Democratic insiders expect to regain the seat by putting up a stronger candidate, and many of them hope it will be New Mexico Attorney General Tom Udall. Udall, who comes from a successful Arizona political family that includes his father, Stewart Udall, and his uncle, Mo Udall, faces a field that includes special election loser Serna, state Rep. Roman Maes and farmer Carol Cloer.

Ethnicity could be a considerable factor in the Democratic primary, since Hispanic voters constitute a large percentage of the party's electorate. That has party insiders worried that they could be saddled again with Serna, who is widely regarded as a weak candidate, especially compared with Udall.

The wild card in November could again be the Green Party. Carol Miller, their special election nominee, apparently wants to run again this year, but Democratic operatives hope that the Greens will back the Democratic nominee, particularly if it is Udall.

GOP insiders say that their polling shows the two parties are much more evenly matched than most assume, and they say that voters have a very favorable view of the congressman.

Incumbents should do well in November, but Redmond probably remains the single most vulnerable Republican to a Democratic opponent. That's enough reason to keep this race on the radar screen.

Dems target Rep. Northrup

Kentucky 3 Freshman Anne Northup did something only a couple of other Republicans did in 1996 -- defeat an incumbent Democratic member of the House of Representatives. Now, the Democrats want to return the favor, hoping that they've recruited a strong opponent who can defeat the well-funded Northup later this year.

Located in the north central part of the state, Kentucky 3 encompasses most of Jefferson County, including the important city of Louisville and its suburbs. Blacks account for 30 percent of the population of Louisville, which also has a large Catholic community.

The district voted for Bill Clinton over George Bush in 1992 and for the president over Bob Dole four years later. But it is regarded as politically competitive.

A number of big-name Democrats were wooed by national party operatives, but all of them decided against entering the race. Only Kentucky Commission on Women director Virginia Woodward seemed interested in challenging Northup, but party insiders and women's groups were restrained in their enthusiasm for her candidacy.

Woodward narrowly lost a 1994 state Senate bid and was then appointed by the governor to serve as executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women. At the end of December, she had raised just over $100,000.

Shortly before the filing deadline, former state attorney general Chris Gorman entered the Democratic race. Backed by many of the state's Democratic bigwigs, Gorman is widely regarded as more conservative than Woodward. For example, the former state attorney general is pro-life, while Woodward is pro-choice and opposes a ban on partial birth abortions.

Gorman's insider contacts, expected ability to raise money and previous statewide electoral record suggests that he is a clear favorite for the Democratic nod. But Woodward's early start, including money in the bank, means she can't be ignored.

Regardless of which Democrat wins the nomination, he or she will have problems against Northup, a former state legislator. The Republican spent almost $1.2 million last election, and she had more than $565,000 in the bank at the end of 1997.

Pro-life and anti-tax, Northup has generally been in tune with the GOP agenda. But she has also been a vocal critic of the tobacco industry and has commented about suggestions that the president's relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky is a private matter, arguing that Mr. Clinton's actions took place "in the workplace."

Democrats definitely see Northup as a target, and they cite the district as an example of a recruiting success. But it isn't clear that either Gorman or Woodward can take back the seat this year. Look for national Democratic forces to lend a hand.

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Tuesday March 3, 1998

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