||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
A Big Battle Over Northern California's 3rd District
In New York, Gov. Pataki looks more secure than ever
By Stuart Rothenberg
The retirement of veteran Democrat Vic Fazio opens up a seat Republicans have been eyeing for years. But the prospects of a bitter, ideological primary between moderate Doug Ose and conservative Barbara Alby gives Democrats a reason to hope that they can retain this seat in November. And they'll need some help, given the Republican tilt of the 3rd district, which stretches north and west from Sacramento.
Alby, who was abused as a child and became a welfare mother, was elected to the California state Assembly in 1993. An outspoken conservative, she is pro-life, favors repeal of the assault weapons ban and is ardently anti-tax. She has lined up support from a number of conservative California congressmen, including Richard Pombo (R-CA 11) and John Doolittle (R-CA 4), and she is generally regarded as the front-runner.
But while Alby has a political base and name recognition, she faces a major challenge from Ose, a real estate developer. Ose, who says that he has already committed $500,000 to the race and is raising money as well, has never run for office but has raised money for GOP candidates in the past. He expects the primary to cost $1 million.
Ose clearly dislikes Alby's approach to politics, and he insists he is far more electable in November than she would be. He regards her as divisive and overly concerned with social issues. He also complains she has opposed other GOP officeholders because they were not sufficiently ideologically pure.
Unlike Alby, Ose is pro-choice (though he opposes federal funding). While he supports giving the president fast track trade authority, Alby is uncertain about giving that authority to Bill Clinton. And while he says that he "supports the 2nd Amendment," he appears much less conservative than Alby on gun control.
Alby and Ose seem not to like each other, and it is hard to imagine them running delicate, tentative campaigns. (A third Republican in the race, '94 and '96 primary loser Charles Schaupp, isn't expected to be a serious factor.)
The likely GOP slugfest could help the prospects of attorney Sandra Dunn, the favorite of party insiders for the Democratic nomination. She has already been endorsed by outgoing congressman Fazio and a number of other local Democratic officials.
A Wyoming native who worked in Washington, D.C., for a GOP senator, Dunn is an attorney who specializes in water issues. She is unproven as a campaigner, and although she has no legislative record to defend, her views on issues appear to be similar to Fazio's.
This district should give the Republicans an edge, especially since the Democrats have recruited an untested political unknown. But the Republicans could easily tear themselves apart, as they did in the special election for Walter Capps's seat, making this district worth plenty of attention both in the June primary and, potentially, in November.
Pataki looks more secure than ever
New York Governor Democratic chances of knocking off incumbent GOP governor George Pataki appear to be growing even dimmer as party activists fight among themselves about which one of them should take on the popular governor.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan apparently is about to endorse New York City Council speaker Peter Vallone for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, while former state energy and transportation commissioner James Larocca recently won an upstate straw vote. The alleged front-runner in the race for the nomination, at least according to polls, is Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross, who switched parties and hopes to use her husband's bank account to win the Democratic nomination and challenge Pataki, with whom she has had a major falling out.
Ross has been expected to run well upstate, so her showing in the straw poll was a disappointment. Unless she gets the votes of one-quarter of the delegates to the state convention in May, she will have to spend resources to get on the primary ballot by collecting signatures.
Also in the race are Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and former state Urban Development Corporation chairman Richard Kahan, who has begun to air TV commercials upstate criticizing Ross and reminding primary voters that she was a Republican.
Polls continue to show Pataki with high job approval ratings -- 70 percent in a mid-February Quinnipiac College poll -- and easily beating any of his potential Democratic opponents. A mid-February Marist College poll, for example, had the governor hammering Ross 61-24 percent, while he beat Vallone 60-20 percent. His leads over other Democratic hopefuls were even larger.
The Democrats appear to be headed toward a mid-September primary, while Pataki coasts to November, hoarding his money and sitting on high job approval numbers. It's hard to see how the eventual Democratic nominee will be in any shape to take on the governor. New York State isn't exactly a Republican bastion, but Pataki looks increasingly secure in Albany.