Hot race for Livingston's Louisiana House seat
Sen. Feinstein not proving to be much of a re-election target
By Stuart Rothenberg
April 13, 1999
WASHINGTON (April 13) -- With the May 1 special election in Louisiana's 1st District -- to fill the seat vacated by Republican Bob Livingston -- less than three weeks away, all eyes are on this suburban New Orleans congressional district.
Will former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke surprise most handicappers and finish either first or second, thereby making the runoff? Will the lone credible Democrat in the race, state Rep. Bill Strain, somehow sneak into the runoff? Will former congressman/former governor David Treen, who began as the best known candidate in the race but hasn't been in office since voters unceremoniously rejected his gubernatorial reelection bid in 1983, hang on to finish first or second?
The 1st C.D. is located directly north of New Orleans. Its population is 85 percent white, and it is easily the strongest GOP district in the state. Republican Bob Dole drew 56 percent of the vote in the 1996 presidential race, the same percentage that George Bush (R) attracted four years earlier.
The top tier of candidates in the race includes former governor Treen, state Rep. David Vitter, and ophthalmologist Monica Monica. Duke, Strain and New Orleans Zephyrs (a minor league baseball team) owner Robert Couhig are also worth watching, while three also-rans round out the field.
Polling showed Treen, 70, in the lead initially, but the one-time congressman seems to have run into trouble. Recent surveys conducted by some of the candidates suggest that Treen is either barely holding onto first place or has slipped into second. The big question is whether he could slide further, into third, thereby missing the runoff.
Treen, who finally began airing TV spots on March 25, is in so much trouble that Livingston has been forced to endorse him. A few weeks ago, the congressman bristled at the suggestion that he favored Treen and might publicly endorse him.
Monica and Vitter have been advertising on TV weeks, and the ophthalmologist could benefit from TV ads paid for by Americana for Limited Terms that feature former New Orleans city council president Peggy Wilson (R) praising Monica for agreeing to limit herself to three terms in the House of Representatives. Term limits activists have been particularly critical of Vitter, 37, who has refused to take a self-limitation pledge. Cong. John Cooksey (R-Louisiana 5) has endorsed Monica.
Duke continues to be the focus of considerable national attention. A former state representative, KKK grand wizard and gubernatorial hopeful, he has trailed in all of the recent polls. Local observers doubt that he'll be a factor, but some Republicans are nervous about a possible "hidden" Duke vote, and there has been talk about GOP insiders possibly gravitating behind a single hopeful to guarantee that Duke doesn't make the runoff.
The Republicans should hold this seat, though they are nervous about Duke and uncertain about the runoff. And that's enough reason to keep watching this race.
Few U.S. Senate candidates could be held to 47 percent in their last race and avoid being a top target six years later. But that's exactly the situation facing California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein, 65, spent $14.4 million to turn back a challenge by Republican Michael Huffington (who spent almost $30 million) in 1994, barely winning by 166,000 votes out of 8 million votes cast. Her victory against all that money and in such a good Republican year, combined with her early criticism of President Bill Clinton's lying to Congress and to the American public, make her a difficult target.
With the cost of campaigning statewide in California almost prohibitive, the GOP would need a challenger with statewide name identification or great personal wealth. At the moment, nobody who fits that bill is on the horizon.
While names like millionaire businessman Darrell Issa (who lost the GOP Senate primary in 1998), Cong. David Dreier, Cong. Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush still receive mention, two Republicans are looking closely at the race.
San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn has announced that he has formed an exploratory committee. A former Marine and member of the Escondido Union High School District Board, Horn, 56, has already criticized the Clinton Administration's dealings with China, as well as its handling of the U.S. armed forces.
Also considering the race is 27th C.D. Cong. Jim Rogan. Rogan, 42, made a name for himself as a member of the House Judiciary Committee and as a House manager of the Senate trial of Clinton.
Rogan, who is serving his second term in the House, represents a congressional district that is becoming increasingly Democratic, and he has already drawn a strong challenger for 2000. Given the uncertainty of his own re-election prospects, it would make sense for Rogan to challenge Feinstein, thereby building up statewide name identification for a future race.
A former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, state legislator and Democrat, Rogan would be a top Democratic target wherever he runs because of his role in the Clinton impeachment. But he is bright, articulate, has an interesting background -- his mother was on welfare and he was once named as the best member of the California Assembly -- and could count on strong support from anti-Clinton conservatives.
Feinstein certainly looks like a lock for reelection, but the possibility that she might be chosen as the Democratic candidate for vice president adds to the importance of the Republicans recruiting a credible candidate against her. For it's possible that the GOP Senate nominee might ultimately being running against someone other than Feinstein.
Tuesday, April 13, 1999
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