||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight congressional races of the week
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As part of an ongoing series on key House and Senate races, CNN political analyst Stuart Rothenberg this week examines races in Delaware and Mississippi, states where Democrats may be making in-roads as they mount their November challenge to wrest control of Congress from Republican hands.
The battle between Delaware's two political giants, two-term Democratic Gov. Tom Carper and Republican U.S. Sen. William Roth, is still taking shape, but the early soundings have to make the Republicans worried about losing this Senate seat.
The competing candidates start off evenly matched. Both are popular and well known, both easily won reelection, both will have veteran campaign teams, and both will be well-funded.
Carper, 53, won election as state treasurer in 1976. He served in that post until his election to Congress in 1982. In 1992, Carper and then-governor Mike Castle (R) traded jobs.
Elected easily to the governorship in 1992, and coasting to re-election four years later, Carper has tried to position himself as a centrist. But he has been slow getting his campaign off the ground, preferring, instead, to build his challenge to Roth deliberately.
Incumbent Roth, who will turn 79 in July, has been the longest-serving statewide elected official in Delaware history.
He was the state's GOP chairman in the early 1960s, and in 1966 was elected to Congress. Roth was re-elected in 1968, and he won an open Senate seat two years later. He has had a number of competitive challenges since then, but he has never won with less than 55 percent of the vote.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee since 1995, Roth helped develop Republican tax policies, including the Individualized Retirement Accounts known as "Roth IRAs." In recent years, he has championed reform of the Internal Revenue Service.
Roth is facing the age issue, and last fall had to deny at least two news reports that he would retire this year.
Allies of the senator insist that private poll numbers show the senator leading Carper and in good shape for re-election. But public polls -- one conducted in September by Mason-Dixon Research and another finished just a few weeks ago by the University of Delaware -- show just the opposite, with the governor leading by double digits.
Roth almost certainly is in serious trouble. His vulnerability is not so much a question of his performance in office as what voters want for the future. And that's not a problem easily solved by the Republican.
Mississippi 4th Congressional District
Many Republicans figure that someone from their party should represent Mississippi's 4th Congressional District. After all, the conservative district regularly votes Republican in presidential elections -- George Bush carried it in 1992 and Bob Dole won it by 10 points four years later -- and Democrat-turned-Republican Mike Parker didn't have trouble holding it until he retired in 1998.
But Democrat Ronnie Shows won that open seat, and state and national Republicans are trying to figure out how they can regain what they rightly believe should be theirs.
Shows, a former district highway commissioner, is a moderate Democrat whose "good 'ol boy" style played well in the rural parts of the district. In 1998, he defeated a better-funded Republican. While Republican nominee Delbert Hosemann, a tax lawyer from the city of Jackson, wore expensive suits and was an authority on the tax code, Shows wore cowboy boots and talked about health care, education and jobs.
Shows didn't exactly get off to a fast start in Washington, but he has all of the advantages of incumbency.
This year's GOP nominee is Dunn Lampton, almost a mirror image of Hosemann.
Lampton, a one-time Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination two years ago, is a district attorney from the rural portion of the district. He won a competitive primary in March, and now has plenty of time to unite his party for a shot at Shows.
Lampton argues that his style is closer to Shows's than to Hosemann's, and he insists that he can win by adding the traditional Jackson Republican vote to the swing rural conservative vote.
It's unclear whether Lampton will have enough money to get his message out and put Shows on the defensive. But the presidential race could help Lampton, who needs to paint Shows as part of the national Democratic party and agenda.
Below is a quick overview of the most vulnerable open Senate seats, as well as the top five most vulnerable Senate incumbents. Both lists are in order from most to least vulnerable.
Most vulnerable open Senate seats
1. Nevada (Democrat Dick Bryan)
2. Florida (Republican Connie Mack)
3. New York (Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan)
4. New Jersey (Democrat Frank Lautenberg)
5. Nebraska (Democrat Bob Kerrey)
Most vulnerable Senate incumbents
1. Chuck Robb (D-Virginia)
2. Rod Grams (R-Minnesota)
3. William Roth (R-Delaware)
4. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan)
5. John Ashcroft (R-Missouri)