||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Spotlight on key races in 2000
By Stuart Rothenberg
October 14, 1999
Web posted at: 12:31 p.m. EDT (1631 GMT)
Following is a look at a pair of key races in 2000, as well as a "Top 10" of vulnerable House incumbents:
Kentucky 6: Scotty Baesler versus Ernie Fletcher. Sound familiar? It should. Democrat Baesler defeated Republican challenger Fletcher in the 1996 House race in Kentucky's 6th District.
But this time the tables are turned, with Fletcher the incumbent
congressman and Baesler trying to take away the seat.
Make no mistake about it, Baesler has a chance to win back his old
seat. Democratic political insiders have been citing Baesler for
months as one of their top recruits for 2000, and they note that
his popularity in the district makes this a top takeover target.
But Fletcher is a proven vote-getter, and he has used his advantages
of incumbency to build a defensive wall that Baesler will have a hard time climbing.
Baesler, a tobacco farmer and a former mayor of Lexington, held
this seat for three terms before giving it up to run for the Senate
in 1998. His winning margin dropped in each of his two reelection
races, but there is little doubt that he was well-liked in this swing district.
Baesler, one of the leaders of the moderate Blue Dog faction of
the House of Representatives, narrowly lost to Republican Jim Bunning
in the 1998 Senate race, but rather than fade into the woodwork,
he has decided to try to regain his old House seat.
Fletcher, a physician who served one term in the Kentucky House,
drew 45% against Baesler in 1996, not the best of years for a Republican
candidate. He won a tough open seat contest for Congress in 1998,
winning 17 of the district's 19 counties to defeat state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone (D).
Fletcher, who serves on the Agriculture, Budget, and Education and
Workforce committees, has had a bit of a testy relationship with
the American Medical Association because, unlike a number of other
doctors, he didn't rally behind the Norwood-Dingall HMO reform bill.
In the final vote, Fletcher opposed the bill.
While Democrats like to focus on Baesler's past successes in the
6th Congressional District, Fletcher has already taken a big step
to guaranteeing that he'll be in a strong position to defend the
seat. As of June 30th, the doctor had raised about $550,000 for
his reelection, and he had over $533,000 in the bank. His cash-on-hand now exceeds $ 600,000.
Democrats hope to use national issues like health care, education,
Social Security and the GOP tax cut against Fletcher, but the Republican
has a huge advantage this time that he didn't in his last race against
Baesler: incumbency. So unlike 1996, it will be up to the Democrats
to tell voters why they need to fire the incumbent and replace him with a Democrat.
Nevada Senate: Last year, Democrat Harry Reid (D) squeezed by challenger John Ensign (D) by just 428 votes. But the retirement of Sen. Dick Bryan (D) is giving Ensign a second chance -- and the Republicans an excellent opportunity to pick up a much-needed Senate seat.
With twice as many GOP Senate seats and Democratic seats at risk
in 2000, the Republicans must have a win in Nevada to cushion their
margin and solidify their control of the Senate in next year's elections.
Ensign, a veterinarian, served two terms in the House of Representatives
before taking on Reid. An unapologetic conservative, he has close
ties to the Las Vegas gambling community, which is a key reason
why he won the House seat in 1994 and 1996. His district, the state's
1st C.D. , includes Democratic Las Vegas and is generally regarded
as the much more Democratic and liberal of the state's two congressional districts.
Reid spent just under $5 million on his reelection, while Ensign
spent just under $3.5 million on his challenge. But the Republican
blames his lack of a strong grass roots organization on his 1998 defeat, not a lack of funds.
Bryan was expected to cruise to his reelection, but the open seat
immediately looked like a problem for the Democrats. When former
governor Bob Miller decided against the race, Democrats turned to
Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, a proven vote-getter. But
her poor relations with organized labor and doubts about her fund
raising ability caused Reid to continue his search for a strong candidate against Ensign.
Del Papa ultimately withdrew from the Senate contest, leaving the
Democrats with few choices other than attorney Ed Bernstein. A personal
injury lawyer who advertises on television, Bernstein has a terrible
public image according to state polling. He still hasn't announced
a final decision about the Senate race, but the Democrats appear to have few choices.
Ensign, meanwhile, looks stronger and stronger. Always charismatic,
he sounds more mature and thoughtful than in the past, and that
should make him even more formidable a contender. Democrats are
sure to attack the Republican's conservative record - his pro-life
views weren't an issue in the 1998 Senate contest because Reid was
also pro-life - but it's hard to see Bernstein or any other likely
Democratic candidate getting much traction against the former congressman.
This race is Ensign's to lose, and it is hard to imagine him doing so.
10 Most Vulnerable House incumbents seeking reelection in 2000 (listed alphabetically):
Cook, Utah 2
Dickey, Arkansas 4
Fletcher, Kentucky 6
Hostettler, Indiana 8
Rogan, California 27
Sherwood, Pennsylvania 10
Forbes, New York 1
Hoeffel, Pennsylvania 13
Holt, New Jersey 12
Maloney, Connecticut 5