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Special Event

Republican National Convention: GOP Highlights Congressional Candidates

Aired July 31, 2000 - 11:15 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless you all!

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The closing words of Joan Johnson, who's running for Congress as a Republican in New York's 2nd district, the seat being held by the current congressman, Rick Lazio, who is challenging none other than first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Dick Zimmer (ph), who's running for a seat in New Jersey, has just stepped up there.

What we are looking at is a sequence of House challengers, some incumbents, one or two incumbents, but most of these are challengers in seats all over the country. And joining Bernie and Jeff and me here is Stu Rothenberg, political analyst.

Stu, how big a fight do the Republicans have on their hand to keep control of the House?

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Oh, it's a bruising battle, Judy. The Democrats have recruited a very substantial class. The Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee ended June with over $37 million, $38 million in the bank. Given the number of Republican open seats at this time, the Republicans -- you know, the House stands in balance. It's a very close race.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Where are the key congressional districts we should be watching, about 8 to 10?

ROTHENBERG: Yeah, well, there are actually two or three dozen races that deserve watching, and many of the races are represented by candidates here. As Judy mentioned, there are 22 House candidates here, only one incumbent, Jim Rogan from California. He's involved in a very difficult race. All the other candidates are for open seats or against Democratic incumbents. We're already seeing Dick Zimmer in New Jersey, Melissa Hart coming up on Pennsylvania. They're really spread all across the country. There are three or four competitive races in California, a bunch in the Northeast, in New Jersey and New York, Connecticut. So this is a national campaign for control of the House.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Does it -- does it really matter to them, do you think, whether or not this national Republican convention and its candidate for president projects a different image? I mean, I was trying to think -- except -- there are very few times when the vaunted coattails, it seems to me, make much difference. Are they going to be running their own campaign, or by hitching themselves to Governor Bush?

ROTHENBERG: Oh, they're schizophrenic, Jeff. They're running their own campaigns because they're always worried what's going to happen at the top of the ticket, and if the top of the ticket tanks, they don't want to tank along with their nominee.

But on the other hand, they'll tell you they would much prefer George W. Bush to carry the congressional district and to win nationally.

SHAW: Stu, let's pretend. If Dick Gephardt had decided to run with Al Gore, were he to be asked, would that make a difference, the Democrats' chances of retaking control of the House, a Gephardt not competing to be speaker of the House but rather being on the ticket? Or is it important that he remain in his position to try to help his party regain control?

ROTHENBERG: Well, it really depends on who you talk to, Bernie. There are many Democrats who said, "Gee, at this point, we don't want to lose our leader." And Dick Gephardt is not chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That's Patrick Kennedy. But everybody acknowledges he is the 800-pound political gorilla among the Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

ROTHENBERG: I tend to think that it's late enough in the cycle. Congressman Gephardt has done his job. He's raised the money. He's gotten good candidates, and he has set the Democratic message. So that even now, were he to join the national ticket, it wouldn't be a huge problem. But there would certainly be a few days or maybe a week of hand-wringing by some Democrats, some Democrats in the House, who would say, "Gee, we lost our leader." Personally, I don't think it would be a terminal problem.

WOODRUFF: Stu, you know, year after year or every other year, when you have these House races, ultimately, these -- and the Senate races, for that matter -- so often are decided by issues and personalities that are unique to that congressional district or to that state.

ROTHENBERG: Yeah, well, we are seeing Democrats echoing the Democratic themes that we see nationally. They're talking about education and health care and protecting Social Security, guns, campaign finance reform. And we see Republicans finally acknowledging that those issues are going to be key locally. For many cycles, Republicans have said, "No, we don't talk about education or health care. We talk only about taxes or local control." But now Republicans have decided to talk about some of these national themes just to neutralize them, so they can run on their personal campaign skills.

SHAW: Anybody in hot water on the Republican side, who managed the House impeachment of President Clinton? ROTHENBERG: Really just one. Jim Rogan in California has a very tough opponent, state legislator Adam Schiff. Both candidates have raised millions of dollars already. Schiff -- Bernie, as you may know, California congressional districts are huge, and so he represents a lot of the congressional district. This is a -- this is a prime Democratic opportunity. But Bernie, I would just caution you, impeachment has a -- is a factor in terms of fund-raising, but this district has been trending Democratic anyway. Rogan was always going to have a tough race.

SHAW: OK. Stu Rothenberg with the latest on the GOP effort to keep the House.

When we come back, we're going to go to Dayton, Ohio...

WOODRUFF: ... where we think Governor Bush has made his way. He should be there pretty shortly, if he's not already. And we're going to hear about some of this day's other news.

We'll be right back.

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