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Idaho Scramble: Who's Running For What?

In Kentucky, GOP Eyes Wendell Ford's seat

By Stuart Rothenberg

WASHINGTON (Sep. 25) -- The surprise decision by Idaho Gov. Phil Batt (R) not to seek another term next year is expected to set off a chain reaction of other political decisions. But for now, nobody is certain exactly how the state's political dominos will fall. And Democrats believe they have more than a glimmer of hope to gain at least one of the state's congressional districts.

Batt's decision, which reportedly was motivated by the recent death of a close friend, immediately puts pressure on two GOP federal officeholders -- Sen. Dirk Kempthorne and 2nd C.D. Representative Mike Crapo -- to consider runs for higher office.

Kempthorne, a former mayor of Boise, is due up for reelection next year, and some observers say that the senator and his wife are not enamored with Washington as a place to raise a family. If Kempthorne decides to run for governor, most other potential GOP aspirants would likely concede him the nomination, and he would be a prohibitive favorite over anyone the Democrats could nominate for governor.

If Kempthorne decides to seek a second term in the United States Senate, Rep. Crapo (R) would be the next logical choice for governor. A former president of the state Senate, Crapo has been reelected easily to Congress and would be a formidable candidate for governor.

If Kempthorne opts to return home to run for governor, Crapo would likely jump into the Senate race, where he would immediately become the prohibitive choice to succeed Kempthorne.

If Crapo and Kempthorne both prefer to stay where they are, that could open up the race for the lieutenant governor, "Butch" Otter. Otter, who is both divorced and not a Mormon, could meet opposition from some conservative circles. At that point, the open race could draw a number of hopefuls, setting off a political free-for-all.

Democrats hope that Crapo ends up running for either governor or senator. If that happens, former Congressman Richard Stallings (D), who was defeated by Kempthorne in the 1992 Senate race, would almost certainly run again for his old 2nd C.D. House seat. Republicans say Kemperthorne's first successful congressional bid in 1984 was a fluke, pointing out that the GOP incumbent, Cong. George Hansen, was in serious legal trouble (and eventually was incarcerated). Stallings beat Hansen in 1984, and won reelection in 1986, 1988 and 1990. Democrats argue that Stallings's popularity -- he twice won reelection in this rock-solid Republican district with over 60% of the vote -- gives him a reasonable shot to wrestle the congressional seat away from the Republicans next year.

Democrats also hope to have a shot at the 1st C.D., where controversial congresswoman Helen Chenoweth faces primary opposition and, possibly, the same Democratic opponent who almost beat her last year.

Until the political game of musical chairs is over, it's hard to say exactly what will happen or whether the Democrats have a chance of gaining a House seat in what has turned into one of the most Republican states in the nation.

Kentucky Senate: Open Seat Attraction

Wendell Ford's decision to retire has given the Republicans just the opening they've hoped for. Although he faces primary opposition, Cong. Jim Bunning (R-KY4) is the all-but-certain GOP nominee for the Senate, while the Democrats are fighting among themselves in a potentially draining primary.

Bunning is famous in non-political circles for pitching a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies against the New York Mets, as well as for his years of service with the Detroit Tigers. Among political insiders, however, he is known for being a conservative who knows what he thinks and doesn't want to discuss it. This time, however, he reportedly is taking the advice of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the state's top GOP officeholder and the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans.

Bunning has run statewide before and should have little trouble raising money, and his defeat would be an embarrassment for McConnell, who has single-handedly rebuilt that state's Republican party.

The Democratic race is a three-way contest between Cong. Scotty Baesler, Lt. Gov. Steve Henry and businessman Charlie Owen. Baesler, a former mayor of Lexington, has represented the 6th C.D. since 1992. He is regarded as something of a moderate, and he is frequently characterized as lacking charisma. Henry, a doctor, is generally characterized as being in Gov. Paul Patton's shadow, and local insiders wonder whether he can compete with Baesler's base and reputation or with Owen's money. Millionaire businessman Owen ran unsuccessfully for Congress but now says he's prepared to dig deep into his pocket to fund his statewide campaign.

While the Democrats will have to recover from their primary, they begin with a larger statewide political base than the Republicans (though only one of the state's congressional districts). Still, if Bunning can portray the general election as a choice between a conservative and a liberal, he will have an excellent opportunity to gain the seat for his party, shutting out the Democrats from the state's two Senate seats for the first time since 1968. Toss-up.

Spotlight Archives:

Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
In Idaho, A Rare Opportunity For Dems (11/19/97)
Stay The Course (11/6/97)
Car-Tax Issue Lifts Gilmore In Virginia (10/23/97)
New Jersey Governor's Race Down To The Wire (10/9/97)
Idaho Scramble: Who's Running For What? (9/25/97)
Hawaii's 1st C.D. Looks Like A Powder Keg (9/10/97)
Molinari's Departures Leaves Opening For Dems (8/25/97)
Georgia Governor's Race A Free-For-All (8/12/97)
Rep. Jon Fox Faces A One-Two Punch (7/30/97)
Sen. Hollings Prepares For A Fifth Term (7/22/97)
The House: Looking Ahead To 1998 (7/15/97)
Sen. Bond Has Re-election Edge (7/7/97)
Bumpers' Decision Encourages GOP (7/3/97)
Kentucky Senatorial Race A Toss-Up (6/24/97)
Nevada's Senator Reid Looks Like An Early Favorite (6/17/97)
1998 Gubernatorial Ratings (6/17/97)
Indiana's Evan Bayh Could Reclaim His Father's Old Senate Seat (6/3/97)
Who Will Control The House After '98? (5/30/97)
New Mexico's 3rd District: Color It Republican Green (5/20/97)
Don't Look For Many Senate Retirements In '98 (5/13/97)
Louisiana Senate, 1996: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over (5/5/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Re-election Ratings (4/25/97)
Dem, GOP Tests In Connecticut, Arizona (4/9/97)
Don't Count Al D'Amato Out Yet (3/25/97)
Whitman A Favorite In New Jersey (2/25/97)
Sen. Boxer Could Be Vulnerable (2/11/97)
Impressive Bloodlines In Minnesota Governor's Race (1/28/97)
Looking Ahead To '98 Gubernatorial Races In California, Florida (1/23/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Ratings (1/23/97)
Family Feud: The Fight for RNC Chairman (1/10/97)

Spotlight 1996

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