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In Idaho, A Rare Opportunity For Dems

And in California's 22nd District, there's jockeying to replace the late Rep. Capps

By Stuart Rothenberg

Idaho 2 When Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) announced he would run for governor next year rather than re-election to the Senate, it set off a chain reaction that put Cong. Mike Crapo (R-ID 2) into the Senate race and created a vacuum in his congressional district.

The early maneuvering in the district, which encompasses the eastern half of the state, suggests the Republicans could have a nasty primary, the Democrats could come up with a formidable nominee and voters could witness a fierce general election in one of the most Republican states in the country.

On the GOP side, State Rep. Mike Simpson, the speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, is already off and running. Although he is a Mormon (not unusual for Idaho), Simpson is regarded as relatively moderate. Critics on the right, for example, complain that he opposed a bill back in 1990 that restricted abortion.

Simpson prefers to call himself "pro-life" and says he voted against the 1990 measure because he thought it was unconstitutional. Insiders generally call him a conservative, but everyone agrees he is not nearly as conservative as 1st C.D. congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R), and many conservatives complain that the speaker is too moderate.

Simpson's candidacy has riled conservatives and led to talk that state Sen. Stan Hawkins may enter the race. A former state representative, Hawkins is a more outspoken supporter of the pro-life movement, and opponents of legal abortion could solidify behind his candidacy, setting off a party civil war.

The GOP race could get significantly more crowded, however, if state Rep. Mark Stubbs, a maverick, and state Sen. Evan Frasure, who represents Democratic Pocatello in the state Legislature, enter the race. Other Republican names are also being floated.

The problem for the GOP is that former congressman Richard Stallings is mulling a race. Stallings served in Congress for four terms before giving up his seat to run, unsuccessfully, for the United States Senate in 1992.

Stallings, a former college professor, has been executive director of a Pocatello housing agency, and observers note the congressional race clearly has appeal to the former member. While Stallings has said he will make a decision soon about whether to run and what office to run for, most insiders are betting that he will run for the open House seat, rather than for a much more uphill race against either Crapo or Kempthorne.

Stallings' record was moderate enough, and he was personally popular enough, to give the Democrats a shot to win the open seat. Stallings's chances would be enhanced if the Republicans have a bitter primary, which looks very possible.

The GOP's Circular Firing Squad

California 22 The unexpected death of Walter Capps (D-CA 22) has given the Republicans a chance to regain a seat they lost last year. But the two wings of the district's GOP may prefer to spend their time fighting with each other, and that enhances the prospects of the likely Democratic nominee, Lois Capps, widow of the late congressman.

When state Sen. Jack O'Connell decided recently not to seek the Democratic nomination, it cleared the field for Mrs. Capps. The late congressman's widow is widely praised as a strong campaigner who will give the Democrats a good chance to hold what is clearly a marginal district. Recent history suggests that widows who attempt to replace their late husbands in special elections do quite well.

The 22nd C.D. was previously represented by Andrea Seastrand, an outspoken conservative who wasn't a perfect fit for the district, with its preference for moderate Republicans. The area was represented for 18 years by Robert Lagomarsino (R) and then for just one term by Michael Huffington (R), two moderates.

The Republicans are showing every sign of trying to destroy their chances in what should otherwise be a very competitive race. State Rep. Tom Bordonaro and Brooks Firestone are already in the contest. Conservatives are backing Bordonaro, who is a paraplegic, while moderates prefer Firestone, who dropped out of the lieutenant governor's race to run in the special election. Critics of the moderate Firestone portray him as a "Christie Whitman Republican," who is too far to the left for their liking, while Firestone's supporters say Bordonaro is too conservative and probably can't be elected.

Other Republicans may also be on the ballot, and one who was already in the race against Capps before he died, former county commissioner Mike Stoker, a moderate, is still in the race. That could hurt Firestone.

All of the candidates will appear on one ballot in a Jan. 13 special election. If nobody wins a majority of the total vote cast, the top Republican and Democrat will meet in a March 10 special election.

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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