||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Big-Spending Outsiders Don't Connect With Voters
By Stuart Rothenberg
Primary voters across the country confirmed the conventional wisdom that big-spending political outsiders have lost their appeal to the voters. In both the California Senate and gubernatorial primaries, as well as in a Democratic congressional primary in New Jersey, wealthy, self-funding political hopefuls lost their bids.
Gray Davis won the Democratic primary primarily because free-spending businessman Al Checchi battered Cong. Jane Harman in TV spots, destroying himself in the process. Davis was apparently also boosted by a relatively strong turnout among union members, brought to the polls to oppose Proposition 226, which would have required unions to get pre-approval from their members to spend their dues on political activities.
Davis actually placed ahead of Republican Dan Lungren in the open primary (probably because of the Proposition 226 turnout), but GOP insiders have believed for months that Davis would be the easiest Democrat to beat. Expect a close contest.
In the GOP Senate primary, state Treasurer Matt Fong came from behind to beat businessman Darrell Issa. Issa had been hammered in recent news stories in Los Angeles and San Francisco newspapers, and that caused enough doubt in the minds of primary voters to put Fong over the top. The state treasurer apparently also benefited by getting some Democratic cross-over votes.
Fong lacks Issa's personal wealth, and although he ran very well against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in a recent Field Poll, trailing her by just a few points, GOP insiders are worried about the state treasurer's fund-raising ability, as well as some potential baggage he may be carrying from earlier fund-raising in the Asian-American community.
In California congressional races, wealthy moderate Doug Ose handled state Assemblywoman Barbara Alby, a conservative, surprisingly easily in the 3rd C.D. He becomes the instant favorite to pick up the seat being left vacant by retiring Democrat Vic Fazio. Democrat Sandie Dunn must take advantage of divisions within the GOP if she is going to beat Ose.
And in California's 36th District, where Democrat Jane Harman is retiring, the GOP nominated state Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall, by far the best candidate in their field. Democrat Janice Hahn should be a credible opponent, but the Republicans got the right candidate for the district and should have an advantage in the fall.
In California's 46th C.D., former congressman Robert Dornan won the GOP nomination and the right to face freshman Loretta Sanchez (D). Dornan's presence on the ballot should energize the areas Hispanics, giving Sanchez a boost and turning out voters who will help Democrats running for statewide office. Dornan's win makes it hard for the GOP to pick up this seat.
Elsewhere, in New Mexico's 3rd C.D., the Democrats chose state Attorney General Tom Udall over '97 special election loser Eric Serna. That's not great news for Republican Cong. Bill Redmond, who already defeated Serna once but will have a tougher time with Udall.
In New Jersey's 12th C.D., wealthy businessman Carl Mayer came up short against Rush Holt, a former Princeton University physicist who had the endorsements of all of the county parties. Local endorsements are very important in the state, since "endorsed" candidates get to run on a party "line." Holt faces Cong. Mike Pappas (R) in the fall.
Finally, in Alabama, Gov. Fob James failed to get 50 percent of the vote and faces a runoff against businessman Winton Blount. The third-place finisher, former governor Guy Hunt, may have drained some votes away from James. Those voters may help James in the runoff, but incumbents traditionally have had problems in runoffs. Democrat Don Siegelman is a serious contender in the fall.
In the 4th C.D., Don Bevill, son of the former congressman, beat state Sen. Bob Wilson in the Democratic primary. But the Democratic race was bitter, enhancing the re-election prospects of Cong. Robert Aderholt (R).