||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Republicans Hope For An Opening In Ohio's 13th C.D.
In Georgia, Sen. Coverdell looks in command
By Stuart Rothenberg
Ohio 13 National Republican operatives are "saying Grace" in their efforts to knock off three-term incumbent Sherrod Brown, of Ohio's 13th Congressional District.
No, they aren't praying. Instead, they are praising the electoral prospects of Grace Drake, a veteran state senator who will face Brown in November.
Drake, 72, was appointed to the state Senate in mid-1984, and she won a full term six months later. She has been re-elected three times since then, and is ineligible to run again in 2000. Her district includes two full counties -- Medina and Wayne -- as well as the eastern part of Cuyahoga County. She currently represents about a quarter of the population of the 13th C.D.
The GOP state senator chairs the Senate's Health Committee, and she also serves on Rules, Ways & Means, and Finance & Financial Institutions. She says she has passed more than 50 pieces of legislation, and claims responsibility for five major education funding increases.
Drake has won her elections easily, and she raised more than $630,000 during her last election cycle (1992-96). But she faces a formidable task against incumbent Democrat Brown.
Brown served in the state House and as Ohio secretary of state before winning election to Congress in 1992. (He lost re-election as secretary of state in 1990 to Republican Robert Taft.) In 1994, Republican insiders thought that they had the perfect candidate to beat Brown: Lorain County prosecutor Greg White. White, a generally moderate Republican who came from the Democratic part of the district, spent $570,000. But Brown spent almost $1 million, and he bucked the Republican trend narrowly, beating White 49-46 percent.
Drake argues that while White was a strong candidate, his efforts to make inroads in the Democratic portion of the 13th didn't pay off. Drake says that she can overtake Brown by rolling up large margins in the GOP areas of the district.
Drake is generally conservative, while Brown's ratings and votes -- apart from his vote for the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1995 -- suggest he is reliably liberal.
Although Drake looks 10 or 15 years younger than her age, she is still a 72-year-old state legislator who began her congressional campaign late and has raised far less than $100,000. And while White may have made a strategic mistake by concentrating on Lorain County, it is hard to see how Drake can beat Brown without the strong Republican wave that helped White in the best Republican year in recent memory.
Georgia's Coverdell has the advantage
Georgia Senate Georgia GOP senator Paul Coverdell looks a little like comedian Dana Carvey doing an imitation of George Bush. But while Coverdell doesn't look or sound exciting, he has become something of a "player" in D.C.
But Democrats argue that the senator hasn't left much of a mark back in his home state, and they believe that their candidate, millionaire businessman Michael Coles, will make a strong challenger to Coverdell. Coles, who served as Democratic state chairman, initially decided against a Senate race but changed his mind when other Democrats who were mentioned declined to run for their party's nomination.
Coles, who drew 42 percent against House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996, founded the Great American Cookie Company and has the personal financial resources to guarantee a fully-funded campaign. He will portray Coverdell as too conservative and out of touch with the state's voters.
Coverdell is a former state senator, Peace Corps director and Republican Party state chairman. He had $2.8 million in the bank on March 31, guaranteeing that he will be able to spend far more than the $3.2 million he did six years ago, when he had to win a runoff to beat then-incumbent Sen Wyche Fowler (D).
While Coverdell has established a consistently conservative record, he isn't generally regarded as a member of the party's Christian conservative wing. And although Democrats say that the senator's weak image proves that he is vulnerable, Coles doesn't look anywhere near as strong a contender as Max Cleland, the folksy Democrat who won an open seat Senate race very narrowly two years ago.
Coles's money and the state's competitiveness mean that Coverdell and the Republicans can't take the Democratic challenger for granted, but Coverdell has a considerable advantage.