||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
GOP Sees Arkansas' 2nd C.D. As An Opportunity
And a lively race in northeastern Kentucky
By Stuart Rothenberg
Arkansas 2 Many Democrats dismiss talk that freshman Vic Snyder (D) is vulnerable this year, insisting that the Republicans underestimate Snyder. But GOP insiders continue to mention this race as one of their best opportunities of the year, and some of them have already penciled Arkansas 2 onto their takeover list.
The 2nd C.D. takes in eight counties in central Arkansas but is dominated by Pulaski County and the city of Little Rock. Not surprisingly, Arkansan Bill Clinton carried the 2nd overwhelmingly during his two presidential elections, winning with 56 percent in 1996 and 55 percent in 1992.
Snyder, a physician, lawyer and former member of the state Senate, narrowly won a Democratic runoff two years ago and went on to defeat Republican Bud Cummins, a lawyer and businessman, 52-48 percent in the fall.
The congressman, who serves on the National Security and Veterans' Affairs committees, is more liberal than most white Democrats who have survived in the South. But Snyder should have the money he needs for an aggressive re-election race, and he has turned back optimistic Republican opponents before. Two years ago, when running for an open seat, he spent just under $800,000, raising a bit more than a quarter of his funds from political action committees.
Snyder's opponent this year is Phil Wyrick, a Democrat who served in the state House of Representatives but changed to the GOP to run in -- and win -- Snyder's seat in the state Senate when Snyder moved to Congress.
A conservative who is polished enough to fit in (and raise money) with the Little Rock business community, yet down-home enough to attract rural and blue-collar voters, Wyrick attacks Snyder as too liberal for the district. Democrats note that that message isn't new and didn't work two years ago, while Republicans argue that Wyrick is a stronger candidate than was Cummins and that 1998 will be a better year for their party.
Wyrick got into the race very late, in part because Cummins, who became an adviser to popular Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) after his loss to Snyder two years ago, was considering a re-match. Now, Wyrick looks like a formidable GOP candidate.
An opening for the Democrats in Kentucky 4
Kentucky 4 Democrat Ken Lucas, a former Boone County judge-executive, gives the Democrats an unexpected opportunity to win a normally Republican open seat. That opportunity stems from a well-funded campaign by the conservative Democrat, and a GOP nominee, state Sen. Gex Williams, who has received bad press and has not united his party.
Kentucky's 4th C.D. includes 22 counties stretching across the eastern half of the state's northern border. Party registration in the district favors the Democrats, but voters in the area frequently vote Republican. George Bush defeated Bill Clinton by five points in the district in 1992, and Bob Dole beat Clinton by nine points four years later.
Gex (pronounced "Jay") Williams 45, won the May GOP primary narrowly over attorney Rick Robinson, a former aide to Cong. Jim Bunning (R). Williams had strong support from conservative leaders, including Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes and Bill Bennett, and former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed has been a campaign consultant to Williams. Bunning, who is giving up the seat to run for the Senate, and Bob Dole endorsed Robinson.
Williams served in both the state House and the state Senate, and he has been a consistent voice for fiscal and moral issue conservatism. But he was slow to put together a campaign team for his congressional race, and he has been dogged by negative news stories and Democratic attacks for months.
Back in June, Williams was the focus of press reports that he may have used state phones to conduct political business. Later in the month, he faced renewed questions about his resume, and in July, he was the focus of two more ethics complaints, both stemming from a land deal. Williams has defended himself and complained that Lucas is a liberal who has embarked on a "campaign of falsehoods."
Lucas, 64, beat a wealthy opponent in the Democratic primary and has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat. He supports the Balanced Budget Amendment, opposes gun control, supports scrapping the tax code, backs term limits and is pro-life on abortion. And he apparently is drawing support from moderate Republicans who believe Williams is too conservative and untrustworthy.
The Democrat has been on the air with radio ads since July, and he has both introduced himself to the voters and criticized his opponent.
In spite of his problems, Williams could still win this race. The district's Republican bent should not be underestimated, and the president's personal problems only add to Williams's assets. But even GOP insiders admit that almost any Republican should be able to hold this seat comfortably, and Lucas's opportunity is both a function of his own strength and Williams's weakness.