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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight races in New York and Georgia

July 19, 2000
Web posted at: 11:08 a.m. EDT (1508 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following is a look at key congressional races in New York and Georgia:

New York 1: Democratic Rep. Mike Forbes of Long Island's Suffolk County faces a situation that few other members of Congress have also faced: He must win reelection in November as a member of a different political party. Forbes, in other words, is that rare political bird, a party switcher.

Some members of Congress such as Texas Sen. Phil Gramm -- who switched parties while serving in the House -- Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia have done the same and survived politically. But others, including Texas Rep. Greg Laughlin and one-time Florida Rep. Bob Grant, found either that their new party didn't welcome them with open arms or couldn't help them win reelection.

Forbes first was elected in 1994 as a Republican, and he was reelected in both 1996 and 1998. His Democratic opponents bashed him as too conservative and a reliable soldier in Newt Gingrich's army. But last summer, after extensive wooing by a number of New York Democrats in Congress, Forbes switched parties and blasted the House GOP for allegedly being "narrow-minded" and "intolerant."

This year, Forbes faces a number of problems in his bid for a fourth term. He may face a primary from a disgruntled Democrat who feels that his pro-life views are unacceptable. And even if a serious challenge doesn't develop, he will find a Green Party candidate on the November ballot aiming to pull pro-choice, liberal votes away from Forbes. That candidate, William Holst, was Forbes's Democratic opponent in 1998.

The congressman's biggest hurdle, of course, is the GOP nominee, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Felix Grucci. Brookhaven accounts for well over a majority of the district's population, and Grucci just won reelection in November.

Grucci looks and sounds more like an extra in the movie "GoodFellas" than a candidate for Congress, but he is a smart, veteran elected official who talks confidently about local and national issues. He is well aware that Democrats will try to tar him with a local scandal involving a one-time GOP leader.

Democratic polling shows Forbes getting more than 50 percent of the vote and holding a 12-point lead over Grucci. Republicans have been more limited in talking about their polling, but they insist that they show Grucci ahead narrowly.

If any Democratic incumbents are defeated in the fall, Forbes is likely to be among them.

Georgia 8: Almost a year ago, national Democratic political operatives started crowing about then-Macon Mayor Jim Marshall as a top-tier Democratic recruit who stood a good chance of defeating incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss in Georgia's 8th Congressional District.

But while he was slow to gear up for his House bid, Marshall is now off and running against Chambliss. The Democrat's fate depends largely on his ability to motivate African-American voters and his appeal in the more rural, southern part of the congressional district.

A Princeton graduate and recipient of a Purple Heart in Vietnam, Marshall is an attorney who has clerked for two federal judges and who taught law at Mercer Law School. He was elected mayor of Macon, the largest city in the district, but chose not to seek reelection in 1999.

Chambliss is also an attorney. He lost a GOP congressional primary in 1992 but came back to win the nomination -- and the House seat -- in 1994, when a national Republican wave helped him overwhelm his Democratic opponent in a seat left open by a retiring Democratic member of Congress.

Marshall's chances depend on his ability to turn out the district's significant black vote, but he also needs to attract the votes of less affluent rural whites, who often vote for conservative Republicans. Democrats believe that a populist campaign by Marshall might win their votes -- and the election.

At this point, it is unclear how Marshall will sell among those voters. But this race surely remains on the political radar screen, and Chambliss can't take his reelection for granted.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2000


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