||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight on New York, Minnesota races
WASHINGTON (CNN)-- Following is a look at key Senate races in New York and Minnesota:
New York: The only Clinton on the ballot this year is New York Senate hopeful Hillary, but it's still not clear whether the first lady will win her first bid for elective office or fall short.
Although Democrats in the state hold a huge registration advantage over Republicans, Clinton continues to be locked in a tight fight against Republican Congressman Rick Lazio.
Most polling suggests that the two Senate hopefuls are running about even. One poll, conducted by Rasmussen Research, shows Clinton holding a considerable 50 percent-35 percent advantage, but other surveys have found the contest too close to call.
An August Quinnipiac College poll showed Clinton leading Rick Lazio by just three points, 46 percent-43 percent, and with Clinton's personal ratings an unimpressive 37 percent favorable/37 percent unfavorable. Lazio's, on the other hand, were 32 percent favorable/17 percent unfavorable. He is less well known, but fewer New Yorkers already have a negative view of him.
An August 24-25 Zogby International poll also put Clinton ahead, but by a statistically insignificant 47 percent-45 percent.
Some observers argued immediately after Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was selected as Al Gore's running mate that the Jewish senator would all but guarantee Clinton's election to the Senate. The logic behind that assessment is that Lieberman would turn out a bigger than usual Jewish vote, and that those voters would be more liberal and more inclined to vote for Clinton in the Senate race.
But the "coattails" argument isn't persuasive in the case of New York, since Clinton is so visible in her own right -- and her race against Lazio has already received so much media attention -- that voters are likely to have an opinion (positive or negative) of her independent of their opinion of Al Gore and George W. Bush.
The first lady has received plenty of media attention so far, and her race against Lazio will get so much attention in New York state that it is difficult to believe that many voters won't have a strong opinion of her.
Of course, voters may feel more kindly toward Clinton the more that they see her. If that happens, her numbers will improve. But there is no reason to assume that they are improving merely because Gore chose a Jewish running mate.
Hillary Clinton has plenty of time to solidify Democratic voters and put herself in a good position to win the Senate race. But if she is still below 50 percent against Lazio in late October, Democrats ought to start worrying. That's because if voters haven't decided to back Clinton by then, they probably will vote disproportionately for her opponent.
Minnesota: If you read the August 27 issue of The Washington Post, you are probably more than a little confused. The newspaper included an article about the Minnesota Senate race that implied that Republican Sen. Rod Grams, who has widely been regarded as vulnerable, is in better shape than he could ever have hoped and may be headed for re-election.
Well, Grams is in better shape than he could have been under some circumstances, since former Rep. Tim Penny (D) opted against the race. But the senator remains in very serious shape -- in fact, an underdog in his bid for re-election -- and whatever problems the eventual Democratic nominee faces pale when compared to the problems facing Grams.
Instead of running at least 10 points ahead of his potential opponents (as the Post reported), Grams is actually running three points behind wealthy former state auditor Mark Dayton. And he is running even with wealthy trial lawyer Mike Ciresi in an August 21-23 EPIC-MRA poll for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio.
Against the two other Democrats running for their party's nomination, state Sen. Jerry Janezich and businesswoman Rebecca Yanisch, Grams leads, but only in the single digits.
Grams's showings -- garnering between 42 percent and 44 percent against potential opponents -- is a red flag, since it suggests that voters are not already inclined to support the incumbent.
The senator's campaign has had plenty of problems, and Grams' $1 million in the bank on June 30 is nothing to brag about. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum had four times that in the bank, Montana's Conrad Burns had $1.4 million (in a much less expensive state in which to advertise), and Michigan's Spencer Abraham had $4.6 million on hand.
The late Democratic Senate primary definitely is an asset for Grams. But odds are that the eventual Democratic nominee won't have problems funding his or her race against the senator.
Grams joins Abraham, Delaware's Bill Roth (R) and Virginia's Chuck Robb (D) as the four most vulnerable Senate incumbents seeking re-election. That's hardly a reason for the Republicans to be upbeat about this seat.