||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight congressional races of the week
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following is a look at key congressional races in New York, Kentucky and Virginia:
New York 2: If the Republicans lose New York's 2nd Congressional District in November, blame it on New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani's exit from New York's Senate race created a void that Republican Rep. Rick Lazio jumped in to fill. But in doing so, Lazio left his House seat without an incumbent, and Democrats believe that they can pick up this competitive seat. They may be correct.
The district includes western Suffolk County and generally tilts Republican. President Bush carried it very narrowly in his 1992 reelection at the same time that he was losing New York state by 16 percentage points. But Bill Clinton carried the district 54 percent to 34 percent over Bob Dole in 1996, and Democrat Tom Downey held the congressional seat for years before Lazio upset him in 1992.
The GOP establishment was expected to select Islip Town Supervisor Peter McGowen or Assemblyman Phil Boyle to try to hold the seat for the party. But in a surprise move, party insiders selected Islip Town Clerk Joan Johnson to carry the GOP banner.
An African-American woman whose views on a range of issues, including abortion and gun control, clearly place her in the moderate or liberal wing of the GOP. Johnson, 66, has never run a high-profile, partisan race. Republican operatives argue that she should appeal to the district's generally moderate voters. She sought the Conservative Party nomination but was defeated in the primary.
In their September primary, district Democrats chose Huntington Town Board member Steve Israel, a former Capitol Hill staffer, National Jewish Congress staffer, and Suffolk County assistant executive to be their standard bearer.
Israel defeated Suffolk County legislator David Bishop in a very competitive primary. Bishop, who will be on the November ballot as the nominee of the Green, Working Families and Independence parties, was initially regarded as the front runner. But Israel attacked Bishop's votes against affirmative action and in favor of English Only legislation.
The Democrat will run on his experience and proven track record, an obvious shot at Johnson, who has never been a legislator and lacks the Democrat's political experience.
Observers question Johnson's political skills, and they readily offer anecdotes that suggest that she is amateurish in her approach to the campaign. That may explain why she has been kept under wraps. Still, her profile makes her difficult to attack, and Rick Lazio's Senate candidacy has to help the GOP nominee. In the end, Republican voters in the 2nd Congressional District may find it impossible to vote against a moderate woman who has been the town clerk in the district.
The Democrats don't need to win New York 2 in order to take over the House. But they'd love to offset their expected loss in the neighboring 1st congressional district.
Virginia Senate: Polls continue to show former Republican Gov. George Allen holding a lead over Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb. The margin of the advantage runs anywhere from the mid-single digits to about 10 points.
Democrats hope to better Robb's showing in northern Virginia, especially by using the education issue. He has charged that Allen has supported cutting education spending, but Allen has responded with TV ads charging that it is Robb who favored education cuts. And Allen uses his children, who attend public schools, to rebut Democratic charges that he isn't fully committed to school funding and public education.
A win in Virginia would give the Democrats a very real chance of winning at least 50 Senate seats, and that means that both sides will spend whatever resources they have to win this race.
Kentucky 6: A new media poll in Kentucky 's 6th Congressional District suggests that Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher is holding a narrow but important lead over the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Scotty Baesler. The Lexington Herald-Leader/WKYT-TV survey has Fletcher leading 42 percent to 36 percent, with the Reform Party nominee, Gatewood Galbraith, garnering 8 percent of the vote.
Other polling also suggests that Fletcher has a lead, which is somewhat surprising considering that polls months ago showed a dead heat, and Fletcher has since lost the support of the Kentucky Medical Association because of his position against the Norwood-Dingall health care proposal.
As a former congressman from the district, Baesler would appear to have the same advantages as two other former members trying to re-claim their seats: Jane Harman (D-California) and Dick Zimmer (R-New Jersey). But unlike the two other districts, Kentucky 6 is a TV-friendly district. Both candidates and outside groups have advertised heavily, but Fletcher, who is the incumbent but is serving just his first term, may be benefiting more than Baesler from the TV exposure.
Democrats have been counting on a win in Kentucky 6. If they don't, they'll have to make it up somewhere else.