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

San Antonio Dems Ponder Gonzalez's Successor

And in Washington state, an opportunity for the Democrats

By Stuart Rothenberg

TEXAS 20 Veteran Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-TX 20) has served in Congress since 1961, making him the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. But the former Banking Committee chairman's political career is winding down this year, and his party will have to choose a successor in the March 10 primary. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in that contest, a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held April 14.

 1998 Gubernatorial Ratings

The San Antonio-centered 20th C.D. is solidly Democratic -- Bill Clinton won with 59 percent last time -- but that has only increased the importance of the Democratic primary and resulted in a crowded contest, which includes the outgoing congressman's son, a staff member from Gonzalez's committee, and past and present local officeholders.

Two candidates start out as the front runners. Charles Gonzalez, the congressman's son, was first elected as a local judge in 1982, and he served in that capacity until 1987, when he was elected to a county-wide judicial post. He resigned from the position last year to run for Congress.

The younger Gonzalez's name is a huge advantage, and his father has already endorsed him. (Early media reports in the district suggested that the two men had strained relations.)

Gonzalez's major opposition comes from Christine Hernandez, a former school teacher who became president of the San Antonio Federation of Teachers. In 1986, she won a seat on the San Antonio school board, and four years later won a state House seat.

Hernandez already has the support of women's groups, including the influential EMILY's List. But she has also drawn good reviews -- and early support -- from business interests, who say that while she does not always vote as they prefer, she is receptive to their concerns. In fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that Hernandez has emerged as the favorite of the business community in the race.

Hoping to catch either Gonzalez or Hernandez for a second spot in the runoff are Walter Martinez, Armando Falcon and Maria Berriozabal.

Martinez served one term in the state Legislature and spent seven years on the San Antonio City Council. He has lost two races: for re-election in the Legislature and for county commissioner. He served as chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party, resigning in November to make the congressional race.

Falcon worked in Washington for Gonzalez's House Banking Committee for eight years, including a stint as its general counsel. He apparently has been raising campaign funds in the banking community and is regarded as a political wild card in the race because, although he lacks the other candidates' political bases and local organizational support, he may have the money to compete with the leaders.

Berriozabal served on the San Antonio City Council for 10 years but lost a 1991 runoff election for mayor of the city. She served on the Inter-America Commission on Women, and has been active on women's and Hispanic issues. Berriozabal has not run for elective office in more than six years and isn't likely to raise much money. She has a base of support in the city, but probably will have a hard time catching the front runners, particularly with Hernandez drawing support from national women's groups.

The large crowd means the possibility of a very fractured electorate. That kind of race could help a long-shot hopeful make the runoff. But for now, Gonzalez and Hernandez are favored, with the winner in the Democratic primary also the overwhelming favorite to win the seat in the fall.

Rep. Linda Smith's decision gives Dems a chance

WASHINGTON 3 Republican Linda Smith's decision to run for the Senate opens up a Democratic-leaning House seat, but the GOP hasn't given up hope that they can retain the seat, especially now that Smith's top aide, Pat Fiske, has entered the race.

The 3rd C.D. of Washington is competitive but definitely tilts Democratic. The president carried it by 9 points in 1992 and by 11 points in 1996, and Smith won re-election by fewer than 1,000 votes last time. In fact, Democratic challenger Brian Baird outpolled the congresswoman on election night, only to lose the race when absentee ballots were counted.

Baird, a psychology professor at Pacific Lutheran University, is back for a re-match, and his campaign experience, combined with an open seat, puts him in a much better position to win the seat. The hopeful, who spent over $700,000 last time, has cleared the Democratic field , and is already starting to line up endorsements.

On the GOP side, Fiske, a former state legislator who only recently decided to make the race, begins as the front-runner for his party's nomination, with state Rep. Don Benton as the only credible alternative. Two other Republicans in the race are widely regarded as second-tier candidates. All of the Republicans are more conservative than Baird, so a general election of contrasts is likely.

Outside groups spent heavily here in 1996, and the competitive nature of the race could bring them in again. If Fiske is the GOP nominee, he has the potential to put together the Smith coalition and hold the seat for his party. But that won't be easy, and Baird begins as the narrow favorite in a race that bears watching.

In Other News

Wednesday Feb. 4, 1998

Starr Rejects Latest Lewinsky Offer
Sources: Trie Came Back With No Deal
Justice Investigating Lawrence Burial Waiver
Governors Reach Beyond Traditional Agenda
Rep. Jane Harman Joins Calif. Governor's Race
FEC Lawyers Propose Soft Money Ban
Green Formally Jumps Into N.Y. Senate Race
White House Scandal At A Glance
Congress Votes To Rename National Airport After Reagan





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