One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.
S.C.'s Sen. Hollings Catches Another Break
In Ohio, Dems think they have a chance to recapture the governorship this year
By Stuart Rothenberg
Veteran Sen. Fritz Hollings caught a break recently when former governor Carroll Campbell (R) announced he would stay in the private sector and turned down pleas from party insiders to run for the Senate. Polls throughout 1997 showed Campbell easily beating Hollings, while other Republicans trailed Hollings.
Now, Hollings may have caught a second break, as Republican front-runner Rep. Bob Inglis has drawn a primary challenger in Steve Brown, the Greenville GOP chairman. A Republican primary can only drain resources for the eventual nominee, further enhancing Hollings' prospects.
Inglis, who has represented the 4th Congressional District for three terms, imposed a three-term limit on himself, so he could not run for re-election to the House without breaking his pledge. That made a Senate race more appealing, as did the decisions by a number of GOP officeholders to pass on the contest.
But Inglis has not pleased some of the more conservative elements of his party, and that has persuaded Brown to enter the race. Inglis' bigger problem, however, may be financial. The congressman does not accept political action committee contributions, and party operatives have been worried about Inglis' ability to raise enough money to compete against Hollings.
The congressman soothed many of those concerns by showing more than $750,000 in the bank at the end of last June. While some of that money came from funds already in Inglis' campaign account, his bankroll suggested that he would have more money to spend than any of Hollings' earlier GOP challengers. But the congressman's fund-raising in the second half of '97 was not merely disappointing. It was horrible. He raised less than $100,000 during that period and ended the year with less money in the bank ($715,000) than he had at mid-year. To make matters worse, Hollings ended 1997 with $1.7 million in the bank.
GOP political strategists haven't given up on beating Hollings, however, because the state's Republican bent is so strong. Democrats, too, acknowledge that the senator will have to overcome a strong Republican trend in the state, and Hollings' financial advantage will be a key to that.
This Senate race is still a toss-up, but Democratic insiders have reason to believe that Hollings can win one more election. And, if that happens, they have the GOP to thank.
Ohio Dems sense an opportunity
Ohio's Democrats have had a few ups but many more downs over the past half dozen years, but they sense an opportunity to regain the governorship this year. But while Gov. George Voinovich (R) can't seek re-election, the Republicans will put up another well-known GOP name -- Taft -- in their attempt to hold the state's top job.
The Democrats had hoped to avoid a primary, and former state attorney general Lee Fisher's early efforts made it clear to potential candidates that he was a force to be reckoned with. Fisher served one term in office before being swept out, narrowly, in the GOP wave of 1994. In that year, the Republicans swept all of Ohio's statewide offices.
But while Fisher has won the support of the state party, he couldn't keep wealthy businessman Bruce Douglas out of the race. Douglas apparently drew encouragement from a former state chairman, and the businessman hopes his outsider message, combined with a big media campaign, will help him overcome the better known Fisher in the May 5 primary.
The eventual Democratic nominee will have to unite his party to take on Secretary of State Robert Taft. Taft, who comes from a famous political family which includes two former United States senators, got one bit of good news this year: State Treasurer Ken Blackwell, who for months had promised to challenge Taft for the governorship, will run for a lesser statewide office this year.
Taft lacks charisma, and he will have to overcome recent criticisms of Voinovich's administration, which include higher taxes and ethics. Democrats, the minority in both houses of the state legislature and shut out of the executive branch, will be able to argue it's time for a change, and even Republicans are worried that that message will get the voters' attention, especially given the unexciting Taft.