||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
A Hard-Fought Race In Indiana's 8th C.D.
By Stuart Rothenberg
Located in the Southeastern corner of Indiana, the 8th Congressional District
has had a long history of hard-fought political battles -- and close contests.
This year looks like no exception, with incumbent Republican John Hostettler
facing Democrat Gail Riecken.
The Democrats are hoping to gain 11 House seats, which would give them a
majority, and to do so they will need to defeat vulnerable GOP incumbents like
Hostettler was first elected in 1994, when he knocked off an incumbent Democrat.
Two years later, he used a tiff with House speaker Newt Gingrich to establish
his political independence, making it more difficult for Democrats to portray
the congressman as a "Gingrich Robot." Hostettler, a consistent conservative,
went on to defeat challenger Jonathan Weinzapfel 50-48 percent.
Unlike 1996, when the Democrats never recovered entirely from a tough primary
fight, 8th District and national Democrats have united this year behind the
candidacy of Evansville City Councilwoman Riecken.
Riecken, 52, has already been endorsed by influential Indiana congressman Lee
Hamilton and a number of local labor unions, and the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee has showcased Riecken far more than most of the party's
congressional candidates. EMILY's List, which encourages Democratic donors to
contribute to credible, pro-choice Democratic women candidates, has helped raise
money for the Indiana challenger, which is one reason why the city councilwoman
is more than a third of the way to her $750,000 fund raising goal.
Hostettler, 36, refused to vote for Gingrich for speaker in early 1997, and he
is part of a group of conservatives who feel their party and House leadership
have been too willing to compromise with President Bill Clinton and with
The congressman continues to want a smaller government, including lower taxes,
but he has also concerned himself with local matters. Unlike most incumbents,
Hostettler does not accept political action committee contributions, and that
has limited his ability to raise funds. In 1994, he spent just $309,000, and two
years later, as an incumbent, he spent just $528,000 -- far below what most
vulnerable incumbents spent during the cycle.
Republicans note that in 1996 Hostettler was battered for months by unions ads.
And they also point out that the public's contentment with Congress and the
state of the country are bound to help the congressman. But Democrats insist
they have an appealing, well-financed candidate who has a unified Democratic
Party behind her. And given the fundamental competitiveness of Indiana's 8th
District, that's reason enough for Republicans to be concerned about
Hostettler's hold on this seat.
An opening for Dems in Alabama's 3rd C.D.
Alabama 3 Democratic strategists acknowledge that they are going to have a tough time
regaining many of the Southern seats they have lost over the past few elections,
but they are hoping that everything will fall into place in Alabama's 3rd C.D.,
where they hope to regain a seat they lost just two years ago, when the
incumbent Democrat gave up his seat to seek statewide office.
The district, located in the east central part of the state, is close to 25 percent
black, giving the Democratic nominee, Joe Turnham, a base of support that he
hopes to use to overtake incumbent Bob Riley (R).
Turnham, 38, is a businessman who is about to give up his post as Democratic
State Party chairman. His father has served in the Alabama state Legislature for
the last 40 years, so the Turnham name is well-known in the area.
The Democrat believes that his statewide contacts will enable him to raise
enough money to be very competitive, and he notes that competitive local
elections all but guarantee a large Democratic turnout in November.
Turnham understands that his relative youth and party position will come under
attack by Republicans. Conservatives are certain to try to link Turnham to
national Democrats, who are too far to the left for most Alabamians. The
Democratic hopeful argues that he would be an "independent" member of Congress,
voting with the president when the president was right but voting with
congressional Republicans when his own party wasn't in tune with the interests
of his district.
But Riley, a car dealer who spent over $860,000 to win the seat, will be a very
formidable opponent. The district is conservative - voting for George Bush for
president in 1992 and for Bob Dole four years later - and Riley will, as an
incumbent, be able to claim credit for the balanced budget and the state of the
Turnham knows he needs to run a perfect race and still catch a break to defeat
Riley. That's possible, but it also explains why the Republicans are favored to
hold the seat.