||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Money Makes A Difference -- Again
By Stuart Rothenberg
This week's North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana primaries proved that numbers -- both in terms of the number of candidates and the number of dollars spent -- do matter.
In the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary, attorney John Edwards spent heavily on TV ads to overwhelm two lesser candidates, former Charlotte councilwoman Ella Scarborough and former University of North Carolina lobbyist D.G. Martin. Edwards drew just over 50 percent of the vote.
Edwards will be a formidable opponent for Sen. Lauch Faircloth. Young (40ish), good-looking, articulate and personally very wealthy, Edwards doesn't take PAC money and is already trumpeting his independence. He is trying to run as a "New Democrat," and he should have a united Democratic party behind him.
Faircloth has already answered Edwards in TV spots, and the Republican has a folksy style that is appealing. His conservatism isn't a drawback in the state, which has elected Sen. Jesse Helms (R) repeatedly against allegedly strong opponents.
In Ohio's 6th C.D., moderate Republican Nancy Hollister, the state's lieutenant governor, narrowly won the GOP nomination over two conservatives, former congressman Frank Cremeans and Michael Azinger. Azinger drew more than one-fifth of the total primary vote, most of which would likely have gone to the former congressman. Democrats admitted privately before the primary that Hollister would be the more formidable general election opponent for the incumbent, Cong. Ted Strickland (D), but GOP insiders are worried whether Hollister can motivate the GOP base in the district, which includes a substantial conservative "Bible Belt" vote.
In this case, at least, two conservatives divided the right-of-center primary vote to give the GOP a moderate general election nominee.
In Indiana's 10th C.D., however, moderate Virginia Blankenbaker was defeated by conservative businessman Gary Hofmeister. Blankenbaker, a former state legislator, drew 45% two years ago in an open seat race against Democrat Julia Carson. Insiders speculate that Blankenbaker thought she could coast to the nomination, but Hofmeister's personal money and conservative message apparently overcame Blankenbaker's early name identification advantage.
In Indiana 9, two conservatives faced off. Jean Leising, who ran against the incumbent Democrat in 1994 and 1996, defeated Michael Bailey, a vocal pro-lifer who also ran before. Leising now faces Democrat Baron Hill, who begins as the favorite in a very competitive district.
And in the Indiana Senate race, moderate Paul Helmke, the mayor of Ft. Wayne, squeezed by two conservatives, John Price and Peter Rusthoven. Helmke won with 35 percent of the vote to Price's 33 percent and Rusthoven's 31 percent.
Rusthoven, a former Bush speechwriter, had the support of the party establishment. But he never caught on (even some sympathetic to him complained about his arrogance), and Helmke overcame criticism that he was too liberal and too close to Pres. Bill Clinton. In the end, however, the GOP race was little more than a sideshow. The heavy favorite to win the seat of retiring senator Dan Coats (R) is former governor Evan Bayh (D), a popular moderate who begins with a huge advantage in the fall race.