||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Michigan's Rep. Sander Levin In A Real Race
In California, a surprising turn in the governor's race
By Stuart Rothenberg
Michigan 12 Every two years, Republican election strategists predict gains in Michigan House races, and just as reliably every two years all of the incumbent Democrats in the state win re-election. In fact, not a single incumbent Democratic has been defeated for re-election, not even in 1994, the GOP wave year that produced huge Republican gains nationally.
This year, the Republicans have been crowing about Leslie Touma, who they believe will give eight-term Democrat Sander Levin more than he can handle.
Levin, the older brother of Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), represents a suburban district north of Detroit. A mixed district politically, Bill Clinton overwhelmed Bob Dole in the 12th in 1996, but Clinton carried the district over George Bush in 1992 by fewer than 4,000 votes.
The major reason for GOP optimism this year is money. Oakland County commissioner John Pappageorge spent under $500,000 in both 1994 and 1996, while Levin spent over $1.5 million in 1994 and over $1.3 million two years later. In 1994, outspent by more than 3-to-1, Pappageorge drew 47 percent of the vote.
In Touma's March 31 FEC report, she showed $269,000 raised and $236,000 in the bank. Party insiders admit that Touma won't outspend Levin, but they believe that she will be able to raise $1 million, making her more competitive than anyone Levin has faced.
Touma, a pro-choice Republican who is generally conservative on tax, spending and gun issues, has never before run for office. She served as a policy analyst at the Department of Defense, as a member of the Strategic Arms Control delegation in Geneva, and at the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels. She also worked with veteran GOP pollster and strategist Bob Teeter.
In 1994 she took a position at the Lear Corporation. She is now on leave from the automobile supply company, at which she is director of corporate communications.
But while Touma's resume is impressive and her early fund-raising noteworthy, her campaign skills are far from certain. The 40-year-old professional, who is unmarried, is focused and serious about the race, but she lacks charisma and personal warmth. It's hard to imagine her on the campaign trail, whether giving a rousing speech to onlookers or working a bar in blue-collar Macomb County.
Touma talks about her private sector experience, the difference between her younger, fresher profile versus Levin's, and the congressman's "legacy of increasing taxes," but Levin, who may in fact be too liberal for the district, is a proven vote-getter who served in the Michigan Legislature and ran for governor twice before being elected to Congress. The voters know him, and they stuck with him even through the '94 GOP wave.
Touma has potential, but it isn't clear that she'll connect with the voters. Levin is in a real race, and he will have an opponent with the funding to make the case against him. But he starts off with a clear advantage.
California Governor First it was Carol Moseley-Braun. Then it was Russ Feingold. Will Gray Davis be Number Three? The poll numbers suggest he may well.
Like Illinois's Moseley-Braun and Wisconsin's Feingold, Davis lacked the financial resources of his two opponents. And like those two senators, he benefited from the front-runners taking aim at each other.
When Cong. Jane Harman entered the gubernatorial race, she used her considerable resources to vault to the front of the pack, quickly overtaking mega-wealthy businessman Al Checchi. Checchi responded by unloading on Harman, portraying her as too conservative for her party. Harman was also hurt by reports that she may have illegally employed an immigrant from Britain as a nanny for her children during the 1980s.
Insiders tend to agree that Harman had the potential to solidify support of women, moderates and even some liberals. But Checchi's attacks drove liberals to Davis and Harman's support among women and moderates dropped precipitously. But while Checchi's attacks raised Harman's negatives, his attacks and free spending also backfired, hurting his own reputation.
Davis, with far less money that Checchi or Harman, was ignored by the front-runners. Out of the limelight and with a long record of public service to the state, Davis suddenly looked pretty good to the voters -- at least in comparison to the rest of the field.
With the June 2 primary approaching quickly, Checchi and Harman find themselves with a huge problem: how to overcome the negatives they've picked up, get voters to reexamine the race, and pull Democratic primary voters away from Davis. That won't be easy. Insiders think Davis will be hard to beat, but this race has taken such strange twists and turns already, that another twist isn't impossible to imagine. And while the Democrats fight among themselves, Republican Dan Lungren suddenly looks more like a governor than he ever did before.