||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Rep. Baker Faces A Strong Challenge In Louisiana
Competitive primaries in Idaho, Kentucky
By Stuart Rothenberg
Louisiana 6 Republican incumbent Richard Baker, a six-term incumbent who served 14 years in the Louisiana state Legislature before winning a seat in the U.S. House, had a breeze of a re-election race two years ago. But that hasn't dissuaded a potentially strong challenger, Marjorie McKeithen (D), from making a run against Baker this year.
Baker was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote in 1996, but the Democrats didn't nominate a candidate in that contest who could take advantage of a re-drawn congressional district that was significantly more Democratic than it had been.
Baker's district, in central Louisiana, was about 15 percent black before it was redrawn recently, but it is now almost 30 percent African American. That has also increased the Democratic base in the district and encouraged party strategists to believe that they have a chance for an upset in the fall. But while Bill Clinton carried the re-drawn 6th in 1992 and 1996, Republican Senate candidate Woody Jenkins beat Democrat Mary Landrieu in the district in the '96 Senate race.
McKeithen's background is one reason why Democrats are excited about her race. The daughter of Louisiana's GOP secretary of state and grand-daughter of a former Democratic governor, Marjorie has never before run for office. But the 32-year-old attorney managed one of her father's races, clerked for a federal judge and then went into private practice with her grandfather.
She has a great political name, is a veteran of campaigns and has the youthful energy needed to oust an incumbent. Maybe even more important, she had raised over $220,000 at the end of the first week in May.
The Democrat's views also appear conservative enough to make it tough for Republicans. While she favors a hike in the minimum wage and leans against fast track trade authority as a threat to state jobs, she "adamantly" favors a ban on partial birth abortions, is pro-life (with the usual exceptions), supports term limits and could support a Balanced Budget Amendment.
But while McKeithen seems like a strong nominee, 1998 may not be a good year for a challenge to Baker. The GOP congressman serves on two key committees, including Banking & Financial Services, and should be able to raise far more than the $554,000 he did for his 1996 race. His conservative record and GOP label should benefit him, and, like all incumbents, he'll be able to claim credit for a strong economy and a balanced budget. And he's likely to portray her as too close to the trial lawyer community.
McKeithen will continue to get plenty of attention as long as she can raise the money. She's still something of a long shot, but Democratic insiders believe that she can ultimately pose a serious threat to Baker. If she does, 1998 could be a good year for the Democrats. But Baker still looks like the favorite.
Arkansas Senate The state's Senate primary has produced a major headache for the GOP. While Republican insiders hoped that a fractured Democratic primary would produce a weakened Democratic nominee -- possibly even veteran officeholder Winston Bryant -- that now seems unlikely.
Bryant finished second in his primary, earning him a place in the runoff. But his chance of beating the first-place finisher, former congresswoman Blanche Lambert Lincoln, seems small. Lincoln won over 45 percent in the four-way primary, while Bryant, who is well-known by voters and apparently saw his numbers fall as the campaign progressed, drew just 27 percent.
Party insiders see Bryant as a possible loser in November, while Lincoln would begin as a solid favorite against the GOP nominee, state Sen. Fay Boozman. About 53,500 voters cast a ballot in the GOP primary, while over 308,000 people voted in the Democratic primary.
Boozman could run against Bryant on both ideological and generational grounds, but Lincoln is both more conservative than Bryant (though not nearly as conservative as Boozman), and she will be just 38 in November.
Republican strategists will be rooting for Bryant in the runoff, but Lincoln looks like the favorite in that contest and for November.
Tight race likely for Kentucky Senate seat
Both Kentucky and Idaho had competitive primaries of note on Tuesday, May 26.
In the Kentucky Senate primaries, Cong. Jim Bunning easily won the GOP nomination and will face Cong. Scotty Baesler in the fall. A tight race is likely, with each nominee having a political base and some statewide appeal.
In the 6th C.D., the Democrats have nominated state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, probably the most liberal Democrat in his party's primary. That is great news for the Republicans, who have a strong nominee in Ernest Fletcher, a doctor who drew 44 percent.
In the 3rd C.D., heavily-recruited former state attorney general Chris Gorman barely eked by Virginia Woodward. Gorman now faces freshman Anne Northup (R), and the Democratic nominee's relatively poor showing should have Democrats worried. Woodward, however, apparently ran a strong campaign.
In Idaho, Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District nominated state legislator Mike Simpson to try to keep the seat left vacant by Mike Crapo's Senate candidacy. Simpson, a conservative who also had the support of party insiders, will face former congressman Richard Stallings, who gave up the seat six years ago to run for the Senate. Stallings was quite popular, and although he has been out of the political limelight for a few years, even GOP insiders admit that he is a credible contender for November.