||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Plenty Of Problems For Connecticut's Gary Franks
Florida GOP happy about the governor's race
By Stuart Rothenberg
Connecticut Senate Gary Franks is the perfect GOP Senate candidate in 1998. Except, of course, for the fact that he isn't.
Franks, a black Republican and former three-term member of Congress, looks -- at least on paper -- like a strong candidate against incumbent Sen. Chris Dodd (D). He has already represented one-sixth of the state, is experienced in campaigns, would seem to have the potential of making inroads into the Democrats' black vote, and has a unified state Republican party behind him.
Republicans also believe that Dodd's tenure as chairman of the Democratic National Committee gives them a huge target. They see Dodd's role in questionable national party fund raising as political baggage which will force the senator on the defensive during the campaign.
But there is a lot less than meets the eye to Franks' bid. The former congressman never solidified his hold on his congressional district, ultimately losing it in 1996. That hardly suggests political skill, and, in fact, Franks received generally mixed press during his three terms in the House of Representatives.
While it's true that the Connecticut GOP establishment, including Gov. John Rowland (R), got behind Franks early, that's more a reflection of the lack of interest by Republican officeholders in the race, and in the state party's inability to produce strong Senate candidates recently, rather than Franks's electoral strength.
Polling shows that Franks has so far been unable to make any inroads against Dodd, who announced his re-election bid on May 28. A late March poll conducted by Qunnipiac College showed Dodd leading Franks 60-24 percent, and the senator's job ratings an impressive 60 percent approve/27 percent disapprove. A mid-May Hartford Courant survey, conducted by The University of Connecticut, showed Dodd's margin over Franks at a stunning 44 points, 62-18 percent.
Dodd's years at the DNC when that committee was raising money that it eventually was forced to return could give Franks an opening, and Dodd was sufficiently concerned to woo veteran political operative Rob Engle away from a high-level position at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to run the senator's re-election campaign.
But for Franks to take advantage of Dodd's potential vulnerabilities, he'll need big money to reach the voters, who watch TV from Hartford, New Haven, Providence (R.I.), Boston and the very expensive New York City media markets. At the end of March, however, Franks had just $112,000 in the bank, compared with Dodd's $2.8 million. That funding gap is a serious problem for the GOP challenger.
With the public generally content, and both parties more focused on the state's gubernatorial race, it's hard to see Connecticut voters rising up against Dodd and dumping him for Franks. And that self-fulfilling prophecy is another problem for the challenger.
The hottest Bush of all
Florida Governor While most of the national attention on the Bush family has centered on Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a potential GOP presidential hopeful, the hottest Bush may well be Florida gubernatorial hopeful Jeb Bush, the brother of the Texas governor and the son of the former president.
Members of the national media are stumbling over each other to write stories about Jeb, who looks increasingly like a winner in November.
Democrats clearly are concerned about the viability of their front-runner for governor, Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay. While MacKay faces two state legislators in the Democratic primary, neither state Rep. Keith Arnold nor state Sen. Rick Dantzler is expected to have the political muscle to overtake the lieutenant governor. Some party insiders tried to woo other Democrats into the race, but the prospect of a primary against MacKay and a November match with Bush helped dissuade additional entrants.
Bush earned a reputation as a consistent conservative during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign four years ago, but he is reaching out to traditional Democratic voters by sounding "kinder and gentler" themes.
Polling has shown last year's tight race between Bush and MacKay opening up decisively for Bush. A March survey conducted by Florida Voter, a non-partisan monthly, showed Bush leading MacKay 50-39 percent, while a mid-April Mason-Dixon poll for a number of media outlets showed Bush with an even healthier 53-35 percent lead over MacKay.
It's hard to imagine a total blow-out in the Florida governor's race, but there is no denying that Democrats are worried -- and Republicans are now expecting a pick-up.