||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Democrats Have A Shot In Ohio's Competitive 1st C.D.
Republican dark horse could prove formidable in Vermont's Senate race.
By Stuart Rothenberg
Ohio 1 Even if Ohio's 1st C.D. wasn't a competitive district with a two-term incumbent without charisma, the Democrats probably would have a shot in this year's congressional election. That's because their candidate, city councilwoman Roxanne Qualls, is one of the most upbeat, articulate and poised challengers they have recruited in this incumbent-friendly political year.
But Qualls, who holds the largely ceremonial title of "mayor" because she received more votes in her at-large city council bid than did other city council candidates, still faces a tough fight against Republican Steve Chabot, who also served on the city council and who easily won reelection two years ago, in what was expected to be a tough environment for Republicans.
A conservative member of a conservative class, Chabot is already running radio ads talking about the congressman's accomplishments and criticizing Qualls for failing to debate. And there is little doubt that the GOP congressman will portray Qualls as a liberal during the campaign. She, in turn, will try to talk about local issues, stressing her pragmatic approach to dealing with problems.
Qualls has about $350,000 in the bank, a considerable amount for a challenger. But Chabot has about $500,000 on hand, and he knows he will face an opponent with name ID, money and campaign abilities.
Qualls faces a number of problems. First, she has never run in a one-on-one race, and the dynamics of that kind of contest are very different from her city council races. Second, the district's generally conservative tilt gives Chabot a weapon to use against any Democrat. Qualls' recent decision to present a "key to the city" to AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney shows that it won't be easy for the mayor to avoid national issues. Third, the national environment doesn't favor challengers.
Chabot doesn't have charisma, but he is a hard campaigner and has decided to go after the challenger rather than sit back and wait for her to initiate the terms of the campaign's agenda.
Democrats say they have polling showing the race even, while GOP insiders argue that the congressman has a small lead. Either way, it's clear that Chabot-Qualls will be one of the top races of this year, which is why it begins as a toss-up.
Vermont Senate Nobody in Washington is taking businessman Jack McMullen very seriously, but GOP insiders believe that McMullen is a rarity these days: an honest-to-goodness dark horse who has a message and the ability to raise money that could turn him into a formidable opponent for four-term Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the fall.
McMullen, a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, has served for years as a management advisor to large companies and to businesses in the technology sector. He argues that Leahy is too concerned with foreign policy matters and isn't doing enough to generate economic opportunities in the state of Vermont.
McMullen is also focusing on Act 60, which imposed a statewide property tax that equally funds education throughout the state. That legislation makes it almost impossible for localities to increase their spending on education, since in order to do so they would also have to send more money to Montpelier, so that it could be distributed around the state. Act 60 has aroused opposition in parts of the state, including among normally Democratic voters. McMullen believes the "Robin Hood" plan has hurt the Democratic party in the state and created an opening for an anti-tax, generally free market candidate.
Leahy responded to McMullen's candidacy by saying that he had never before run against someone from out of state, a reference to the fact the while McMullen has owned a house in the state for 15 years, he has resided in Massachusetts until very recently. In 1996, he voted in Massachusetts.
McMullen has already begun airing TV ads, and his personal resources and contacts in the business community should guarantee that he'll be well-funded. In addition, Vermont is not an expensive state in which to run.
While Leahy, whose interest group ratings place him firmly in the liberal wing of his party, has had some close races - he won with 50% in 1974 and 1980, and with 54% in 1992 - the state has turned from a GOP bastion to a Democratic stronghold. Gov. Howard Dean (D) is expected to be reelected easily this year, the Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature, and Bill Clinton carried the state easily in both 1992 and 1996. While the state has one Republican U.S. senator, liberal Jim Jeffords, Vermont's lone member of the House, Bernie Sanders, is a self-proclaimed socialist.
McMullen is smart and well-financed. But given his residence, his lack of political experience in an election cycle when being an "outsider" isn't a huge advantage, and his party, he'll need Act 60 to turn into a Vermont tsunami to give him a chance of beating Leahy.