||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Kentucky's Open House Seat Contest Sets Up Ideological Struggle
Democrat Evan Bayh a solid favorite in Indiana's Senate race
By Stuart Rothenberg
Kentucky 6 While Democrats talk about the possibility that they may be able to win the 11 additional seats needed to take over control of the House of Representatives, Republican Ernie Fletcher is trying to do his part to make that unlikely.
| 1998 Gubernatorial Ratings|
Fletcher is the GOP nominee in Kentucky 6, and his race against Democratic candidate Ernesto Scorsone will be one of the closely-watched open seat contests that could determine control of the House. The seat is currently represented by Democrat Scotty Baesler, who is running for the Senate.
Fletcher, a doctor and former state representative, easily won a two-man primary, while Scorsone won his party's nomination with just 24 percent of the vote, defeating five other credible Democratic contenders. Scorsone, who served as a state representative before being elected to the Kentucky state Senate two years ago, was the most liberal candidate in the primary, and he won the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO and the Kentucky Education Association.
The Fletcher-Scorsone race sets up an ideological struggle, with each candidate presenting himself as closer to the political mainstream and portraying his opponent as out-of-touch. Fletcher, who is pro-life, will almost certainly win support from business groups and conservative organizations. Scorsone, who is pro-choice, will get the backing of organized labor and liberal PACs.
The Democrat, who is upbeat and outgoing, has released the results of a poll conducted for his campaign which shows the state senator holding a 20-point lead, 52 percent-32 percent over the Republican adversary. But if that survey is accurate, it demonstrates both the importance of name identification and the limited utility of an early poll.
Kentucky 6 has proven to be a politically competitive district, and the November election is likely to be close. But if either candidate has an edge it is almost certainly Fletcher, who drew 44 percent of the vote against Baesler two years ago.
Republican presidential candidates carried the 6th C.D. in 1980, 1984, 1988 and even 1992, and President Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by just a single point two years ago. The GOP nominee for governor in 1995, who lost statewide, carried the 6th C.D., as has Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in his three Senate races.
While there were more than five times as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as there were in the GOP race in May, that's explained partially by the competitive Democratic primaries for Congress and the Senate, where outgoing congressman Baesler was battling (successfully) for the Senate nomination.
Scorsone should benefit from Baesler's presence on the ticket in November, but he'll have to fend off GOP attacks portraying him as a liberal while at the same time painting Fletcher as an extreme right-winger.
Fletcher, who is low-key, begins the general election with over $300,000 in the bank, while Scorsone was tapped out at the end of his primary.
The 6th C.D. looks competitive and likely to be hard-fought, but Scorsone will need a break if he is to retain this seat for the Democrats in November.
Indiana Senate. Democrats have to defend 18 of the 34 Senate seats up for election this year, and they know they'll have a hard time holding all of their incumbents in addition to their three open seats. That's why they are so happy that they have Evan Bayh waiting around.
Bayh, a former two-term governor, is a solid favorite to pick up an Indiana Senate seat in the fall. That's because the incumbent, conservative Dan Coats (R), has announced his retirement, and the GOP has failed to recruit a top tier contender to try to hold the seat.
The Republican nominee is Fort Wayne mayor Paul Helmke, a moderate who has had nice things to say over the years about Clinton, and who was certainly not the preferred choice of conservatives or party insiders in the Republican primary.
Bayh, on the other hand, earned a reputation as a fiscal moderate during his years as the state's chief executive, and he won many Republican votes. In his 1992 reelection race, he won 62 percent of the vote. He is good-looking, articulate and politically ambitious, and his wife, Susan, will be an asset on the campaign trail.
At the end of March, Helmke had about $20,000 in the bank, compared with a little over $3.2 million for Bayh.
GOP insiders are worried that Bayh, whose father was a liberal Democrat and well known U.S. senator before he was defeated by Republican Dan Quayle in 1980, will win so handily and will have to spend so little time stumping for himself that he will be able to help Democratic congressional candidates. That may or may not happen, but there is no doubt about Bayh's future in the fall. He will win ... easily.