||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Dems Target Rep. White In Washington's 1st C.D.
Gov. Engler looks headed for re-election in Michigan
By Stuart Rothenberg
Washington 1 Democratic insiders thought they had a good chance to defeat Republican Rick White two years ago. That didn't happen, but Democrats have turned to former congressman Jay Inslee this year, and they think they have a real shot at White in November.
Washington's 1st C.D. straddles Puget Sound and includes part of Seattle's suburbs. The district was represented for years by moderate Republicans like Joel Pritchard and John Miller. Democrat Maria Cantwell won the seat in 1992, when Miller retired.
White ousted Democrat Cantwell in the 1994 GOP wave, and then, two years later, he defeated former King County deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Coopersmith, who won his party's nomination only narrowly after a sometimes bitter primary. The Republican overcame Coopersmith's personal money and outside advertising which portrayed the congressman as too extreme for the moderate district.
This time, the Democrats had a hard time finding candidates. Neophyte Laura Ruderman, enthusiastic but unprepared for a congressional bid, entered the race but quickly dropped out to run for the state Legislature when it became clear that Inslee was also in the race for good.
After serving two term in the state Senate, Inslee went to Congress for one term. He represented Central Washington's 4th C.D., but he failed in his first bid for re-election, losing to Republican "Doc" Hastings in 1994.
Inslee, who was born and grew up in Seattle, moved back to western Washington after that defeat, and in 1996 he sought his party's gubernatorial nomination. Again, he came up short.
The former congressman is now the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in the 1st C.D., though the filing deadline isn't until the end of July. Party insiders have rallied to Inslee's candidacy, believing that he can raise money and has the experience to take on White.
Inslee spent almost $500,000 in his 1994 loss, and he hopes to raise as much as $1 million for this race. He has already received contributions from the trial lawyers and AFSCME, the public employees' union.
White initially ran as a moderate Republican, but his critics portray him as much more conservative than that. While his interest group ratings show he's a conservative, he has bolted his conservative brethren, including opposing a constitutional ban on flag-burning.
White's most recent problem involves his divorce. Four years ago, the congressman used his wife and children to argue that he -- not the unmarried Cantwell -- understood the issues facing families. Now White is in the middle of a very public, rather messy divorce, and critics say that it could hurt White's image in the district, both now and in November.
Inslee will run on education, the environment and other traditionally Democratic issues. White will likely ask voters to return him to Congress if they are happy with the status-quo. A close race is likely.
A third term for Engler?
Michigan Governor When most people think about Michigan they probably think about Detroit, automobiles and organized labor. But Republican insiders surely think about John Engler, the two-term governor who hopes to join Republicans William Milliken and George Romney as the third three-term GOP governor in Michigan since World War II.
Engler narrowly ousted incumbent Democrat Jim Blanchard in 1990 and cruised to victory four years later against Democrat Howard Wolpe in a terrible year for any Democratic candidate.
Now, Engler is the favorite for a third term, but the state's Democrats are hoping that they can stop him. Their first problem, is picking their own nominee -- and avoiding an embarrassing primary that could produce a more embarrassing nominee.
Three major Democrats are seeking their party's nomination, with Larry Owen the front runner.
Owen is a businessman and attorney who served on the East Lansing city council, including a term as mayor. He ran a credible third in the 1994 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and he was appointed to the Michigan State University board of trustees.
Detroit mayor Dennis Archer has endorsed Owen, as have the state AFL-CIO, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospeace Workers, the United Auto Workers and a majority of the Democratic members of the state House and the state Senate.
In addition to his endorsements, Owen has considerable personal resources that he can bring to bear in the race.
Challenging Owen for the nomination are former state senator Doug Ross, who also served as director of the Michigan Commerce Department, and attorney Geoffrey Fiegar, a mega-wealthy attorney.
Fieger is not shy. In fact, Newsweek called him "crude, but ... also rich, smart and determined." He called primary opponent Ross a "jerk," and has been attacking Engler aggressively.
Engler has alienated many Democratic constituencies over the years (most particularly the state's teachers union), but it is hard to see any of the three Democrats ousting him as long as the overall mood in the state -- and the country -- is good.