||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
A Surprising Challenger For Minnesota's Rep. Luther
In Alaska, Democrats go after Rep. Young
By Stuart Rothenberg
Minnesota 6 National Republican political operatives expected to have Linda Runbeck, a well-funded state senator, as their nominee this year against Rep. Bill Luther, a two-term Democrat from the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. But Runbeck ran into a surprise at the district endorsing convention in the person of John Kline, a political neophyte who moved to the state only recently with his wife.
Kline spent months wooing delegates to the convention, while Runbeck raised cash for the fall. The endorsing convention was unable to produce a winner after nine ballots, but with Kline inching toward victory, Runbeck dropped from the race, conceding the endorsement to Kline.
Now, Kline faces another uphill race against Democrat Luther, who is well-known as a powerful fund-raiser and a potential statewide candidate in two years.
Luther, who served in the Minnesota House and Senate before being elected to Congress in 1994, won his first election to the U.S. House by just 550 votes over a veteran Democratic elected official who switched to the GOP and was known for his pro-life views on abortion. Two years later, Luther won a re-match by an even greater margin. The Democrat spent over $1.1 million in his first race and $850,000 in his re-election.
Kline, Luther's opponent this year, spent 25 years in the Marines, including tours in Vietnam and at the White House (under both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan). He retired in 1994, moving to his wife's home state of Minnesota in 1995.
As a military officer, Kline was never involved in partisan politics, but in 1996 he served as state chairman for Veterans for Dole-Kemp.
Kline is personable, articulate and likable, and he projects qualities of strength and reasonableness. A pro-life conservative who says people need more money in their pockets and Washington needs to turn more government functions over to the states, the former Marine officer needs to raise money fast to prove that he is a credible candidate. Former secretary of state Jim Baker has already hosted a fund raiser for Kline, and Baker and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney are the featured attractions at an upcoming fund-raiser in Texas.
But for all his potential appeal, Kline is still a challenger against a politically astute incumbent. Until the Republican proves he can raise big money and puts Luther on the defensive, the Democrat looks to have the advantage.
Democrats take aim at Alaska's Rep. Young
Alaska At-Large First elected to Congress in a 1973 special election, Don Young (R) chairs the House Resources Committee. While it's hard to imagine Alaskan voters throwing away his seniority and political clout, national and state Democrats are upbeat about the prospects of their 1998 challenger to Young, state Sen. Jim Duncan.
Duncan was first elected to the Alaska House in 1972. After serving 12 years there, he moved to the state Senate, where he is now the minority leader and senior Democrat in the body.
Duncan was described in one newspaper article as having a "quick wit and a quick temper," setting up an interesting match with Young, who is described by Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America as having a "temperamental nature," and as being angry and impatient.
Young has not cracked 60 percent of the vote since his 1988 re-election, and that leads Democrats to argue that the Republican congressman's style has not made him beloved back home. But Democrats have been shut out in federal races in the state. The last Democrat to win a race for the U.S. House or Senate was Mike Gravel in 1974, suggesting that the state's voters are consistently conservative (and Republican) on matters that involve federal-state relations.
Duncan is likely to argue that Young's many years in Washington have not benefited the state as much as they should have, and he'll certainly say that Young has spent so much time in the nation's capital that he is out of touch with the state's concerns.
But Young is likely to argue that Duncan is just another liberal who is trying to oust him, and the congressman can point to the challenger's strong support from organized labor to make his argument.
Duncan has raised plenty of money and he is clearly running a more aggressive campaign than most of Young's challengers. That alone makes this race worth watching, though the congressman will be hard to beat.