||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Republicans Upbeat About Indiana's 10th C.D.
In Michigan, no one's laughing about Fieger now
By Stuart Rothenberg
Indiana 10 Republican operatives are increasingly optimistic that they can knock off freshman Democrat Julia Carson and win a seat they have been eyeing for years. And they have plenty of reasons for being upbeat about the race, since they have a wealthy, aggressive candidate in a year when Democrats are worried whether Carson's African-American base will bother to vote.
The 10th C.D. is located entirely within Marion County and includes inner-city Indianapolis as well as more upscale areas. The district, which is about 30 percent black, went comfortably for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. Until 1996, it was held by Andy Jacobs, a sometimes quirky Democrat.
Carson, who worked as an aide for Jacobs, served in the Indiana House and Senate, and as head of the Marion County Center Township Trust, which offers relief to the needy. She won the Democratic nomination in 1996 against the former Democratic state chairman and others, and beat former state Sen. Virginia Blankenbaker, a moderate Republican, in the fall.
Carson has had some medical problems, and this year she'll need all her strength to turn back a challenge from Gary Hofmeister, a conservative Republican who has never before run for office but who has name recognition from his successful jewelry business.
Hofmeister won the right to face Carson by upsetting Blankenbaker 44-37 percent in a multi-candidate GOP primary that featured ads from a moderate GOP group that intended to benefit Blankenbaker's candidacy.
Hofmeister clearly intends to run an ideological campaign against Carson. In a recent interview, he emphasized his support for school choice and for a ban of partial-birth abortions (both of which she opposes), and he criticized her record on crime. He has hired former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed as his general consultant.
Critics argue that Hofmeister is "too conservative" for the district, and his lack of experience, while an asset in 1992 or 1994, may not be a plus this year, when voters seem content with the status-quo and no longer hold politicians in contempt. Moreover, during the primary, rumors spread about Hofmeister's personal life, raising questions about his "pro-family" views. The candidate admits that he had a serious drinking problem, but he categorically denies unsubstantiated rumors of physical abuse.
Hofmeister is conservative -- very conservative -- but his style isn't at all threatening. He is totally without pretense, more like your next-door-neighbor who can't figure out how to use his VCR than a polished political pro. In any case, he hardly seems like a dangerous idealogue who is likely to scare voters.
Hofmeister raised about $400,000 through June 30, with more than a quarter of that coming from the candidate. He says that the general election will cost about $1 million. Carson spent about $575,000 in her primary and general election campaigns last time.
Carson's greatest problem -- aside from Hofmeister's commitment and energy -- may be uncertainty about turnout. With a Senate race that is a yawner, and voters seemingly uninterested in politics, Carson will have to find a way to get her core groups to the polls. That would give Hofmeister the opening he is looking for. And it's why Indiana 10 remains on the list of races to watch.
Michigan's Engler can't ignore Fieger
Michigan Governor When Geoffrey Fieger jumped into the Michigan Democratic gubernatorial primary, most insiders chuckled. How could a loud-mouthed, brash lawyer whose main claim to fame was his work as attorney for Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who is best known for helping people commit suicide, ever think he could win the Democratic nomination?
Well, nobody is laughing now at Fieger, who used his personal wealth and a brash, populist style to beat former East Lansing mayor Larry Owen and former Clinton Administration official Doug Ross. Owen was regarded as the favorite, having been endorsed by organized labor, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, and the Democratic political establishment.
Fieger, who voted at the wrong location in his primary election, has drawn national attention because of his anti-establishment style and personal attacks on his opponents and government officials.
He complains that the people in state government are "mediocre" and calls Gov. John Engler "a shill" who has "never held a job." "He is less than mediocre in intelligence," says Fieger about the governor.
Some Democrats say that Engler is nervous about facing such a combative and untraditional opponent, but GOP insiders, speaking on background, laugh at that suggestion. They say they have so much ammunition to use against Fieger that their only decision is exactly what to use. And they point to a Republican poll that shows Engler with a huge lead over Fieger. Even worse for the Democrat, more people disapprove of Fieger than approve of him. Michigan Republicans believe Fieger's candidacy guarantees GOP gains in the state Legislature and increases the likelihood the party will win the open attorney general's race. And GOP congressional candidates are already trying to tie their opponents to Fieger.
But Fieger, who can be funny and engaging when he isn't calling people names, will be hard for Engler to ignore. The challenger won solid support in his primary among black voters, and he's likely to do well in Detroit in the fall. Moreover, his anti-establishment message will resonate with voters who think politics is full of phonies.
Ultimately, Fieger will have trouble overcoming the impression he is simply rude and nasty. He will likely lose some Democratic voters (though his parents' ties to organized labor and his pro-choice views on abortion should help him among some voter groups), but he is unlikely to attract Republican cross-over voters. Still, he'll make the election interesting, especially if you are a fan of professional wrestling, Howard Stern and Don Imus.