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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight races of the week

By Stuart Rothenberg

January 12, 2000
Web posted at: 1:06 p.m. EST (1806 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following is a look at two key Senate races, as well as a ranking of key gubernatorial races:

Ohio Senate

For at least a year, Ohio Democrats have been out fishing for a strong challenger to freshman Sen. Mike DeWine (R). They now have four potential challengers interested in the race, but it is far from clear that any one of them has what it will take to upset DeWine.

A former prosecutor, state senator, congressman and lieutenant governor, DeWine lost a Senate race against John Glenn (D) in 1992 before coming back two years later to win the seat of retiring Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D). He defeated Metzenbaum's son-in-law, Joel Hyatt, easily in 1994, no doubt helped by the huge national GOP wave that also benefited Republicans in Ohio.

Democratic insiders initially rattled off a list of well-known Democrats as possible Senate hopefuls. The list included former state attorney general/1998 gubernatorial nominee Lee Fisher, U.S. Reps. Sherrod Brown, Ted Strickland and Marcy Kaptur, and state Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick. Even Hyatt, who moved to California, was mentioned as a potential candidate.

But Fisher decided against the race (knowing that another statewide loss would be a huge political albatross around his neck), and the three members of Congress all passed, each preferring to seek the relative safety of another term in the House. And Resnick, whose term on the bench ends this year, has opted to seek a third term on the state Supreme Court rather than embark on a risky Senate race.

But four Democrats have filed to take on DeWine. Ted Celeste, a former chairman of the Ohio State Board of Trustees and the brother of former governor Dick Celeste (D), announced his candidacy last week. Former state Rep. Richard Cordray, a 40-year-old attorney, is also in the race, and he has already been endorsed by the Franklin County (Columbus) Democratic Party. African American minister Marvin McMickle, who finished a rather distant second in last year's Democratic primary in Ohio's open 11th congressional district, is in the race, as is party activist Dan Radakovich.

Of the four Democrats, only Celeste has a statewide name, but that's because of his brother, not because of anything that he has done.

While the Democrats were unable to land a top-tier opponent for DeWine when filing closed, the senator found himself with an odd primary opponent: former congressman Frank Cremeans.

A one-term congressman who represented Ohio's 6th congressional district (in the southeastern corner of the state), Cremeans was defeated in 1996 by Strickland, just two years after he ousted Strickland in the GOP wave of 1994. The former Republican congressman is an outspoken conservative who is now complaining that DeWine has become more liberal since he went to the Senate. Prior to his entry into the Senate race, Cremeans had been mentioned as a possible House candidate again.

But while Cremeans' candidacy is worth mentioning, he is no real threat to DeWine, who is a clear favorite to win a second term.

Montana Senate

Montana Democrats, hoping to knock off veteran Sen. Conrad Burns (R), suddenly found themselves with a primary when former Montana House Speaker John Driscoll jumped into the race.

Both national and state Democrats seem to have embraced rancher Brian Schweitzer as their challenger to Burns. But the entry of Driscoll, a former member of the state's public service commission, raises doubts about the party's unity, which may be necessary if any Democrat can overtake Burns.

Schweitzer has been aggressive in earning free media coverage by attacking the senator, and he has indicated his willingness to put some of his personal resources into the race. The level of Discroll's commitment to the race is not yet certain, but a heated Democratic primary could leave the party divided and unable to devote all its energies to taking on Burns.

Early polling has shown Burns with a clear lead in his bid for reelection. A December Mason-Dixon survey, for example, found the Republican leading Schweitzer 57%-29%. Part of the Republican's advantage in the race stems from his higher name identification.

Democrats insist that the inexpensive cost of media in the state, the problems of the farm economy, and Burns's less than polished style combine to give them a good chance to pick up this Senate seat. But the Democratic primary and early polling should serve as a reminder of Burns's advantages, especially in a state where a vacant governorship and an open House seat are competing for attention with the Senate race.

Ratings: Gubernatorial Races of 2000

Likely/Safe Republican:Leavitt (R-UT)

Leaning Republican: None

Toss-Up: Delaware Open (D), Missouri Open (D), Montana Open (R), North Dakota Open (R), Underwood (R-WV)

Leaning Democratic: O'Bannon (D-IN), North Carolina Open (D)

Likely/Safe Democrat: Shaheen (D-NH), Dean (D-VT), Locke (D-WA)

ELECTION 2000

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Wednesday, January 12, 2000







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