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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: Is this the last dance for term limits?

April 14, 2000
Web posted at: 2:05 p.m. EDT (1805 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Term Limits, which has been leading the charge for term limits for state legislators and members of Congress, unveiled a new television ad on Tuesday. The real question is whether anybody still cares.

The 30-second spot, which is being aired only in Washington, D.C., not in Missouri district of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt or nationally, thanks the Gephardt for indicating that he might support term limits for committee chairs if the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in November.

The ad credits House Republicans for instituting those term limits when they won the House, calling the change "a dramatic reform that's made a real difference," and it ends by asking viewers to "Thank Dick Gephardt for supporting term limits, embracing reform, and rejecting the old politics."

Six years ago, a U.S. Term Limits (USTL) announcement would have drawn a crowd, including well-known media faces. But only a sprinkling of reporters showed up on Tuesday, with the major newspapers absent and not a single television camera in sight.

Why the lack of interest? Clearly the term limits movement has lost its steam. With the public generally content, the whole issue seems at least a little passe.

But reporters are probably also a little tired of being manipulated by interest groups that announce a TV campaign but hope to get most of their bang from the press conference.

U.S. Term Limits national director Paul Jacob refused to say exactly how much money the group was spending and how many times the spot would be aired. When asked for details, he would only say that it was "a fairly heavy buy" and that "If you are watching CNN, you'll see it a number of times."

But without details about the buy, how can anyone judge the potential effectiveness of the ad? And what's the point of it, anyway? The purpose of the spot seems merely to remind Washington, D.C. opinion makers that U.S. Term Limits is still around and pushing its agenda.

While seven of the ten House members who took the six-year term limits pledge are not seeking reelection, three -- Reps. George Nethercutt (R-Washington), Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts) and Scott McInnis (R-Colorado) -- are running for another term. USTL has been hammering Nethercutt with TV commercials in an attempt to drive up his personal negatives and make him vulnerable in the fall. They have had some success.

But the group ran only a brief radio campaign against Meehan and so far has conveniently ignored McInnis's broken pledge. Neither representative is likely to face a tough race this year, and USTL wisely sees no point in wasting resources on either contest. But USTL's inability to punish McInnis and Meehan is an admission of the group's limited clout, and of the issue's lessened relevance at the moment.

Nethercutt comes from a more competitive district, and he faces a primary challenge from a conservative talk show host. In addition, national and local Democrats have been trying to recruit a top-tier challenger, but so far have failed. (They thought they had a viable candidate, but she dropped out just days after announcing that she would enter the race).

If the three-term Republican wins re-election, it will be a huge embarrassment for U.S. Term Limits, which has promised to make Nethercutt an example. And the inability of the Democrats to recruit a strong contender so far, even with the tens of thousands of dollars of commercials spent by term limits supporters to soften up the congressman, has to depress Jacobs.

  • CURRENT ELECTORAL COLLEGE OUTLOOK needed to elect: 270

    Safe/Likely Bush:
    Alabama (9 elec. votes)
    Alaska (3)
    Idaho (4)
    Indiana (12)
    Kansas (6)
    Mississippi (7)
    Nevada (4)
    Nebraska (5)
    North Dakota (3)
    Oklahoma (8)
    South Carolina (8)
    South Dakota (3)
    Texas (32)
    Utah (5)
    Virginia (13)
    Wyoming (3)
    Safe/Likely Bush Total: 125

    Advantage Bush
    Arizona (8)
    Colorado (8)
    Florida (25)
    Georgia (13)
    Montana (3)
    North Carolina (14)
    Advantage Bush Total: 71

    Total Bush: 125 +71 = 196

    Safe/Likely Gore
    California (54)
    D.C. (3)
    Hawaii (4)
    Maryland (10)
    Massachusetts (12)
    Minnesota (10)
    New York (33)
    Rhode Island (4)
    Tennessee (11)
    West Virginia (5)
    Safe/Likely Gore Total: 146

    Lean Gore
    Connecticut (8)
    Maine (4)
    New Jersey (15)
    Vermont (3)
    Lean Gore Total: 30

    Total Gore: 146 + 30 = 176

    Toss-Up
    Arkansas (6)
    Delaware (3)
    Illinois (22)
    Iowa (7)
    Kentucky (8)
    Louisiana (9)
    Michigan (18)
    Missouri (11)
    New Hampshire (4)
    New Mexico (5)
    Ohio (21)
    Oregon (7)
    Pennsylvania (23)
    Washington (11)
    Wisconsin (11)

    Total Toss-Up: 166

    Totals

    Bush 196
    Gore 176
    Toss-Up 166

  •  
    ELECTION 2000

    WHAT'S AT STAKE

    RACES
    If you need to know who's up in 1999 or 2000 and what seats are open launch this quick guide.

    THE STATES
    Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? Find out with these state political and election facts.

    POLLS
    Check out the latest numbers or dig back into the poll archives.

    COMMUNITY


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    Friday, April 14, 2000



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