||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight on races in Virginia, Kentucky
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following is a look at key races in Virginia and Kentucky:
Virginia 7: The general election contest in Virginia's 7th Congressional District isn't likely to be all that interesting. The district, currently represented by retiring congressman Tom Bliley (R), is reliably Republican.
But GOP voters in the district are being treated to one of those primaries where everyone seems to have an opinion -- even Republican insiders, who often stay neutral in internal party battles.
The primary pits state Delegate Eric Cantor against state Sen. Stephen Martin.
Cantor, 36, has quickly emerged as the candidate of the party establishment. Before winning a seat in the state House of Delegates, Cantor earned a law degree and worked for his father's law firm and the family real estate development business. He has close ties to the Richmond business community and has proven adept at fund raising.
Martin, 43, grew up on a farm and was one of eight children. He worked in construction and in a DuPont fiber plant before starting his own insurance company. Martin first was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1987. He won a special election to fill an open state Senate seat in early 1994.
The candidates' positions on high-profile issues don't seem terribly different, but there are obvious geographic and cultural differences between the candidates. Both Martin and Cantor come from the southern part of the 7th Congressional District, so they will battle for critical votes in the less populated but important northern part of the district.
Martin is more obviously the "rural candidate," while Cantor is seen more as Bliley's protege and the preferred candidate of the business community.
Local insiders argue that Cantor has the edge, but they concede that Martin's supporters are motivated to turn out and a Martin victory certainly is not out of the question. If Cantor wins the primary, which is tantamount to winning the general election, his victory would immediately double the number of Jewish Republicans in the House from one (New York's Ben Gilman) to two.
Kentucky 1: While most of the attention in Kentucky is on the competitive 6th District race, where former Rep. Scotty Baesler (D) is trying to reclaim his seat from the current occupant, freshman Ernie Fletcher (R), Bluegrass State Democrats think they may have another chance for a pick-up in the 1st Congressional District.
Taking in the western third of the state, the 1st C.D. has been held for three terms by Ed Whitfield, a former lobbyist and a conservative.
Democrats once thought of this district as their territory, but they haven't been able to wrestle it back from Whitfield since he defeated incumbent Tom Barlow (D) in the Republican wave year of 1994. That was the same year that Whitfield changed his party registration, jumping to the GOP.
This year, the Democrats looked to be headed for a primary. But fearing that would undermine the party's chances against Whitfield, Gov. Paul Patton (D) used his influence to encourage Simpson County Commonwealth Attorney Lee Steers to drop out of the race. That turned the Democratic nomination over to Brian Roy, a former U.S. marshal.
A moderate Democrat who shares Whitfield's pro-life views on abortion, Roy is a former sheriff and one-time executive director of the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce.
Democrats believe that their candidate has enough conservative credentials to make it difficult for Whitfield to paint him as a liberal. They hope to beat up the congressman for not having a house in the district, and Roy hopes to benefit from his economic populism.
But Whitfield has turned aside similar attacks in the past, and he'll likely paint Roy's support from organized labor as evidence that the Democratic challenger is closer to Vice President Al Gore and national Democrats than to the people of the 1st District.
Whitfield definitely ought to be on everyone's "watch list," but it isn't yet clear that Roy, even with his money and moderate rhetoric, is going to be able to oust the congressman. If the Democrats can win this district, they will have a great chance of taking over the House of Representatives.