||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 in Oklahoma, Utah
Following is a look at key races in Oklahoma and Utah:
Oklahoma 2: If the Republicans lose Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District in November, they can blame the folks over at U.S. Term Limits. That's because Republican Rep. Tom Coburn signed the group's three-term pledge, and -- unlike some members of Congress -- he's abiding by it and retiring.
Coburn won the seat in 1994 in part because of the GOP wave and in part because incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Synar was upset by a quirky challenger in the Democratic primary.
The 2nd Congressional District had developed a reputation as a Democratic district, but Coburn's brand of conservatism resonated with the district's voters. Still, it was one of only two Oklahoma districts to vote for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, and a strong Democratic nominee could surely be a formidable candidate in the fall.
Both parties have primaries in August to pick their nominee. The Democrats essentially have a two-man contest, with state Rep. Bill Settle facing attorney Brad Carson. The two candidates are about as different as can be.
Carson, 33, is a young, aggressive former White House fellow who suggests immodestly in his campaign literature that he may be "the next Carl Albert." He touts his academic degrees and awards, as well as his quick fund-raising start, and he portrays the Democratic primary as a choice between a veteran legislator who represents the past and a much younger, more energetic outsider who can bring new voters (and some members of the business community) into his party.
Settle, who will turn 63 just after the November election, is a lawyer and a one-time U.S. attorney. He served as a county Democratic chairman for five years, on the Muskogee city council, and, since 1990, in the state Legislature. He represents an overwhelmingly Democratic legislative district and has not had a serious race in years.
That led some to wonder whether he was prepared for a tough primary and general election, and whether he'd raise the funds needed for both elections. But Settle seems prepared for the tests. He currently chairs the state House's Appropriations Committee, which may well explain his surprisingly strong fund-raising.
The Republicans also have a primary, though Muskogee retired auto dealer Andy Ewing seems to be the favorite of party insiders.
Ewing, 62, was recruited into the race by retiring congressman Coburn, a close friend of his. Like Coburn, Ewing accepts a three-term limit, noting that he isn't trying to start a political "career." He projects a folksy manner, much closer to Settle's approach than to Carson's more go-getter style.
Ewing has high name identification from years of advertising his automobile distributorships, and Republican insiders say that he is well-liked in the community.
Ewing's most serious primary challengers appear to be two attorneys, Jack Ross (who ran in the 1990 Democratic primary against then-incumbent Mike Synar), and Steve Money.
Both parties agree that the combination of Coburn's retirement and the fundamentally competitive nature of the district make this race competitive. Although Ewing and Settle are generally regarded as the favorites, neither can assume he has his nomination sewed up. And while Republicans first thought this seat might be lost in November, they have become increasingly optimistic about their chances for holding it in the fall. We'll see if they are right.
Utah 2: Unless the polls are wrong, another incumbent member of Congress is about to be retired by the voters.
Utah 2nd Congressional District Republican Merrill Cook faces a difficult test at the GOP's June 27 primary, where challenger Derek Smith, 35, looks well-positioned to defeat Cook. Smith, an entrepreneur and businessman whose most recent foray has been into the business/Internet field, jumped into the race late but has significant personal resources to put behind his candidacy.
Cook, 54, has received months of bad publicity about his personal style and temper, and he was never accepted entirely by Republican insiders, who haven't forgotten his previous runs (both for governor and Congress) as an Independent.
A poll conducted in mid-May for the Deseret News found Smith leading Cook by 31 points, while a poll for Smith put the margin at a near-identical 29 points.
Many Washington GOP insiders figure that Smith is the party's only chance to hold the seat in November, when the winner of the primary faces an unusually strong Democratic opponent, Jim Matheson, son of a former popular Democratic governor.