||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Spotlight congressional races of the week
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As part of an ongoing series on key House and Senate races, CNN political analyst Stuart Rothenberg examines races in Alabama and California, states where Democrats are seeking to unseat Republican incumbents in the fall campaign.
The South hasn't been kind to the Democrats recently, but Marsha Folsom hopes to help change all that.
Folsom, the wife of former Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom (D) and a member of the Cullman City School Board, has emerged as a serious challenger against Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) in Alabama's 4th Congressional District.
While Republican incumbent Aderholt was reelected with a solid 56.4 percent last time (against the son of a former congressman), he can't afford to take his reelection for granted. The 4th Congressional District is a Democratic district that stretches across north Alabama. Unusually unionized for the South, the district cast a majority of its vote for Don Siegelman, a Democrat, in the 1998 gubernatorial race, as it did for four other Democrats in statewide races that year.
Until Aderholt won the district in 1996, Democrat Don Bevill had held the seat for 30 years.
Folsom, who promises to be an energetic candidate, has been active in children's and health care issues. She served as a member of the Cullman Area Board of Realtors, as well as on the area's chamber of commerce.
Folsom became a credible hopeful when she disclosed that she had raised $587,000 as of the end of March, with $509,000 in the bank.
The Democrat hopes to present herself as an "Alabama Democrat," whose conservative moral views are more in step with the district's than with her national party's. Folsom emphasizes her work in Christian education, and she supports Aderholt's proposal to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in public buildings.
But Folsom disagrees with many of the Republican's positions. She criticizes him for supporting a flat tax, for initially favoring term limits, for opposing school vouchers, and for favoring "tax cuts for the wealthy."
But whatever Folsom's assets, she has quite a mountain to climb. Aderholt has been elected twice, and he spent $1.6 million last time (compared to $662,000 by his Democratic opponent).
This time, the congressman will benefit from a presidential year, when district voters may see Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton -- not House hopeful Folsom -- as the Democratic Party. Bob Dole carried the 4th Congressional District by five points (48 percent to 43 percent), and Texas Gov. George W. Bush should do even better.
And maybe most important, Aderholt may be able to paint Folsom, who has been endorsed by the moderate "Blue Dogs" but received contributions from labor PACs and the Trial Lawyers, as a liberal. That would be fatal to the challenger's campaign.
Most Republicans thought they would have a tough time holding California's 15th Congressional District as soon as they heard that incumbent Tom Campbell (R) was giving up his seat to run for the Senate. Now that the two parties have picked their candidates, those Republicans know that they were right.
The GOP's biggest problem simply is the district. The 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, has gone solidly for Bill Clinton in the last two presidential elections (by 46 percent to 30 percent in 1992 and 53 percent to 35 percent in 1996). While it will support moderate and liberal Republicans, the district tilts Democratic overall.
The Republican nominee is Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, 38, a former manager at Applied Materials. The Democratic nominee is Assemblyman Mike Honda, 58, a former teacher.
When Cunneen entered the race, he received a quick and enthusiastic endorsement from Campbell and the unanimous support from the district's GOP leaders. Honda, on the other hand, had to defeat a wealthy, self-funded businessman. With all of the candidates listed on the primary ballot (regardless of party), Honda finished first among the Democrats (giving him the nomination for the fall campaign), as well as among all candidates. He drew a solid 54 percent, while Cunneen attracted 38 percent.
Honda and Cunneen are both attractive candidates, but in very different ways. The Republican is more energetic and exciting. Honda, on the other hand, is relatively modest and low-key for a politician.
Somewhere along the line, the candidates are going to have to emphasize their differences with each other. And when they do, voters will surely be looking as much at style and presentation as issues.
Honda begins with a slight edge because of the nature of the congressional district, but Cunneen actually represents more of the district than his Democratic opponent. This should be one of the premier House races of the 2000 elections.
MOST VULNERABLE HOUSE OPEN SEATS
Virginia 2 (Pickett, D)
Washington 2 (Metcalf, R)
Pennsylvania 4 (Klink, D)
New Jersey 7 (Franks, R)
California 15 (Campbell, R)
Illinois 10 (Porter, R)
Michigan 8 (Stabenow, D)
Montana At Large (Hill, R)
Florida 8 (McCollum, R)
Oklahoma 2 (Coburn, R)
Missouri 2 (Talent, R)
Ohio 12 (Kasich, R)
West Virginia 2 (Wise, D)