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Car-Tax Issue Lifts Gilmore In Virginia

New York congressional race coming down to the wire

By Stuart Rothenberg

WASHINGTON (Oct. 9) -- Attorney General Jim Gilmore (R) appears to have a slight advantage over Lt. Gov. Don Beyer (D), according to a new Washington Post poll. The survey, conducted October 9-12 (n= 1,005 likely voters), shows Gilmore leading 48%-41% statewide, in part because he has fought Beyer to a statistical draw in northern Virginia, Beyer's home area.

Gilmore's proposal to eliminate the state's personal property tax (on cars and trucks) has resonated in northern Virginia, which the Democrat must win convincingly if he is to win the November 4th election. That's why Beyer has aimed his firepower against Gilmore in Virginia's Washington suburbs, portraying the Republican as extreme on abortion (and attempting to link him in TV ads with Pat Robertson and the Christian Right). Beyer hopes to move women voters, paint Gilmore as "extreme" and force moderate and liberal voters but also polarize the race around more traditional liberal versus conservative moral issues.

Democrats acknowledge that Gilmore is ahead and that Beyer is not doing as well in northern Virginia as he needs to. But they say the Democrat's numbers have stabilized after slipping during the first half of October, and they insist that the abortion adds have started to move some voters in the D.C. suburbs. But non-partisan polling, which is confirmed by GOP insiders, hasn't shown significant movement in northern Virginia to the Democratic nominee.

So far, moderate voters in northern Virginia seem more concerned about taxes than social issues. Even worse for the Democrats, Beyer's attacks on abortion and Pat Robertson have mobilized social issue conservatives, who initially seemed less than enthused about Gilmore. Former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed has raised funds for a media buy in conservative parts of the state to help the Republican nominee.

Beyer has performed better than expected outside Northern Virginia, in part because he has been selling himself as a moderate businessman. But Gilmore is attacking the Democrat on Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk television stations on issues like crime and welfare reform in an attempt to polarize the race ideologically, and it is apparently working.

Former governor Doug Wilder's recent announcement that he won't endorse a candidate in the race is a blow to Beyer, who needs solid support -- and a good turnout -- from black voters. Observers are waiting to see whether Gilmore will make inroads among black voters, and whether African-Americans will show up at the polls in great numbers. Some independent sources are predicting a low turnout overall and a record low turnout among black voters. That, in itself, would be a huge problem for the Democratic nominee.

Gilmore's early call to cut the state's tax on cars and trucks, and for more money for schools (including more teachers), helped define his candidacy in northern Virginia, and explains both why he is ahead and why Beyer is now trying to change the political debate. This race isn't close to being over, but for the first time, one of the candidates - Gilmore - seems to have a clear advantage.


The fast-approaching special election in New York's 13th C.D. to replace former congresswoman Susan Molinari still looks like a nail-biter. Polls show Republican Vito Fossella and Democrat Eric Vitaliano in a virtual dead heat, but with about one-third of all voters still undecided.

Fossella continues to portray Vitaliano as a "tax and spend" Democrat, and one way he does that is to link the Democratic congressional nominee at every chance to Ruth Messinger, the Democratic nominee for mayor. Messinger, a huge underdog next month against incumbent Rudy Giuliani (R) could lose in Staten Island by 3-to-1 or more, and the Republicans have been trying to make the congressional race a mirror image of the mayoral contest.

Vitaliano, a strong candidate, continues to emphasize his experience in government, an obvious comparison to the younger, less experienced Republican. And Democrats continue to define Fossella as a puppet of Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari (R).

While nobody is certain exactly how much money or how many campaign workers organized labor is putting behind Vitaliano, the Republican National Committee has dumped at least $750,000 into the race. The funds, called "soft money" because they are not regulated, are being used for "issue advocacy," and they criticize Vitaliano's record on taxes. The RNC can't legally call for the defeat of the Democrat or the election of Fossella - and they aren't doing so -- but the intent of the ads is obvious. Democrats are crying "foul," but the GOP is only doing what both parties have done over the past couple of years, following a 1996 Supreme Court decision allowing such party spending as long as it wasn't election-related and was "independent" of the party's candidate.

Much of the business community is lining up behind Fossella, while most of organized labor is backing Vitaliano. But the Democrat's moderate/conservative positions on issues like the death penalty and abortion has made it more difficult for Republicans to paint him as typically liberal, just as Fossella's calls for strengthening the Clean Air Act and his opposition to "drive-thru mastectomies" make it more difficult for Democrats to brand him a Republican Revolutionary.

Vitaliano has tried to interject controversial House speaker Newt Gingrich into the race a few times - most recently when the RNC indicated it was going to spend money to criticize Vitaliano's record - but the race has generally emphasized local concerns, such as the proposed development of a new mega-mall in Brooklyn.

Vitaliano has brought the vice president into the district, while Fossella has brought in former congressman Jack Kemp and Gov. George Pataki.

The district's slight GOP bent and Fossella's connection to Giuliani give the Republican a slight edge. But a lot can happen in 10 days, and there are plenty of questions that have not yet been answered.

Spotlight Archives:

Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
In Idaho, A Rare Opportunity For Dems (11/19/97)
Stay The Course (11/6/97)
Car-Tax Issue Lifts Gilmore In Virginia (10/23/97)
New Jersey Governor's Race Down To The Wire (10/9/97)
Idaho Scramble: Who's Running For What? (9/25/97)
Hawaii's 1st C.D. Looks Like A Powder Keg (9/10/97)
Molinari's Departures Leaves Opening For Dems (8/25/97)
Georgia Governor's Race A Free-For-All (8/12/97)
Rep. Jon Fox Faces A One-Two Punch (7/30/97)
Sen. Hollings Prepares For A Fifth Term (7/22/97)
The House: Looking Ahead To 1998 (7/15/97)
Sen. Bond Has Re-election Edge (7/7/97)
Bumpers' Decision Encourages GOP (7/3/97)
Kentucky Senatorial Race A Toss-Up (6/24/97)
Nevada's Senator Reid Looks Like An Early Favorite (6/17/97)
1998 Gubernatorial Ratings (6/17/97)
Indiana's Evan Bayh Could Reclaim His Father's Old Senate Seat (6/3/97)
Who Will Control The House After '98? (5/30/97)
New Mexico's 3rd District: Color It Republican Green (5/20/97)
Don't Look For Many Senate Retirements In '98 (5/13/97)
Louisiana Senate, 1996: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over (5/5/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Re-election Ratings (4/25/97)
Dem, GOP Tests In Connecticut, Arizona (4/9/97)
Don't Count Al D'Amato Out Yet (3/25/97)
Whitman A Favorite In New Jersey (2/25/97)
Sen. Boxer Could Be Vulnerable (2/11/97)
Impressive Bloodlines In Minnesota Governor's Race (1/28/97)
Looking Ahead To '98 Gubernatorial Races In California, Florida (1/23/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Ratings (1/23/97)
Family Feud: The Fight for RNC Chairman (1/10/97)

Spotlight 1996

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