||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Rep. Schiff's Death Adds To New Mexico Uncertainty
In Pennsylvania, another challenge for Rep. Goodling
By Stuart Rothenberg
New Mexico 1 The death of New Mexico Republican Steve Schiff opened up a seat earlier than expected and has created a strange election schedule, with the primary for November scheduled for June 2 and the special election for June 23. Schiff had announced he wouldn't seek re-election, so both parties knew there would be an open seat.
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The special election pits Democratic state Sen. Phil Maloof against Heather Wilson, the secretary of the state Department of Children, Youth & Families.
Wilson, 37, is a graduate of West Point and a Rhodes Scholar. She served in the Air Force, at the U.S. Mission to NATO, and, from 1989 to 1991, on the staff of the National Security Council in the Bush White House.
GOP leaders picked Wilson as their nominee for the special over state Sen. Bill Davis, who is competing in the party's primary for the regular November election.
Conservatives who preferred Davis in the special complain that party insiders, including Sen. Pete Domenici (R), used their political muscle to select Wilson. Wilson, who was endorsed by Schiff after he announced his retirement, is pro-choice on abortion but favors a ban on partial birth abortions and opposes federal funding. On other issues, she seems consistently conservative.
Democrats are very upbeat about Maloof, even though he is just 30 years of age. The state senator has been groomed recently for higher office, and his personal wealth -- he comes from a old New Mexico family with both deep roots in the community and lots of money, much of it from selling alcoholic beverages -- virtually guarantees that he will be a formidable opponent for Wilson. Insiders expect Maloof to spend more than $1 million on his effort to win the seat.
Maloof was appointed to the state Senate, then was elected to fill part of an unexpired term in 1994. Two years later, he was re-elected to a full four-year term.
The election in New Mexico 1 isn't just another contest. It's one of about a dozen and a half House races about which party insiders disagree about the outcome. A Democratic win would be a big boost to their argument that they will not only gain seats but have a chance to take over the House in November. A Republican win would add to their argument that they will not only hold the House but add at least a handful of seats to their majority. And that's why this race is so crucial.
Another challenge for Rep. Goodling
Pennsylvania 19 Two years ago, Cong. Bill Goodling (R-PA 19), the chairman of the Education & The Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives, got an unexpected scare when attorney Charlie Gerow drew 45 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, almost pulling off an upset. Gerow is running again, and while the congressman looks stronger, he'll have to battle an outside group that has weighed in on Gerow's behalf.
Goodling is serving his 12th term in the House. He represents three counties south and west of Harrisburg, the state capital. The largest county in the district, York, holds a majority of the population.
In 1996, Gerow sought to tap into voter dissatisfaction with politicians and Washington, and the conservative young attorney ran hard against Goodling as a Washington fixture who needed to be put to pasture. Gerow didn't have much money, but his message resonated with voters. Maybe just as important, Goodling didn't take the challenge seriously enough, and the congressman was not accustomed to putting together a modern, well-funded campaign.
Goodling doesn't accept political action committee contributions, and he has never placed a premium on raising money. Last cycle, however, he spent just over $300,000, much of it to turn back Gerow's challenge.
Gerow is back again, and he is getting a boost from US Term Limits, which is behind a major TV campaign to defeat Goodling. But instead of criticizing the congressman's record on term limits -- Goodling has signed a three-term pledge limit -- the ads charge that Goodling bounced checks at the House bank (years ago) and generally complain that he has been around too long.
One high-profile conservative group, Gary Bauer's Campaign for Working Families, is also supporting Gerow, while most grass roots on the ideological Right are backing Goodling.
Republican insiders who are supporting the congressman are worried that a light turnout for the May 19 primary could allow Gerow to sneak past Goodling, who once again has not paid enough attention to raising money. But the mood of the electorate is much different now than it was in 1994 or even 1996, with Congress no longer a dirty word. In Illinois's primary earlier this year, veteran Cong. Phil Crane, who just a few years ago had a scary primary struggle, easily defeated a well-funded primary opponent.
The change in mood, combined with Gerow's inability to surprise Goodling (as well as a major mail and telephone program to get Goodling voters to the polls on primary day), should help the congressman. But primaries are uncertain events, which is why GOP insiders are holding their collective breath.