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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly Analysis CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Analysis - 'Toons

Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Rep. Capps will have to fight for evenly split district

Open Michigan House seat drawing strong candidates from both sides

By Stuart Rothenberg

May 24, 1999
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EDT (1852 GMT)

WASHINGTON (May 24) -- If there were such a thing as a congressional district psychiatrist, California's 22nd District would have one.

The district, situated on the coast north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco, has been represented in the U.S. House by moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Bill Clinton carried the district in 1992, while Bob Dole won it four years later. Basically, this is a district that can't seem to make up its mind.

Represented by moderate Republicans like Robert Lagomarsino during the 1980s and early 1990s, and then by Michael Huffington in 1993 and 1994, the 22nd C.D. sent conservative Andrea Seastrand to Congress in 1994. But two years later, without the aid of a big GOP national wave, the controversial Seastrand lost a re-match to Democrat Walter Capps, a philosophy and religion professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara whom she had barely defeated in 1994.

Capps's death in late 1997 set the stage for a special election that the Republicans thought created an opportunity for them. But the GOP faced an internal split when state Assemblymen Brooks Firestone, a Santa Barbara County moderate, and Tom Bordonaro, a San Luis Obispo conservative, both ran in the primary for the special election.

Bordonaro beat out Firestone for the Republican nomination and the right to face Capps's widow, Lois Capps, in the special. Moderate Republicans refused to back Bordonaro, either in the special election or in the '98 general election when Capps faced Bordonaro again, assuring that the Democrats would retain their hold on the seat.

Now, both Bordonaro and Firestone seem unlikely to try again, giving Mike Stoker the chance he has been waiting for.

A one-time Santa Barbara County supervisor, Stoker is currently a member of the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board. He had entered the special election after Walter Capps's death, but pulled out when it became clear that Bordonaro and Firestone would fight it out for the GOP nomination.

Stoker argues that he can unite the two wings of the GOP in his challenge to Capps, and he hopes to prevent the 2000 election from being a referendum merely on abortion and gun issues. He portrays the congresswoman as ineffective as a leader and he portrays her as more liberal than the district.

But Capps is an able campaigner who knows that party registration in the district is virtually even. She isn't likely to take her reelection for granted.

Stoker will have to prove that he can raise big money and has enough of a reason for voters to "fire" the incumbent. It's not clear whether he can do either. But clearly, Capps and the Democrats will have to keep an eye on this race, if only because the district is so competitive.

Open Michigan House seat drawing strong candidates from both sides

Michigan Democrats say that if history is any guide, they have an able stand-in for Debbie Stabenow, now that the two-term Democrat is giving up her House seat and running for the Senate.

State Sen. Diane Byrum, who replaced Stabenow in the state House when Stabenow moved up to the state Senate, and replaced Stabenow in the state Senate when Stabenow ran for higher office, is now seeking to replace Stabenow in Congress.

But while Byrum looks to be a formidable candidate, the Republicans also seem to have a strong candidate of their own lining up for the soon-to-be-open House seat. State Sen. Mike Rogers, the majority floor leader, is, like Byrum, likely to win his party's congressional nomination without a fight.

The 8th C.D. includes a part of Lansing, the state capital, as well as Michigan State University. Politically, the district is extremely competitive, though it probably tilts slightly Democratic. George Bush (R) won the district by fewer than 1,000 votes over Michael Dukakis (D), but Bill Clinton (D) carried it 41 percent-36 percent over Bush and 49 percent-41 percent over Bob Dole (R).

Stabenow won the district in 1996 by defeating freshman GOP incumbent Dick Chrysler, who had won the seat in 1994, when the previous Democratic incumbent, Bob Carr, left it in order to run for the U.S. Senate.

Insiders generally agree that Byrum and Rogers are both top-tier candidates who will stress their centrist views and political appeal.

Turnout will once again be crucial here. The presidential race could impact the contest, as could Stabenow's Senate candidacy against Sen. Spencer Abraham (R). That's why a lot of people are already calling this race a toss-up.


Analysis: Lessons from Election 1999 (11-8-99)

The CNN/WMUR Town Hall Meetings at Dartmouth (10-29-99)

Spotlight on key races in 2000 (10-14-99)

The races for governor in 1999 (10-6-99)

The GOP presidential race after Ames (8-17-99)

Death of a congressman gives GOP chance to pick up House seat in California (8-6-99)

Democrats eye GOP House seats in North Carolina, Washington (7-21-99)

Best chance of unseating Democratic House incumbent may be in Connecticut (7-8-99)

Fierce Democratic Senate primaries expected in New Jersey and Rhode Island (6-22-99)

GOP has a chance to pick up Democratic Pennsylvania House seat (6-9-99)

Rep. Capps will have to fight for evenly split district (5-24-99)

Rep. Rogan undecided on re-electon bid, but GOP seat at risk either way (5-12-99)

Democrats look for candidate to beat Sen. Grams (4-29-99)

Hot race for Livingston's Louisiana House seat (4-13-99)

DeWine's re-election chances stronger with no declared Democratic challenger (3-29-99)

Mack's retirement means competitive race for Senate in Florida (3-16-99)

Mississippi's gov. race may determine bragging rights for Election '99 (2-25-99)

Impeachment votes could be a factor in some Senate races next year (2-12-99)

Open or closed? The politics of the final debate (2-8-99)

Challengers look to Chenoweth to honor term-limit pledge (1-26-99)

The state of Bill Clinton's State of the Union (1-20-99)

N.Y. Senate race could be a wild one (1-13-99)

More Rothenberg reports


Monday, May 24, 1999

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