||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: Key congressional races heat up Tuesday
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tuesday's congressional primaries in Maryland, Ohio and California constitute the beginning of the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, as the two major parties will be selecting their nominees for the fall.
Turnout in these three states could be high because of interest in the presidential primaries.
Control of the House clearly is up for grabs in the fall. These primaries will determine whether the parties get their strongest nominees - and what kind of chance the Democrats will have of winning control of the chamber.
All three states having primaries Tuesday have Senate contests this year (and primaries), but the three incumbents running for reelection -- Paul Sarbanes (D) in Maryland, Dianne Feinstein (D) in California and Michael DeWine (R) in Ohio -- look to be in good shape for their November contests.
Two sitting incumbent Democratic House members find themselves in battles for renomination: Ohio Rep. Jim Traficant and California Rep. Marty Martinez. Both men represent Democratic districts, so the primary is a huge step toward reelection.
Because of California's unusual ballot -- where all candidates appear together, regardless of party -- some Republican incumbents are making a major effort to boost their percentages. Rep. Jim Rogan (R), for example, has spent heavily in the hopes of "beating" his challenger, state Sen. Adam Schiff (D), by a large enough margin to muffle talk of the congressman's vulnerability.
These states have a presidential primary or caucus scheduled Tuesday, but no U.S. House or Senate primary: Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Congressional races in California, Maryland and Ohio
Ohio Senate: (Republican Sen. Mike DeWine seeking reelection)
GOP Primary. Incumbent DeWine, who is one of only a handful of Republican senators who have endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain's bid for the GOP presidential nomination, is likely to cruise to an easy renomination. He does have one primary opponent meriting attention: former one-term conservative congressman Frank Cremeans, who complains that DeWine is not as conservative as he said he would be. But Cremeans, who was defeated for reelection to the U.S. House in 1996, is really just a nuisance candidate at this point.
Three second-tier Democrats are fighting for their party's nomination: former state representative Richard Cordray, former Cleveland NAACP president Marvin McMickle, and Ohio State University board member Ted Celeste, brother of the former governor. Celeste is best known because of his name, and that has given him a huge edge in polling, since few voters seem to be paying much attention to the primary.
With DeWine expected to win a second term in the fall, the Senate primaries aren't nearly as important as they might seem.
Ohio 12. (Republican Rep. John Kasich not seeking reelection)
GOP Primary. State Rep. Pat Tiberi and state Sen. Gene Watts face off in a competitive Republican primary. Tiberi has been endorsed by Kasich, Sens. George Voinovich and Michael DeWine, and most other GOP elected officials. Watts, who has a more abrasive style, has been running against the establishment. He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP Senate nomination in 1994.
While this district, which takes in part of the city of Columbus and some of its suburbs, is reliably Republican in most races, the GOP House primary has enhanced the chances of Democrat Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, a Columbus city council member with a well-known political name. Republican concern about the district was heightened when the GOP lost the Columbus mayor's race. The general election looks to be competitive, though the eventual Republican nominee will try to take advantage of the district's partisan bent.
Ohio 15. (Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant seeking reelection)
Democratic Primary. Traficant is both flamboyant and controversial. He is a shoot-from-the-hip, blue-collar populist who is once again facing ethics questions. Traficant faces three primary challengers: state Sen. Robert Hagan, Mahoning County Auditor George Tablack and Christopher Doutt, an unknown. Hagan comes from a well-known Democratic family, but Tablack also has a base. If Traficant survives, it could be because the anti-Traficant vote is split. But don't underestimate the congressman's grass roots appeal either.
The Republicans have a primary that includes former congressman Lyle Williams, but the general election is not now expected to be competitive.
None of the competitive Congressional primaries Tuesday will produce interesting races in the fall. The Republicans have a number of Senate hopefuls who want to take on Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) in the fall, but they are all third-tier candidates. No top-tier general election contests are expected, though Democratic lobbyist Terry Lierman is certain to spend heavily in his challenge to Rep. Connie Morella (R) of the 8th Congressional District.
California's "jungle primary," which has all candidates for the same office listed together (regardless of party), has caused concern among some Democrats. They fear that the greater interest in the GOP presidential race will bring Republicans to the polls in big numbers, and those Republicans will inflate the numbers for GOP House and Senate candidates. If that happens, it could dampen interest in Democratic congressional candidates, and that, in turn, could affect their fund raising. So Democrats are already inoculating media by warning that GOP strength in the primary could be misleading.
California Senate. (Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein running for reelection)
GOP Primary: San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, state Sen. Ray Haynes of Riverside, and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA 15) are running for the GOP nomination and the right to face Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the fall. Campbell, a moderate, is far ahead in polling, and he is the odds-on favorite for the nomination. He ran for the GOP Senate nomination once before, losing in the primary. But while his style and moderation make him a credible general election nominee, he will begin as a clear underdog against Feinstein, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Al Gore.
California 15. (Republican Rep. Tom Campbell running for the Senate)
Democratic Primary: State Assemblyman Mike Honda is the favorite for the Democratic nomination, but he has faced a well-funded fight from businessman Bill Peacock. Peacock ran for the Senate in Missouri in 1992, but he has put hundreds of thousands of his own dollars into the race, and he has some union backing. Honda seemed a bit slow to fire up his campaign, but the party establishment has lined up behind him.
Republicans, (including outgoing congressman Campbell), have rallied behind the candidacy of state Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, whose fiscal conservatism and social liberalism is in tune with Campbell's views. A spirited, competitive general election is expected in a district (located south of San Francisco) that clearly leans Democratic but is willing to vote for socially moderate Republicans.
California 27. (Republican Rep. Jim Rogan seeking reelection)
The district doesn't have a competitive primary, but all eyes are on the district for the general election. Republican incumbent Rogan, who served as a House impeachment manager and has already spent well over $1 million in his reelection bid, and Democratic state Sen. Adam Schiff are expected to face off in a very competitive general election. The district is trending Democratic because of changing demographics.
California 31. (Democratic Rep. Matthew Martinez seeking reelection)
Democratic Primary: A bitter Democratic primary has developed between Martinez and state Sen. Hilda Solis in this Hispanic-majority, Los Angeles County district.
Martinez, a former local official and state Assemblyman, is serving his ninth full term in the House. Solis, who is term limited, won the early backing of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA 46) and has been endorsed by other members of the state's Congressional delegation. She recently was endorsed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Maybe more importantly, Solis has won considerable backing from organized labor, which apparently has come to regard Martinez as ineffective.
Martinez's campaign has been almost invisible. He is hostile to members of the media, and doesn't have the well-funded, elaborate campaign that most incumbents do. Democratic insiders agree that Martinez is in serious trouble, and it would be a stunning upset if the congressman were to win renomination.
California 36. (Republican Rep. Steve Kuykendall seeking reelection)
Neither party has a major primary, but freshman Kuykendall, a moderate Republican, is expected to have a tough general election challenge from former congresswoman (and 1998 Democratic governor hopeful) Jane Harman. Harman gave up her House seat two years ago to run for governor, and she made a last-minute decision to try this year to reclaim that seat. This district will see a real fight in the fall.
California 48. (Republican Rep. Ron Packard retiring)
GOP Primary: This is a solidly Republican district, so the Democratic nomination isn't worth anything. Still, it is the site of a contested Republican primary between businessman Darrell Issa, state Sen. Bill Morrow and teacher Mark Dornan, son of former congressman Bob Dornan.
Issa spent millions of his own dollars in an unsuccessful bid to win California's GOP Senate nomination two years ago. Morrow is an unapologetic conservative who portrays Issa as more moderate. The district is located between Los Angeles and San Diego.
California 49. (Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray seeking reelection)
Three-term Republican Rep. Bilbray doesn't have any problems getting renominated, and Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Davis became certain to win the Democratic nomination after her main Democratic contender dropped out of the race. But Bilbray and Davis should have a real battle in the fall.