With control of the House of Representatives hanging on but a handful of votes, races in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania districts play a key role. Here are some hot-burning races, fueled by cash and campaign promises.
The 1st Congressional District
Incumbent representative Michael Forbes all but gave this seat away when he switched parties in the middle of his term. Forbes, a longtime Republican, threw his allegiance to the Democrats, who in turn threw the right-leaning politician for a loss in the primary.
Forbes’s exit could have opened the door for a strong Democratic challenge. But the Republican machine, so dominant on Long Island, reached into its ranks for a successor. GOP town supervisor Felix J. Grucci, a Catholic, has amassed a war chest of $1.3 million, far overwhelming the paltry $210,000 raised by Democrat Regina Seltzer, who was born in Poland and is Jewish.
Faced with rapid development in the once rural region, voters are concerned about preserving open space and protecting the water supply. Seltzer is pitching her expertise as an environmental attorney, while Grucci is stumping on his involvement in developing bonds to fund green causes.
The 2nd Congressional District
Democrats smell opportunity in western Suffolk County, where Rick Lazio is vacating his seat to run for Senate. The party’s candidate is Steve Israel, a member of the Huntington Town Council in Huntington. He faces Republican Joan Johnson, the Islip town clerk of Islip.
In an attempt to woo the traditionally conservative Long Islanders, both candidates are focusing on fiscal matters. Israel touts his record of cutting Huntington’s debts dramatically and opposes privatizing Social Security.
Johnson trumpets her support for a simplified system. She wants to protect family business by repealing the death tax. She also says she’d work to help small businesses insure their workers.
The battle between Israel, who is Jewish, and Johnson, who would be the first African American representative, has raised questions about which way the “Archie Bunker” vote will fall, according to reports in Newsday. “It makes voters have to think harder than they would normally,” a Democratic consultant told the paper. “The candidates don’t fit into the easy ethnic splits that define many Democrat-vs.-Republican races.”
The 2nd Congressional District
The Nutmeg State’s 2nd District runs through 54 eastern towns, including New London and Groton. Here Democratic incumbent Sam Gejdenson, a former dairy farmer, ought to win against Robert R. Simmons, a Republican Congressional aide. Gejdenson has a kitty of $1.4 million as opposed to Simmons’s $714,000.
Like every other Democratic politician in Connecticut this year, Gjedenson should benefit from riding vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman’s coattails, even though this district can never be counted as safe for Democrats.
The 5th Congressional District
The 5th District, which stretches across the southwestern section of the state and includes Danbury, has Democratic incumbent James Mahoney running against Republican Mark Nielsen.
Both men are attorneys and both are well-financed, with Mahoney boasting he’s broken the state’s fundrasing record with $1.7 million. Nielsen has $1.2 million.
The race is rated a toss-up, with Nielsen stressing teacher accountability and Mahoney touting tax deductions for education expenses. Taxes play big in this well-heeled district. Nielsen says he supports instituting a flat tax, and Mahoney promises constituents he’d vote to limit Congress’s ability to raise taxes. Mahoney also wants to get rid of the estate tax and eliminate the marriage penalty.
The 7th Congressional District
In a race the pros are calling a toss-up, Democrat Maryanne S. Connelly is opposing Republican Michael A. Ferguson for this district, a big suburban swath running all the way from just west of Elizabeth, out I-78, into the wide-open countryside.
The seat has been held by Republican Bob Franks, who is now running for the Senate. The district has historically belonged to the GOP, though independent voters outnumber those aligned with either major party.
Both Connelly and Ferguson were surprise winners in their primaries. Two years ago, Connelly, a former mayor, garnered 47 percent of the vote in a losing bid for this seat. This time, she has amassed an impressive $1.5 million campaign kitty. Ferguson, a small businessman, has $1.8 million on hand for the slugfest.
The candidates have clashed over Social Security and abortion rights. Connelly toes the Dem line against privatization. Like Bush, Ferguson argues younger Americans should be able to invest part of their retirement funds. Connelly supports the right to abortion, while Ferguson is set against it execept in cases of incest or rape.
The 4th Congressional District
Democratic incumbent Ron Klink is vacating this surburban seat, in the southwesern corner of the state, to run for Senate. His party would dearly love to hang onto this slot, but Klink’s successor is far from a shoo-in.
Though the district is heavily Democratic, the Republicans have a strong candidate in Melissa Hart, an attorney who showed she can beat the odds by capturing three straight terms in the state senate. Hart faces businessman Terry Van Horne, a Democrat.
The two have squared off along standard party lines. Hart wants to limit patients’ ability to sue HMOs and supports privatizing Social Security, while Van Horne disagrees on both points.
Van Horne should have an edge because of the strong Democratic base, but he’s still dogged by reports of a 1994 incident in which he supposedly called a black lawmaker from Philadelphia “an inner-city nigger.” As Hart easily won her party’s nomination and gathered strength for the big contest, Van Horne was forced to fend off seven challengers.
Hart also has the advantage of money. She has $1.3 million, as opposed to Van Horne’s skimpy $588,000. Even so, the pair have exchanged fire over soft money, with each accusing the other of leaning on ads bought by third parties from other states.
The 10th Congressional District
This northeastern district, which includes Scranton, features a rematch of Don Sherwood, the Republican incumbent and a former owner of an auto dealership, against Patrick Casey, a Democratic attorney. In 1998, this was the hottest race in the country, and this time around it’s still too close to call.
Both candidates are well-funded, with Sherwood having amassed $1.8 million. Casey has $1.4 million on hand.
All those bucks haven’t gone far toward differentiating the candidates. As with the contest between Gore and Bush, the race here is Tweedledum versus Tweedledee. Both Sherwood and Casey pledge to protect Social Security and both are for guaranteeing seniors access to prescription drugs under Medicare.
The 13th Congressional District
Greenleaf has raised $1.3 million, and he’ll need every bit of it to fend off Hoeffel, who has gathered a $1.5 million stash and appears to be gathering strength in the polls.
Both candidates are fiscal moderates. Both favor abortion rights. Hoeffel doesn’t want to privatize Social Security or Medicare, but Greenleaf thinks younger workers should have the right to invest some of their retirement funds in the market. He also thinks HMOs should play an enhanced role in administering prescription drugs to Medicare recipients. Hoeffel is for targeted tax cuts while Greenleaf argues for an across-the-board reduction.
The combatants have used their money to bash each other over direct mail, assailing and counter-assailing decades-old votes.