- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

The surprising defeat of a New York Republican-turned-Democrat has raised the ante on the number of congressional seats Democrats must win if they are to recapture the House in November.
The surprising upset of three-term Rep. Michael P. Forbes in last Tuesday's party primary by a little-known, 71-year-old former librarian means that this reliably Republican 1st Congressional District is likely to remain in GOP hands. Republicans have a 2-to-1 voter registration in the district.
The Democrats need to win at least six House Republican seats to take over an outright majority in the House, and seven seats if Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Ohio Democrat, follows through on his threat to support a Republican speaker next January.
But Republican campaign strategists said that the likelihood Democrats will not be able to hold on to Mr. Forbes' seat raises their threshold to yet another notch.
"The margin for the Democrats just went up to eight. This seat is a slam dunk for us now," said Merit Babin, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Republicans have nominated Brookhaven Town Supervisor Felix Grucci, who has won three times with more than 60 percent of the vote and whose Brookhaven constituency accounts for about two-thirds of the 1st District. Moreover, he has run on the GOP, Conservative Party, Independence and Right To Life ballot lines.
His opponent, Regina Seltzer, who has only $24,000 in cash on hand, is given little chance against Mr. Grucci.
Mr. Forbes deserted the GOP last year with a bitter attack on the House GOP's conservative leadership, and Democrats were sure that he was the key to winning the House back if they could hold on to his seat on the eastern end of Long Island.
But Mr. Forbes's party switch pleased neither side. District Democrats saw him as an old political adversary they had tried to defeat three times before and Republicans saw him "as the worst type of turncoat that they wanted to see humiliated and defeated," said John Kohut, an analyst at the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks congressional campaigns.
With the Republicans holding a narrow six-seat majority, the Democrats and organized labor have been mounting their most expensive offensive yet to win back the House. The AFL-CIO has said it will spend $40 million on this year's congressional contests to help the Democrats recapture the House.
Making the Democrats' challenge more difficult is the fact that both parties are nearly at parity going into the general election and the generic polls for the House showed the race similarly close.
But Stuart Rothenberg, whose newsletter tracks these races, said yesterday that Mr. Forbes' demise does not "change my math on these races. I thought that Forbes was going to lose anyway."
Still, Mr. Rothenberg thinks that "the Democrats will have to gain at least 10 Republican seats" to overcome any additional GOP gains and take over the House.
Right now, he says, only about three dozen races are truly competitive and that they are so close it is impossible to predict the outcome.
"I wouldn't be shocked if the Democrats fell a couple of seats short of winning the House or took it over by a couple of seats. Too many seats are too close to call and are up for grabs," he said.
Congressional elections analyst Charles Cook agrees. "At this point, we see Democrats picking up seats, but whether they get to the magic number of six needed for control is still up for debate," he said last month in an overview of the House races.
"Democrats will have to pick off anywhere from five to eight incumbents, but that is not going to be easy in this incumbent friendly environment," Mr. Cook said.
The Democrats' latest defeat in New York follows a string of events that has made it increasingly more difficult for them to reach their six-seat goal. Two of them occurred in Virginia.
First came the retirement of Rep. Owen B. Pickett, a seven-term conservative Democrat whose seat is now expected to fall to Republican state Sen. Ed Schrock.
Then there was the decision by Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent, though he has said he will vote to keep the House under the GOP's control.

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