- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

In a year when redistricting has protected party control in nearly 400 House districts, three newly drawn districts in the West will play a large role in whether Democrats are able to wrest control of the chamber.
A dozen seats were transferred from Northeast and "Rust Belt" states to the Southeast and West due to reapportionment after the 2000 census.
New seats are always potential targets, since they have no incumbent lawmaker or party. But the newly drawn seats in Nevada's 3rd District, Colorado's 7th District and Arizona's 1st District are particularly important, because each of them was drawn to have about the same number of Republicans and Democrats, giving each party a fighting chance.
"If all three seats went to the Republicans, it certainly makes it very, very difficult for Democrats to have any shot of winning the majority," said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine. "On the other hand, if Democrats did pick up all three seats, it keeps them competitive. But even if the Democrats did pick up all three, it doesn't mean Democrats will necessarily win the majority."
The most developed race is in the new Nevada district, where Republican state Sen. Jon Porter and Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera, a Democrat, have squared off in a district with equal party registration and where Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore each won 48 percent of the presidential vote in 2000.
The race is one of the most expensive House contests in the country, with each candidate having raised $1.5 million through Sept. 30.
Democrats have touted Mr. Herrera for months as one of their most promising candidates, and thought they might have an opening by tying Mr. Porter to the Bush administration's support for storing nuclear waste in Nevada a plan unpopular among residents. But Mr. Herrera has suffered from questions over ethical entanglements stemming from his county commission job and is trailing in recent polls.
"The Nevada race is over. Jon Porter will be elected. He's leading Dario Herrera anywhere from 15 to 18 points," said Steve Schmidt, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Schmidt said his counterparts at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have pulled their money out of the market to shift to other races.
The Colorado race, meanwhile, is probably one of the true dead-even contests in the nation. Two polls released last week showed the difference between candidates within the margin of error. One poll showed Republican Bob Beauprez leading 40 percent to 38 percent over Democrat Mike Feeley, while another showed Mr. Feeley with a 39 percent to 38 percent lead.
The district is about one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third independent, and Republicans thought since the region leans Republican in national elections, that would help Mr. Beauprez, a former state party chairman.
But Jenny Backus, communications director at the DCCC, said Mr. Feeley's support for abortion rights has been a big boost for him in the race. Democrats also say Mr. Feeley, a former state senator, brings his former constituency to the race.
The Arizona race pits Republican Rick Renzi against George Cordova, who was a surprise winner in the Democratic primary.
The campaign has focused on Social Security and local issues. It has taken a strange turn in the last two weeks, with Mr. Cordova's former business partners last week declaring their opposition to him, while Mr. Renzi's neighbors told the Arizona Sun he is a bad neighbor and they have posted Cordova campaign signs to spite him.
A Grand Canyon State Poll released this week shows Mr. Renzi with a 48 percent to 36 percent lead among likely voters.
Beyond the fact that the seats are new and competitive, there aren't many other across-the-board similarities. The Nevada seat is part of the urban-suburban region surrounding Las Vegas and the Colorado seat surrounds Denver, while the Arizona seat sprawls across the state's northeast, with its biggest city being Flagstaff.
Two similarities between Nevada and Arizona, though, are that both Democratic candidates are Hispanic, and in both, Republicans have challenged their rivals' ethics.
A Democratic strategist said that approach may come back to haunt Republicans running in the future in the Southwest.
"I think it's very dangerous for the national Republicans to have waged such false, vitriolic and over the top campaigns against two promising Hispanic leaders," the strategist said.


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