House ’08: Help find a challenger!

Recent news that Linda Stender, Eric Massa, Dan Maffei and Larry Kissell, to name a few, are all considering rematches inspired me to create  a diary to help find challengers to vulnerable Republicans. Who better to suggest candidates than people who live in or no these districts on an intimate level.

Finding the next Harry Mitchell could turn a Safe GOP seat into a pickup.

Here’s my list of the top fifty GOP house seats that could be in danger in 2008.

Rogers, Mike, Alabama, 3rd
Renzi, Rick, Arizona, 1st
Bilbray, Brian P., California, 50th
Doolittle, John, California, 4th
Musgrave, Marilyn, Colorado, 4th
Shays, Christopher, Connecticut, 4th
Castle, Michael N*., Delaware, At Large
Keller, Ric, Florida 8th
Young, C.W. Bill*, Florida, 10th
Buchanan, Vern, Florida, 13th
Latham, Tom *, Iowa, 4th
Roskam, Peter J., Illinois, 6th
Kirk, Mark., Illinois, 10th
Souder, Mark E., Indiana, 3rd
Walberg, Timothy, Michigan, 7th
Rogers, Mike, Michigan, 8th
Knollenberg, Joseph, Michigan, 9th
McCotter, Thaddeus, Michigan, 11th
Bachmann, Michele, Minnesota, 6th
Ramstad, Jim *, Minnesota, 3rd
Rehberg, Dennis, Montana, At Large
Fortenberry, Jeff, Nebraska, 1st
Terry, Lee, Nebraska, 2nd
Ferguson, Michael, New Jersey, 7th
Garrett, Scott, New Jersey, 5th
LoBiondo, Frank, New Jersey, 2nd
Heller, Dean, Nevada, 2nd
Porter, Jon, Nevada, 3rd
Kuhl Jr., John R. “Randy”, New York, 29th
Wilson, Heather, New Mexico, 1st
King, Pete, New York, 3rd
Fossella, Vito, New York, 13th
Reynolds, Thomas M., New York, 26th
Walsh, Jim, New York, 25th
Hayes, Robin, North Carolina, 8th
Chabot, Steve, Ohio, 1st
Schmidt, Jean, Ohio, 2nd
Tiberi, Pat, Ohio, 12th
Pryce, Deborah, Ohio, 15th
Regula, Ralph *, Ohio, 16th
English, Phil, Pennsylvania, 3rd
Gerlach, Jim, Pennsylvania, 6th
Dent, Charles W., Pennsylvania, 15th
Murphy, Tim, Pennsylvania, 18th
Paul, Ron, Texas, 14th
Drake, Thelma D., Virginia, 2nd
Wolf, Frank, Virginia, 10th
Davis, Tom, Virginia, 11th
Reichert, David G., Washington, 8th
Ryan, Paul*, Wisconsin, 1st
Capito, Shelley Moore, West Virginia, 2nd
Cubin, Barbara, Wyoming, At Large

* This race is only competitive if the incumbent retires or runs for another office.

2006 left us with few “low hanging fruit” targets.

Seats like PA-06, NV-03, OH-15, NY-25, NC-08 WA-08 and NM-01  need top challenges, as do lower tier races like IL-10 and PA-15. Let’s find the next batch of Democratic Congresspeople.

Here’s some names to start with: Steve Udall in AZ-01, Andy Dinniman in PA-06 and Joe Turnham in AL-2

MI-09: Is Knollenberg the Next Pombo?

The general election contest featured a clear contrast between Jerry McNerney, a wind energy executive vs. Richard Pombo, the zealous defender of oil companies.

  Up until 2006, Pombo was considered invulnerable by political analysts who thought the concept of a liberal Democrat beating a Republican in a largely rural district was absurd. There was one major difference between the 2004 race where Pombo received 61% of the vote and the 2006 election. In 2006, the  Sierra Club spent $400,000 on TV ads blanketing the district and the League of Conservation Voters tossed in additional funds for radio and TV ads (Ebell 2006). The group that played the largest role in Pombo’s demise was Defenders of Wildlife, which created a two pronged attack: one front involved television attacks on Pombo and the other front featured an aggressive voter outreach.

Defenders of Wildlife created a website called “Pombo in their pocket,” which portrayed the congressman as an out of touch legislator who was more concerned with lobbyists than with his own constituents. They also bought a 30 foot RV which trailed the Congressman throughout the district – passing out literature to interested voters (Eilperin 2006).

  To the surprise of many political observers, including some in the environmental community, on November 7th 2006, Jerry McNerney defeated Rep. Richard Pombo by a  53%-47% margin.

What about Knollenberg?

Rep. Joe Knollenberg won reelection with just 51% of the vote against Nancy Skinner, a carpetbagger who won only 1% of the vote in the 2004 Illinois Senate Democratic primary. Knollenberg is a strong candidate to become th next Phillip Crane or George Gekas. His skills as a candidate are rusty and his district is moving Democratic. All we need is a good candidate and DCCC help.

A concerted effort by enviro groups like the LCV could help defeat. Here’s why the enviros should target him. Knollenberg is one of the leaders in the movement against raising CAFE standards. His intransigent position is slowing down effort to curb global warming. Defeating him with be good for Democrats, America and the Planet.

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Ranking the ’08 Senate races…

1. Colorado (R-Open Seat): Leans Democratic. Over the past 4 years, Colorado has shifted towards the Democrats. This Rocky Mountain State has recently added two new Democratic Congressman, a Democratic Senator and a Democratic Governor. Rep. Mark Udall’s prodigious war chest combined with the Convention boost make him the early favorite to win this seat.
2. Sen. John Sununu:  The great wave of 2006 was the largest in the last Republican bastion in the Northeast. If thew voters of New Hampshire are willing to elect Carol Shea-Porter to Congress?. The Stonybrook Farms founder could be a  formidable liberal in the nobles oblige type of Ted Kennedy and Jon Corzine.
3.  Sen. Norm Coleman :  Minnesota is a true swing state that is once again swinging Democratic after 8 years of movement towards the GOP. If R.T Rybak or Rep. McCollum runs, Coleman will lose. This race will be decided by candidate recruitment.
4. Sen. Susan Collins:  We already have a candidate, Rep. Tom Allen, but Collins is a very savvy pol who has a 70% approval rating. This race will be a test of how far left the Northeast has moved.
5. Sen. Gordon Smith: Slight GOP lean. The last Republican Senator representing a  state bordering the Pacific. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio probably won’t run because of their newly gained power in the House. Randall Edwards could be a strong candidate for Democrats.
6.  Sen. Elizabeth Dole: Toss-up if Gov. Mike Easley runs, otherwise, this race has a solid GOP lean.
7. Easley would win 44 percent to 41 percent, according to a survey of 501 likely voters conducted Jan. 22 by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh. The difference is within the poll’s margin of sampling error of 4.3 percentage points.
8. Virginia/ Nebraska/ New Mexico, if any of the GOP incumbents in these states retire, Democrats have a good shot at picking up some of these seats.

Onto the Democrats.

1. Sen. Mary Landrieu: Leans GOP.  Mary Landrieu previous winning percentages against third tier GOP candidates were 4% and 0%, respectively. She’s always been a controversial and polarizing l figure and her aggressive courting of Republican voters has alienated traditionally Democratic African Americans.  Hurricane Katrina has displaced many of these voters and has created a skepticism of government among the remaining ones. Mayor Nagin and  Bobby Jindal will actively work to undermine her bid for reelection. If she wins, it’s because of another inexplicable GOP recruiting failure.
2. Sen. Tim Johnson. If Mike Rounds runs, it’s competitive. Otherwise, six more years for Tim Johnson.
3. Sen. Tom Harkin. If Latham runs, then this race will be closer to Harkin’s victory over Rep. Lightfoot than his victory over Rep. Ganske. If Steve King runs, expect another blowout. Either way, Harkin will put another  trophy of a Republican Congressman on his wall.

4. Sen. Mark Pryor: Likely Democratic. This race get interesting if Mike Huckabee is the nominee for the GOP.  I still think Pryor wins because of his name, his moderate views and the absence of a GOP bench in Arkansas.
5. The rest? Barring retirements, they’re all shoe-ins.

The Senate races will come down to recruiting, the strength of each party’s  national ticket, local factors and, of course, the War in Iraq.

Best scenario for Democrats : 57-41-2 Democratic Majority.

Best scenario for the GOP: 50-49-1. GOP Majority, but only if the GOP holds the Oval Office.

NC-08: The new “Bloody Eighth.”

Since the infamous 1984 House election that was decided by a mere four votes, Indiana’s Eighth District has been a swing district that is fiercely fought for every two years.  Former Sheriff Brad Ellsworth’s recent 24% victory over incumbent Republican Congressman John Hostettler, however,  may herald a new era of less competitive races for this seat. Ellsworth’s strong fundraising ability, culturally conservative and fiscally conservative views combined with his telegenic presence will likely help him lock down this swing district.  The Eighth’s departure from its perennial spot on competitive House seat lists will leave a void for another microcosmic, marginal district; that is, in fact,  another  one called the “Eighth”, North Carolina’s Eighth District, to be precise.

The 8th has had a political history. The District shifted hands in 1960, 1968, 1974 and 1998 and it had close races  in 1984, 1988, 1994 and in 2006. This district is naturally polarized between the Central North Carolina Counties that are ancestrally Republican and the Eastern Counties that are full of Yellow Dog Democrats. The population parity of the Republican Textile Counties and the more Democratic rural counties contribute to the close elections in this district. The  2000 Almanac of American Politics notes the  1998 court ordered re-redistricting plan removed conservative Iredell, Moore and  Rowan counties from the 8th district and replaced them with predominately Democratic precincts. This move was meant to shore up Rep. Bill Hefner (D), who instead decided to retire in 1998.

His replacement was textile owner Republican Robin Hayes who won an open seat in a tough political environment for Republicans by 51%-49% over an underfunded political neophyte. Hayes then faced a rematch against Democrat Mike Taylor in 2000. Hayes exploited the political advantage of running as a Southern Republican in a Presidential election and he used pork barrel  projects to court public favor en route to a 11% victory.  Hayes wasn’t safe yet. The Democratic legislature added even more of Democratic Mecklenburg County and the Democrats nominated a local lawyer named Chris Kouri. Kouri and Hayes’ 2004 opponent lacked resources, charisma and experience.

Rep. Hayes’ low key nature helped him stay below the political radar of National Democrats, but unlike nearly all Southern Republican Congressman, Hayes’ district actually trended Democratic in the 2000’s – Bush’s victory percentage declined by 2% in 2004, despite going up by 3% nationally.
The 2006 election created a proverbial perfect storm for Democrats, but it later became a missed opportunity. In early 2005, the Congress voted 217-215 to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which put many North Carolinan textile workers at risk.  The deciding vote was cast by a Congressman named Robin Hayes, whose controversial vote left him vulnerable back at home. Instead of targeting Hayes, who occupies a a marginal district, Democrats ignored it and focused on helping former NFL player Heath Shuler in his run against GOP Rep. Charles Taylor. Taylor had won reelection in 2004 by a similar margin to Hayes, but he occupied an even more Republican district. The reason why the DCCC targeted the 11th and not the 8th  was likely candidate recruitment.

After Iraq War Vet Tim Dunn announced his bid for Congress in the 8th, Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC pledged their full support. Dunn’s campaign was plagued by fundraising troubles and he eventually dropped out before the primary. The remaining viable candidate in the district was a “Fourth tiered recruit” named Larry Kissell. Kissell was an 8th grade geography teacher, and ironically, a former textile worker. Kissell’s  matchup vs. the former textile owner was a David vs. Goliath race in more ways than one.  Hayes enjoyed a 7-1 cash advantage over Kissell.

For most of 2006, Hayes led by double digits. The turning point came when Kissell’s  campaign offered gas at $1.22 a gallon, the  same price it was when Hayes was elected to Congress. Kissell gained a huge boost from the Mark Foley scandal in early October. By early November, it was clear Kissell was on the verge of an upset. The combination of the War in Iraq, an unpopular  President and Congress also chipped away at Goliath. In the end, Hayes prevailed by the second closest margin in the Country – just 339 votes.  Had the DCCC had the foresight to target this race, an provided badly needed financial support,  Kissell would have won.

The problem now is what to do in 2008. Taylor’s rematch in 2000 flopped because of the increased conservative turnout. Another factor working against Kissell is that Hayes now understands his vulnerability — he won’t be caught politically sleepwalking like he was in 2006. Recent history isn’t sanguine for comeback candidates like Kissell.  In a similarly split district, Pat Casey lost an open seat race  to Don Sherwood in 1998 by only 515 votes, but he lost by 6% in 2000.

If the Democrats succeed in passing their agenda and nominate an attractive Presidential candidate like Barack Obama or Bill Richardson, they can win Republican districts like this one. If they remain divided on Iraq and nominate Hillary Clinton, this bellwether district will stick with Rep. Robin Hayes. On Election 2008, watch North Carolina’s Eighth – as the new “Bloody Eighth” goes, so goes the country.

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