This is the second installment of my state-by-state look at the battle for the Congress, as we shift to a diverse group of states, from Virginia south to Florida and West to Oklahoma and Texas.
Almost every one of these states could be key individual battlegrounds as Republicans try to grab back control of the House and Senate, while Democrats look to hang on to their endangered majorities.
VIRGINIA – Republicans are taking aim at as many as four House seats now held by Democrats in all parts of the Old Dominion, as the GOP looks to roll back some of the gains that Democrats have made in recent years.
Maybe tops on the list is freshman Rep. Tom Perriello in VA-5, who barely defeated GOP Congressman Virgil Goode two years ago. This district is like a big triangle along the middle of the Virginia border with North Carolina that juts north up to Charlottesville. Perriello benefited big time from the Obama surge in Virginia two years ago, now he may be hurt by the lack of excitement among young college-age Democrats.
A second freshman who is in trouble is Rep. Glenn Nye in VA-2, a district that includes part of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the Virginia part of the DelMarVa peninsula. Nye unseated Rep. Thelma Drake (R) two years ago, but now faces a stiff challenge; a poll out on Monday showed him tied with his GOP challenger.
One race that remains on the radar – but I have doubts will change hands – is that of Rep. Rick Boucher VA-9, a more conservative Democrat who has long frustrated GOP attempts to get him booted out of his district which covers the southwestern part of the state. Boucher faces state Rep. Morgan Griffith, who may need a big GOP wave to have a shot at this race. If Boucher loses, then it is an ugly night for Democrats.
The race that many in Washington, D.C. are watching is VA-11, where another freshman, Gerry Connolly (D) is trying to get re-elected. Connolly’s district includes some closer-in suburbs to Washington, but also has a chunk of the outer suburbs which are usually Red, but went Blue in 2008. Most experts consider this a longshot for the GOP, but I’m not so sure about those assessments because of what could be a big switch from two years ago. This is a race for the underside of your trifectas.
NORTH CAROLINA – The North Carolina Senate race is hardly making any national noise, as Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is expected to win easy re-election by most in DC. In the House, Republicans seem to have a legitimate shot at three House seats now held by Democrats in the Tar Heel State.
Maybe the most endangered is Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in NC-8, who has seen a huge amount of money flood into his district from the Congressional campaign arms of both political parties. Kissell – like many Democrats in trouble this year – is a freshman. While he won two years ago with 55% of the vote, he’s not safe in 2010.
In NC-7, which is in the southern tip of North Carolina including Wilmington, is where Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) is trying to survive, after winning election two years ago with almost 69% of the vote. You read that correctly – in just two years, he’s gone from a huge win to questions about getting re-elected, a theme that you may see repeated in a number of states.
One other Democrat who may be in trouble – though I’m not convinced of it – is Rep. Heath Shuler in NC-11. Shuler won this more conservative district four years ago, and has set himself apart from Democrats on a regular basis. But the Blue Dog thing isn’t working that well right now for southern Democrats, as the former NFL Quarterback has been on the defensive in recent weeks.
SOUTH CAROLINA – The Senate race here is not a race at all, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is facing Democrat Alvin Greene – you remember Greene – he’s the guy that somehow won the primary without doing any campaigning, and there were questions about whether he really paid the $10,000 fee to get on the ballot.
Republicans don’t have that many chances to pick up a Democratic seat in the Palmetto State, other than SC-5, where Rep. John Spratt (D) is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. This is another one of those seats where I have heard for years that Spratt might be defeated, and yet he keeps winning. But will 2010 be one election too many? We’ll see.
GEORGIA – This state has had little change in its Congressional delegation in recent years, but this year could be different, as Republicans hope to take two seats from the Democrats. In GA-8, Rep. Jim Marshall has been a frequent target of the GOP, but he always finds a way to win his conservative district that features Macon and central Georgia. This time, Republicans think Marshall is already toast, pointing at a poll last week that had him trailing by double digits.
The other district in the sights of Republicans is GA-2 in southwest Georgia, where Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) has been in this seat since Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. Republicans often talk about how they are going to knock out Bishop as well, and then they don’t come close. In 2008, Bishop won with almost 69% of the vote. We’ll see how good the Democratic ground game is in this district or if the Republicans are really about to win the Daily Double in Georgia.
FLORIDA – Like Pennsylvania, the Sunshine State could be an important part of the Republican victory train that would get them back in charge of the U.S. House. In Florida, the GOP is taking aim at as many as four seats, which some think could be even more if the night is a large Republican wave election.
Going from north to south, we start with FL-2, where Rep. Allen Boyd (D) has held this Panhandle-based seat since 1996. The Blue Dog Democrat was a favorite to win re-election until he barely won his primary against a challenge from the Left, which could leave him crippled for November, as Republican Steve Southerland swoops in for the win.
In Central Florida, there are two Democrats who seem to be in big, big trouble. One is the notable Rep. Alan Grayson in FL-8, who knocked off Rep. Ric Keller (R) two years ago to win this seat. For months, I really thought that Grayson would be one of those high profile targets (like Jim Marshall in Georgia) who would find a way to win, but political experts say Grayson will be toast next week. One thing working in his favor is that there are two other candidates on the ballot other than Dan Webster, his main Republican challenger.
Also on Super Red Alert is FL-24, which covers Cape Canaveral and the Space Coast, where Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D) was a target just minutes after she won her seat in 2008 over the ethically-challenged GOP Rep. Tom Feeney. Kosmas’ opponent Sandy Adams (R) had little money, but she has been greatly helped by a big infusion of Republican party money into this district, which many experts say was a lost cause for Democrats months and months ago, one reason why the party cut Kosmas loose and cancelled its ad buys.
Finally, we go south to FL-22, a district that runs along the coast in Palm Beach County from West Palm through Boca Raton and then inland in Broward County. Here, Rep. Ron Klein (D) is in a nasty rematch with Republican Allen West, who lost by over 9 points two years ago. This race has featured bikers making threats to kick Klein’s ass, a fundraiser where the President mispronounced Klein’s name and more. One thing working in Klein’s favor is that Broward County delivered a huge margin for Barack Obama two years ago, so it is fertile Democratic territory. But will it deliver in a mid-term?
ALABAMA – About a year ago, Democrats thought they had a chance to do very well in Alabama, but now the Republican Tide is running against them at all levels of the ballot. Maybe in the most danger is Rep. Bobby Bright (D) in AL-2, a district that encompasses much of southeastern Alabama, from Montgomery to Dothan. Like other Blue Dog Democrats, Bright has done all he can to separate himself from his more liberal colleagues, but experts believe he is sinking fast.
While Bright’s race is still considered competitive, that’s not the case in AL-5, the seat that was held by Rep. Parker Griffith. Elected in 2008 as a Democrat, Griffith switched parties in late 2009 and then was easily defeated in his GOP primary. This district, which features Huntsville in northern Alabama seems most likely to send Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks (R) to the Congress.
TENNESSEE – While Democrats may lose a seat in Alabama, it could be much worse in Tennessee, a border state that had been hospitable to Democrats in recent years, as three different seats seem to be in play. Most likely to switch is the open seat held by Rep. Bart Gordon (D) in TN-6, which runs from the Kentucky border almost all the way to the Alabama line to the north, east and south of Nashville. Gordon was a Blue Dog – his replacement will likely be a Republican.
The outlook for Democrats could be the same in TN-8, where another Blue Dog Democrat, Rep. John Tanner (D) is retiring. The 538 election blog lists this seat as the 5th most likely to turn over to the GOP this election year as Republicans try to take advantage of the current political environment.
How much have things changed in just two years in TN-6 and TN-8? Gordon won re-election two years ago with almost 75% of the vote. Tanner was unopposed. Both opted for retirement this year. If they had run, their re-election would not have been guaranteed.
The other seat that Republicans hope to swipe in 2010 is TN-4, currently held by another Volunteer State Blue Dog, Rep. Lincoln Davis, who first won election in 2002, when Repulicans added 8 House seats to their somewhat narrow majority. Davis won re-election two years ago with 58.8% of the vote – more evidence that almost any Democrat could be on the losing end of things on Election Day 2010, no matter how well they did in 2008.
KENTUCKY – Most of the attention in Kentucky has been on the Senate race, as Tea Party Republican Rand Paul, son of Texas GOP Congressman Ron Paul, is favored to prevail over Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway. I’ll let you research the Aqua Buddah story and go from there. This is Paul’s race to lose in a state that was very Red in 2008.
One important point to remember about the Kentucky Senate race is that the seat is already in the hands of the GOP, so this is not a “switch” to the Republican side.
The hottest House race is in KY-6, held by Rep. Ben Chandler (D), who first elected in 2004 to replace a GOP Congressman who successfully ran for Governor. You may remember it was Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s state plane that caused a frantic evacuation of the U.S. Capitol building around the time that the body of former President Reagan was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. I know I remember running for my life that day.
As for Rep. Chandler, he won two years ago with 64% of the vote, but now his re-election bid is considered a toss-up. Chandler’s district is anchored by the state capital of Lexington, which had a slight hint of Blue during 2008 – but overall – this is a Red district in a fairly Red state.
While we are here in the Bluegrass State, we may as well keep tabs on KY-3, which is home to the only other Democrat in the state’s Congressional delegation, Rep. John Yarmuth. He’s been a target since winning that seat in 2006. A lot of those sophomores are in trouble this year, so Yarmuth will hope that he can outrun his pursuers in that Louisville-based district like a sprinter at Churchill Downs.
But if you play the ponies, you know that stretch at Churchill is a long run, and sometimes, those sprinters get caught at the wire by a stalker or deep closer.
MISSISSIPPI – We’ll stay in Southeastern Conference territory by heading now to Mississippi, where Democrats are in trouble in a couple of races, both held – drum roll please – by Blue Dog Democrats (maybe you are sensing the theme.)
In MS-1, which occupies most of northern Mississippi is held by Rep. Travis Childers (D) who grabbed this seat for the Democrats in a special election in May of 2008, when the political table was tilting in favor of the Democrats. Helped along by the 2008 environment, Childers easily hung on to this seat with 54% of the vote. But 2010 may be different, as he faces state Rep. Alan Nunnelee.
The real canary in the coal mine for Democrats in this state – and nationally – may be found in MS-4, where the King of the Blue Dogs, Rep. Gene Taylor (D) is fighting for re-election. Taylor has been in this seat, which occupies the southeastern part of Mississippi since 1989, winning it two years ago with 74% of the vote.
Yes, Taylor is a Democrat, but he is very conservative compared to his northern brethern, and more evidence of that surfaced yesterday, with reports that Taylor actually voted for John McCain in 2008 and not Barack Obama.
I have said this repeatedly and will say it again in print – a lot of other Democrats should go down to defeat before the Grim Election Reaper gets to Taylor. So if he is really losing in 2010, it could be getting very, very ugly for Democrats nationally. One red flag about the challenge from state Rep. Steven Palazzo is that there is a Libertarian candidate in this race who could theoretically siphon votes away from the GOP candidate.
ARKANSAS – While Gov. Mike Beebe (D) is cruising toward re-election, the Democratic Party in Arkansas could be in for a beating in the Congress on Election Night. There is no way to sugarcoat this assessment. It looks ugly.
The bad news starts with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who has trailed in the polls by double digits ever since she won her party’s nomination after a fierce fight with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who challenged her from the Left. So, instead of rallying around the Senator, liberals tried to kneecap her earlier this year. It worked, because Rep. John Boozman (R) is expected to cruise to an easy victory, giving Republicans one of the ten seats they need to gain in the Senate.
In the four member House delegation, the news is even worse for Democrats. In AR-1, it is just the wrong year for Rep. Marion Berry to retire and have his Chief of Staff run to replace him. Chad Causey is most likely a nice fellow, but he needed the wind at his back in 2008, not the wind in his face from 2010, as Republican Rick Crawford is favored to win this seat, which covers northeastern Arkansas.
The outlook is not any better for Democrats in AR-2, the Little Rock district being vacated by Rep. Vic Snyder (D). Many experts have this in the “Lean Republican” or “Likely Republican” category, expecting Republican Tim Griffin to win. Why is Griffin a familiar name? Maybe you remember him from the controversy involving fired U.S. attorneys in the Bush Administration, as he is a former Justice Department official. Several years ago that was politically radioactive, now he’s in the driver’s seat.
The longshot for Republicans is AR-4, held by Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), who like your blogger is a licensed ham radio operator. Ross’ district is basically the southern part of Arkansas, which has been secure territory for the Blue Dog Democrat since he was elected in 2000. Two years ago, Ross won with 86% of the vote – now there are some who are worried he might get swept up if the GOP wave is too high this year.
LOUISIANA – Oh, Lousiana is just so much to watch politically. Democrats keep trying to talk up the Senate race between Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), but so far Melancon just hasn’t been able to close the gap in the polls. If this were 2008, Melancon might well win, but it isn’t 2008, it’s 2010, and he is going uphill. Despite Vitter’s troubles with ladies of the night, he seems secure.
Melancon’s House seat in LA-3 seems to be almost a lock for the Republicans at this point, another example of a Blue Dog Democrat leaving the Congress and the Red Tide of 2010 making the Republican candidate the favorite in November.
While the GOP has the edge in those two races, the Democrats may be able to win back a seat in the House in LA-2, the old seat of convicted Rep. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, who hid a lot of FBI sting money in his freezer. Jefferson was defeated two years ago by Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who was the only Republican to vote for health reform legislation in the House. The fact that Cao is even still in the conversation right now in this New Orleans-based district speaks volumes to the troubles Democrats are having in the South this year.
OKLAHOMA – If I remember correctly, the state of Oklahoma was the only state to get even Redder in 2008. It may be about the only state that has no change in its Congressional delegation in 2010. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is expected to win easy re-election, while Rep. Mary Fallin (R-OK) is expected to win the race for Governor and lead a tide of Republican victories at the state level.
The only Democrat in the state’s delegation, Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), seems secure in OK-2, though Republicans are always talking about being able to push him out. Boren’s name is very familiar in the Sooner State, as he has followed the lead of his father (former Governor and Senator) by staying on the conservative side of most difficult political questions.
Boren’s wife recently gave birth to a baby boy, and unless this election night gets ugly in a way that few see, Boren should be able to make it home in time to help put the baby back to sleep after an early morning feeding. He won two years ago with 70% of the vote, so this will be an interesting seat to watch to see how much less Boren gets in 2010.
TEXAS – Saving the best for last, as Texas could actually give us a number of surprises on Election Night in the Congress. One note before I jump in – Texas should get four more seats in the U.S. House for the 2012 elections, which may produce even more change in two years. But let’s focus on 2010 for now.
If you believe the pundits, then the blood starts to flow in TX-17, the Waco-College Station district of Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), who was first elected in 1990, and won two years ago with 53% of the vote. Edwards got some face time in ’08 when he was talked about as a Vice Presidential candidate for Barack Obama. Two years later, Edwards is running from Obama and Pelosi as fast as he can, and it might not be fast enough for him to survive. This would be a loss that would make some Democrats shiver, because Edwards always seems to win in tough years, sort of like Rep. Gene Taylor in MS-4.
One seat that has come out of nowhere and suddenly gone into the Toss-Up column is in TX-23, where Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) was evidently thinking that he wouldn’t be touched by this year’s election trouble on the Democratic side. The national party has rushed in to help Rodriguez, who won this seat in a 1997 special election, and had almost 56% of the vote in 2008. This is exactly the type of Democrat who might lose in other states, simply because they were caught flat-footed in a bad political environment.
Another veteran Democrat who has suddenly popped up on the “maybe” radar is Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), first elected in 1982 to the Congress, making him one of the more senior members of the House, but someone few people outside of his district have ever heard about. This district runs from the eastern edge of El Paso across great stretches of nothing along the Rio Grande towards the Gulf of Mexico. You can guess what issues might cause a Democrat problems here. We’ll see if Ortiz can find the magic, or if he reacted too late.
Republicans also have their eye on TX-25, where Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) has been driving them nuts since being elected in 1994. That’s a very instructive year to consider, because Doggett won while Republicans were winning seats left and right in that election, as they took charge of the House, knocking off such Texas luminaries like Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX), the foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. So, if Doggett gets dragged under by the tide, you will know it’s a bad year for Democrats.
That wraps up day two of our review of this year’s Congressional elections. I’m sure there’s some races I should have focused more on, but that’s a pretty good thumbnail of where things are in the South. Tomorrow, we’ll move into the Midwest and Great Plains.