The West

I will wrap up this four day, state-by-state review of the race for Congress by looking at states out West, where even more seats in the U.S. House are on the line for Democrats.

NEW MEXICO – President Obama and Vice President Biden have both traveled to Albuquerque in recent weeks, but it doesn’t seem to be working.  The race for Governor has moved to the Republicans and Democrats are worried about all three of their seats in the House.

Why all three?  Because all three members of the New Mexico delegation are freshman Democrats, and all three could get swept out if the GOP wave is big enough this election year.

The most endangered may well be Rep. Harry Teague in NM-2, a district that covers basically the southern half of the state.  National Democrats pulled money out of his district for advertising in recent weeks, signaling to some that Teague may not be able to win his rematch with former Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM).  Democrats spun it by saying Teague was in a strong position.  We’ll see on Election Night.

In NM-1, which is the smallest district in the state, covering most of Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), freshman Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich is on the rivet, trying to keep his seat from slipping back into GOP hands.  Democrats still think he will win, but if Republicans have a big night, anything can happen.

The exact same story line exists in NM-3, which covers the northern half of The Land of Enchantment, as Rep. Ben Ray Lujan tries to ward off a Republican challenger in a district that should be an easy Democratic win.  But with the GOP leading big in the race for Governor, who knows how that might impact races down the ballot.  Democrats swept all three of these seats two years ago, so you can’t rule out the GOP doing the same in 2010.

COLORADO – This state could play a key role in who wins the Senate, as Democrats are furiously trying to keep Sen. Michael Bennet (D) from being bumped out by Tea Party Republican Ken Buck.  The polls have been back and forth on this race for weeks.

Maybe the biggest wild card race of the night in the entire country could be the Governor’s race in Colorado, which has a Repulican candidate who has imploded, and a former Republican running as an Independent with an outside chance of winning.  

Leading the way for Governor is Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, but he’s seeing former Rep. Tom Tancredo (I) picking up steam as the candidacy of Republican Dan Maes goes down the tubes.  It’s hard to imagine Tancredo winning, but polls have shown he has a chance.

As for the U.S. House, Republicans have their eyes on as many as three seats in the Centennial State.  The most endangered is Rep. Betsy Markey in CO-4, who won this seat two years ago when she defeated conservative GOP’er Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.  If you are going to put money on one Democrat losing in Colorado, this would probably be the morning line favorite.

Also in trouble is Rep. John Salazar (D) in CO-3, who is the brother of former Senator and now Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  This district was always going to be tight, but the GOP tide in Colorado has put this one in the Lean Republican category for most experts.

If you want a longshot, then it would be CO-7 and the seat of Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), who was first elected in 2006.  One reason that it could be trouble for Democrats is that it covers a lot of ground in the suburbs of Denver, and while that went Blue two years ago, it may be cycling back to the GOP this time.

WYOMING – There won’t be much change in Wyoming, but it will benefit the GOP, as Matt Mead is line to win the race for Governor.  Democrats control that job now, but Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) is term-limited.  As for the single House seat in Wyoming, that should stay on the Republican side.

MONTANA – It’s all quiet in Montana as well this year, as Republicans are expected to retain the House seat held by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).

IDAHO – Republicans are in charge in Idaho this year, as Sen. Mike Crapo (R) will cruise to a third term in office, and Gov. Butch Otter (R) is expected to win re-election as well.

In the House, freshman Democrat Rep. Walt Minnick (D) – yes, a Democrat in Idaho – was thought to be doing fine, but late polls from this state have shown a very competitive race.  The one thing that might help Minnick is that the ballot also includes a Libertarian and an Independent candidate, which could siphon votes away from Republican Raul Labrador.

UTAH – Republicans are expected to keep control of the Governor’s seat as Gov. Gary Herbert is up by a cool 30+ points in the polls.  The GOP will also stay in charge of the Senate seat that’s up this year, but it will be a different Republican, as Sen. Bob Bennett couldn’t even make the ballot earlier this year.  The winner is expected to be GOP’er Mike Lee.

The one race in the House that is attracting attention is UT-2, home to the only Democrat in the state’s Congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson.  The Blue Dog Democrat has been ahead in the polls, but I will give this seat my now familiar warning – if there is a big enough wave for Republicans, Matheson could be in danger.

ARIZONA – While the re-election bid of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not on the News Radar, more than half of the Arizona seats in the U.S. House are attracting attention, as Democrats try to avoid major losses on Election Night.

Like many of her freshman Democratic colleagues, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) is fighting a tough battle in AZ-1, trying hold on to her seat that she won in 2008.  The last polling data from this district showed Republican Paul Gosar up by 7 points, with Kirkpatrick struggling to get above 40 percent.  That’s not just danger territory, that’s get-the-boxes-ready-for-packing territory.

Also under the gun is Rep. Harry Mitchell in AZ-5.  Mitchell was one of the Democratic winners in 2006, and he kept this seat in 2008 with just 53.2% of the vote.  That’s not a great number, considering that Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket two years ago.  Republicans hope David Schweikert can grab this seat back for the GOP.

Another sophomore Democrat scrambling to survive is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in AZ-8, a district that’s tucked in the southeastern corner of Arizona, along the border with Mexico.  Giffords has been buffeted by both immigration issues and the controversial immigration law approved in the state, as the edge in this race might well be with the GOP again.

One other district getting attention is that of Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) in AZ-7. who has the southwestern part of the state along the border.  A true liberal, Grijalva was thought to be a lock in this district until the last two weeks, when a poll showed a very tight race.  Grijalva has taken flak for calling for a boycott of Arizona because of that controverisal immigration law approved earlier this year.  It seems like a longshot, but, it also seems like a GOP year.

NEVADA – You don’t have to say much more than “Nevada Senate” to know how important this race is to both parties in the fight for control of the Congress.  While the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to lose the race for Governor in Nevada, Reid The Elder is still trying to grind out another term in a tough race against Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle.

The polls have been edging just a little towards Angle, but it’s hard to know if she will win.  A lot of DC insiders seem to think that the late deciders in this race will go to her big time.

In the House races, there is only one Democrat who is in possible trouble this year, and that is freshman Congresswoman Dina Titus, who represents NV-3, a district that wraps around Las Vegas on three sides.  Titus won this district with only 47.4% of the vote two years ago, so that automatically would make her a candidate for defeat in 2010 – but add in the general pro-GOP tilt – and she could be in deeper trouble.

WASHINGTON – This is another state that is crucial in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate, as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is trying for a fourth term in office, but she has a tough opponent in Republican Dino Rossi.  Polls have been back and forth on this race, staying in the margin of error for the most part over the last ten days.  This race might not be decided by Tuesday night because Washington conducts an almost-100% mail-in ballot election.

On the House side, as many as three Democratic seats are in limbo at this point.  In WA-3, which includes the state capital of Olympia and the southeastern part of the state, Rep. Brian Baird (D) decided not to run, and the open seat seems to be one that might swing to the GOP.

In WA-2, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) got his warning signs during the primary, when he was outpolled by the top Republican, John Koster.  Democrats believe that Larsen can save this seat, in an outcome that may depend on how the district votes in the Senate race.  (Repeat after me, if there is a big GOP wave, then this seat may go to the GOP.)

Another Democrat in difficulty is Rep. Adam Smith in WA-9, who won two years ago with 65.5% of the vote.  He’s in trouble this year?  Well, we’ll see.  His district runs from Olympia through Pierce and King counties, which are two very reliable Democratic areas.  A big turnout for Patty Murray in those precincts could save Smith on Election Night.  (Repeat after me…)

There is one GOP lawmaker who could be in trouble, and that is Rep. Dave Reichert in WA-8.  Reichert’s district is just to the East of Smith’s, so there are big chunks of Pierce and King county voters here, who have always kept Reichert on the hot seat.  

OREGON – The big race in Oregon is for Governor, as the Democrats try to keep control of that job in a race between former Gov. John Kitzhaber and former NBA star Chris Dudley.  Polls have been very close with a slight trend to Kitzhaber in recent days.

As for House races, I really only see one seat that might flip, and that’s yet another Democratic freshman lawmaker, Rep. Kurt Schrader in OR-5.  He won his district in northwestern Oregon two years ago with 54.3% of the vote, and that was with Barack Obama on the ballot.  A GOP surge two years later might not be so good for him, but we’ll see.

Two other races have been mentioned as longshots for Democrats, and I think they are truly that.  Rep. Pete DeFazio in OR-4 has seen a big ad buy against him by Independent groups trying to stir up some election action, and Rep. David Wu in OR-1 has also had some people wondering about his future.  Wu faces a crowded ballot, with Republican, Libertarian, Constitution and Pacfic Green parties running.

CALIFORNIA – As I end this review of races, it is hard to believe that California is really the firewall for Democrats this year, along with Washington State, when it comes to the U.S. Senate.  As of now, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) looks to be the favorite for a fourth term in office, but you cannot completely count out the GOP’s Carly Fiorina.  The end though may be near for Republican Meg Whitman in the Governor’s race, as Jerry Brown is the favorite to return to Sacramento and replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzzaneggar.

In the battle for the House, a couple of seats have red flags on them for Democrats, though it’s hard to tell whether California is really going to see much of a GOP wave, since the top offices are heading toward the Democratic column.

In CA-11, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) holds a district that was in GOP hands just four years ago, so it’s not out of the question for Republicans to win this back.  Two polls have shown Republican Jeffrey Harmer in front.  McNerney won two years ago with 55.3% of the vote.  The big question is can he survive a GOP surge in 2010.

Not many people had any thoughts that Rep. Jim Costa (D) in CA-20 would be in trouble this year, as the district has been in Democratic hands for years.  But suddenly, polls show Costa barely ahead, and then a poll last week had Republican Andy Vidak up by ten points.  Costa won this seat in 2004, so he hasn’t really faced a GOP surge on Election Day yet.  He will be tested next week.

Democrats do have one target in the Golden State, Rep. Dan Lungren in CA-3, a district that stretches from the San Francisco and Sacramento suburbs over to the Nevada border near Lake Tahoe.  Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think that a GOP incumbent would be in trouble this year, but Democrats have been pushing the candidacy of Ami Bera.  A crowded ballot makes this hard to predict, with Libertarian, Independent and Peace & Freedom candidates vying for votes as well.

Finally, we should end with two longshots for Republicans, first in CA-18, which runs along the district of Jim Costa in CA-20.  The Congressman here is Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D), who had no opponent two years ago.  But this year, he’s struggling to get above 50% in the polls.  If the GOP were doing better at the top of the ticket, Costa might be in really hot water.

Also a question mark is Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) in CA-47.  Sanchez won the hearts of Democrats when she ousted Republican Bob Dornan back in 1996.  The GOP has tried to knock her off, but hasn’t come close since then.  Sanchez won two years ago with almost 70% of the vote.  But changing demographics has seen this district get a bit less Hispanic, and state Rep. Van Tran hopes to take advantage of that.  A big wildcard is the third candidate on the ballot, a Hispanic Independent who could take votes away from Sanchez.

HAWAII – Republicans have a chance here to hold on to a seat in the U.S. House that no one gave them any chance to keep.  This is the seat of Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI), who won a special election to replace former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), who is running for Governor.  A victory here would be real icing on the cake for the GOP, especially if they win a record number of seats.

As for Abercrombie, he has finally stretched out his lead in the polls, but this race for Governor has been more of a struggle than he probably anticipated.

Meanwhile, the Senate race in Hawaii is one that should re-elect the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI).  But unlike six years ago, when Inouye won by over 50 points, a recent poll had him only 13 ahead.

ALASKA – No change is expected in Alaska’s only House seat, as Rep. Don Young (R-AK) – a feisty, son-of-a-gun if there ever was one – is expected to win re-election, leaving all the excitement for the Senate race.

In that race, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is trying to become the first Senator since 1954 (Strom Thurmond) to win election to the Senate as a write-in candidate.  Murkowski lost to GOP nominee Joe Miller in the primary, but has surged in the polls after a series of missteps by Miller in recent weeks.  Standing off to the side is Democrat Scott McAdams, who hopes he can pull a Jesse Ventura and leave the other two behind at the polls on Tuesday.

That concludes our look at Congressional races out West.  Can Republicans win back the Congress?  After reviewing each state, the answer is most certainly, yes.

But will they do it?  That is another question which the voters will settle next week.