Five crucial House races taking shape

AR-02: Democratic candidate jumps in

Democrats have deep benches in the newly open Arkansas districts, which means their primaries are likely to be heated showdowns between some of the state party’s biggest name. The possibility that Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter and Wesley Clark might run in AR-2 did not dissuade House Speaker Robbie Wills to announce his candidacy yesterday. He joins state Sen. Joyce Elliott, who is likely to be the primary’s more liberal option; Wills, meanwhile, seems to be a mainstream Arkansas Democrat, which also means he is not as conservative as Senate Majority Leader Bob Johnson, who is also mentioned as a potential candidate.

At this point, there is no buzz that Republicans might try to find an alternative to former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin. While I know some of you don’t think his prominent role in the U.S. Attorney’s scandal could hurt him, the GOP could try to find a candidate with less baggage; last year Griffin looked as formidable a challenger as the GOP could dream of, but it’s a whole new ball game by now.

PA-10: Carney lands additional challenger

Speaking of former U.S. Attorneys, yet another decided to put his name on the ballot this fall: Thomas Marino announced he would challenge Rep. Chris Carney. Just like Griffin, Marino was forced to resign in 2007, though his exit was not caused by the scandal that erupted around the Bush administration but rather by his ties to Louis DeNaples, whose aggressive efforts to secure a casino license made him the target of a government probe. That is sure to haunt him on the campaign trail; in fact, Democrats have already gone all-out on the issue. (Marino also faces a competitive primary, most notably against Snyder County Commissioner Malcolm Der.)

Carney is apparently very happy letting Democratic Party officials do the dirty work while he portrays himself above the fray. In the statement he released following Marino’s entry in the race, Carney chose instead to highlight the fact that Republicans tried to convince him to switch parties back in December as proof of his independent streak. “Congressman Carney is proud of his bipartisan record in Congress and was flattered to have recently been approached by Sen. John McCain and other Republican leaders about switching parties,” the statement said. “He believes, however, that his job is not about a political party.” This was something everyone saw coming as soon as we read reports about the GOP’s outreach; Republicans really shoot themselves in the foot on this one.

AR-08: Giffords lands her first one

It looked like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords would be one junior Democrat who would not face too difficult a re-election race, but the GOP has put competitive AZ-08 on the map by recruiting state Sen. Jonathan Paton. The 38-year Paton has only been serving in the state Senate for a year (he was in the state House before), but his decision to run suggests he is really confident he can pull victory: Arizona law requires state politicians to resign if they want to seek another office, so Paton will now have to leave his job in order to challenge Giffords.

Yet, Giffords has won her first two races with surprising ease - both were double-digit victories, which means she considerably overperformed relatively to Barack Obama’s performance - and she’s one of House Democrats’ most successful fundraisers. Furthermore, Arizona could be more or less susceptible to a red wave depending on who wins the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

SC-05: PPP confirms a veteran congressman is vulnerable

One of the most powerful House Democrats, Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt has served for 28 years, which makes him as entrenched a congressman as it gets and which means he has survived tough national environments before. Yet, a new PPP survey finds that he is vulnerable to losing his red-leaning South Carolina district: Not only is his approval rating in negative territory (41-42) but he is under 50% against both of his Republican opponents; he tops state Senator Mick Mulvaney 46% to 39% and leads Albert Spencer 46% to 37%.

Given the number of Democratic incumbents who have been trailing by decisive margins - think Reid, Lincoln, Snyder, Driehaus, Hill - for Spratt to post a 7% lead against a state Senator does suggest his standing is better than that of other congressmen; but the fact that such numbers might in any way be spun as good news for Democrats speaks to how rough a landscape they are facing. On the other hand, the poll also finds that Obama has a stronger approval rating than you might expect in districts that voted for John McCain by 7% (46-49).

KS-04: The best defense is offense

Given the environment, a staunchly red Kansan district that voted for Bush by 32% and for McCain by 18% is the last place you would expect Democrats to try and mount an offense. Yet, the DCCC has been so excited by state Rep. Raj Goyle’s candidacy in the open KS-04 that they’ve included the district in the list of their 16 top offensive targets! Goyle has been raising large sums of money for a House challenger; he just reported more than $250,000 in the fourth quarter, and he outraised the most prolific Republican 4:1 in the 3rd quarter. But is this a case in which national parties’ obsessive focus on fundraising strength makes them overstate their chances?

Whatever Goyle’s merits, he has been in the state legislature for only 2 years (so it’s not like he is an entrenched political figure) and if he picked up the seat KS-04 would become one of the most conservative districts represented by a Democrat; is that likely to happen in 2010, especially in a state in which the GOP will enjoy huge victories in statewide elections? It’s good of the DCCC to seek to counterĀ  the narrative that it is stuck playing defense, but it would certainly be a huge surprise if Goyle can make the race close.

4 Responses to “Five crucial House races taking shape”

  1. 1 Cliff

    Do you know what district Gilbert Baker lives in? I heard he lives in Marion Barry’s district but I can’t find out for sure. I’m having trouble believing, in spite of his stiff-upper-lip rhetoric, that if Boozman gets out and he lives in Barry’s district he won’t run for House instead.

  2. 2 Brandon

    Cliff, Gilbert Baker lives in Conway.

  3. 3 Taniel

    Cliff, Baker indeed represents Conway, which lies in Vic Snyder’s district so he would have to drop down to AR-02 rather than AR-01 and AR-03; in short, he would have to challenge Griffin, which would probably be easier than going after Boozman but not sure enough that it’s worth dropping a Senate race over.

  4. 4 Cicero

    AR-02 will be won by the Republicans. Chris Carney will survive his challenge, and so will Giffords. Spratt will win with relative ease. The Democrats won’t pick up KS-04 in the current environment.

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