I lost track of House races over the past 10 days, despite several important developments that should impact the 2010 landscape. Here’s my attempt to play catch-up.
Garamendi close to winning CA-10 special
Earlier this year, California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi dropped out of the gubernatorial race to run for the special election in CA-10. The contest’s first round was held last Tuesday, and Garamendi came out on top of a crowded field of 14 candidates, with 26% compared to 20% for Republican David Harmer and 18% for his closest Democratic competitor, state Senator Mark DeSaulnier. Every candidate ran on the same ballot and the top vote-getters from each party advance to the general election, so even if DeSaulnier had beaten Harmer the latter would still have moved on.
Given the district’s heavily Democratic nature - Obama beat McCain 65% to 33% - there is little doubt that Garamendi will beat Harmer in the runoff, nor does it look like Democrats have anything to fear an enthusiasm gap: Combined, the four Democratic candidates got more than 64% on Tuesday, compared to 34% for the Republican contenders. The similarity between that balance of power and last November’s results is the latest piece of evidence that Democrats don’t it that bad heading into 2010.
The near certainty that Garamendi will soon resign to head to Congress creates a fascinating question in local politics: Who will Arnold Schwarzenegger appoint to replace him? California Republicans have a relatively thin statewide bench, so will Schwarzenegger look to build up his party by elevating someone who can later run for office? Will he seek to improve his standing among conservatives or perhaps signal to Democrats that he is ready to compromise in his last year by appointing one of them?
2008’s most shocking survivor should face competitive race
In 2008, no incumbent’s survival was as shocking as Don Young’s. Helped by his status as one of Alaska’s most legendary politicians and boosted by Sarah Palin’s coattails, the embattled Republican scored upsets in both the GOP primary and in the general election. But that did not make him safe heading into 2010: Ethical questions are still swirling, the threat of an indictement is still hanging in the air and state Democrats should be in a better position in a non-presidential year. As a result, I made AK-AL one of just 6 GOP-held toss-ups in my House ratings.
Yet, it was starting to look unlikely Democrats would field a strong enough challenger to take advantage of Young’s troubles: His 2008 opponent Ethan Berkowitz is eying the Governor’s race and state Senator Hollis French is mentioned for the Senate race. But last week emerged Harry Crawford, a state representative since 2000.
Alaska representatives might not have big enough constituencies to be obviously formidable contenders in statewide races, but given the extent of Young’s troubles Democrats do not necessarily need their strongest possible competitor: Someone who can look like a credible candidate, be treated seriously by the press and attract the support of the national party should be enough to make the race worth watching - and Crawford looks to fit the bill. In his candidacy announcement, he has already made it clear he would put ethics at the center of his campaign.
Democrats recruit against Rooney
St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Craft declared his candidacy in Florida’s 16th District - and that very well make the race worth following at some point in the future. But the 36-year old Craft has work to do before making FL-16 a good opportunity for Democrats. A red-leaning district, FL-16 reverted back to form with Tom Rooney’s victory against Rep. Tim Mahoney - and Rooney was already looking like a slight favorite before Mahoney’s prospects were annihilated by a sexual harassment scandal.
Also, St. Lucie is only one of eight counties that make up the sprawling FL-16, so Craft’s constituency doesn’t represent a sizable enough portion of the district to make him an automatically formidable contender. From the looks of an early interview, it looks like he will campaign as a centrist; he for instance chastised House Democrats for including abortion provisions in the health care bills.
And the good news for the GOP: Dahlkemper gets first challenger
In a red-leaning district that voted for John McCain by just 17 votes last November, it did not take long for the NRCC to take aim at freshman Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper, a Blue Dog Democrat who is a critic of a public health care plan. But the lack of a Republican willing to challenge Dahlkemper kept the race from being a top GOP prospect. It looks like that is now changing: former Erie County Solicitor John A. Onorato is all but ready to announce that he will challenge Dahlkemper in 2010.
Erie County might be one of eight counties in the district, but it makes up more than 40% of PA-3 so Onorato definitely has a good geographical base from which to proceed. Also, Erie is the district’s most Democratic part as it gave Dahlkemper a 57-43 margin in 2008 (Obama won the county by 20%). If Onorato can hold down Dahlkemper’s margin in Erie, he could be well positioned to win districtwide. The catch is that Dahlkemper is also from Erie (as was the incumbent Republican she beat in 2008), so we’ll have to see how all of this affects the race.