Archive for the 'KS-04' Category

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 counter  the narrative that it is stuck playing defense, but it would certainly be a huge surprise if Goyle can make the race close.

In House races, both parties land prominent challengers

Both parties landed a high-profile House candidate this week, though Democrats have more reason to be satisfied with their recruit than Republicans do.

MN-06: Bachmann gets 3rd Democratic opponent

Democrats already had two credible candidates hoping to face Rep. Michelle Bachmann: 2008 nominee Elwyn Tinklenberg and Maureen Reed. This week, they got a newest entrant who could be Bachmann’s most formidable challenger yet: Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark. Her decision is a sign of confidence: Clark is up for re-election in 2010, so she is giving up her position to run against Bachmann and she will have nothing to fall back on if she loses.

Based on this crowd of candidates, you might think we’re talking about a staunchly blue seat rather than this conservative-leaning district that twice voted for George W. Bush by double-digits and gave John McCain an 8% victory. Bachmann has revealed herself to be such a caricatural representative of the political spectrum’s far-right that she’s sure to be a highly vulnerable target come 2010, but the district is conservative enough that Democrats need a top-tier candidate who can mount a flawless political operation. Clark could be such a candidate.

In the state Senate since 2004, Clark represents portions of three districts that all decisively voted for McCain in 2008 - just like the district as a whole. Her prominent profile makes her the favorite to win the party’s nomination: The winner at a springtime party convention generally goes on to face an uncontested primary and Clark should benefit from establishment support. It also guarantees that a match-up between Bachmann and Clark will be a high-profile affair that wil be covered as such, thus magnifying the effect of any new Bachmann bombshell.

On the other hand, Reed and Tinklenberg definitely remain in the running. The former proved that she should be taken seriously with her surprisingly high fundraiser haul in the second quarter, and the second is vowing to press ahead to get a second chance against the woman he almost defeated last fall.

MI-07: Walberg guarantees high-profile race, is not GOP’s best shot

Republicans insist that Mark Schauer’s 2008 victory was a fluke, that he was helped by Obama’s coattails and by the divisions within the Republican base resulting from Mike Walberg defeating moderate Rep. Joe Schwarz in the 2006 Republican primary. That year, Walberg went on to win the general election as Democrats had not thought of fielding a top candidate but he lost to Schauer by 3% two years later; the 2008 campaign was marked by Schwarz’s decision to cross party lines and endorsed Schauer’s bid, blasting Walberg as a conservative firebrand.

Sure, Schauer might not have won the election had the GOP not split and had the party nominated a less conservative candidate. (This is, after all, a swing district.) But the best way to test that theory is not to renominate the man whose ideological profile was an important reason for the Democrats’ pick-up: This week, Tim Walberg announced that he would seek his old job back via a rematch with Schauer.

Now, Walberg is definitely a strong contender for the seat: He has already served a term, he has higher name recognition than a typical challenger and he can tap into the politico-financial network he acquired in the 2006 and 2008 cycles (especially Club for Growth donors). Furthermore, Michigan is an economically distraught state whose voters could seek to punish Democrats come 2010 (both at the federal and state level). If nothing else, Walberg’s bid guarantees that MI-07 will feature a competitive race well worth watching.

Yet, former lawmakers often do not make the best challengers - especially if their defeat came after a hard-fought race and had nothing to do with the element of surprise. (The NRCC alone spent more than $1 million in the district in 2008.) Also, it’s not like Republicans faced a dearth of candidates: state Senator Cameron Brown and Jackson County Prosecutor Hank Zavislak could have made strong Republican candidates.

KS-04: DCCC lands recruit but district remains tough

The district left open by Rep. Todd Tiahrt is staunchly Republican - Bush received 64%, McCain 58% - and not the best place we would expect Democrats to contest. And yet, the DCCC scored a big enough recruitment coup that KS-04 should at least remain on our radar screen: state Rep. Raj Goyl announced his candidacy last week. Since defeating a Republican incumbent in 2006, Goyl has represented a red-leaning district - giving him as much of a shot for Tiahrt’s House seat as the DCCC can hope for.

While this is undoubtedly good news for Democrats, too much should not be made of it: KS-04, which is far more conservative than Goyl’s state district, did not suddenly become a top-tier race just as HI-01 and CA-47 are not top-tier races because Republicans recruited Charles Djou and Van Tran. It is true that Democrats picked-up open seats that were in even more conservative territory in 2006 and in 2008, but the dynamics of the 2010 cycle will be far different and far less favorable to such upsets. As such, Republicans remain highly favored to win the general election. At the very least, Democrats will need to hope that the GOP primary gets nasty and divisive.

Rep. Tiahrt jumps in Kansas Senate race, sets up competitive GOP primary

He had been expected to do so for the past few months, and he jumped in yesterday: Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt announced his candidacy for Kansas’s Senate race. (Sam Brownback is retiring, leaving his seat open for the taking.)

Tiahrt’s statewide candidacy gives us our fifth open seat in the House - and perhaps the most intriguing to date. Based around Wichita, KS-04 is staunchly conservative; George W. Bush won with 64% of the vote in 2004 and where McCain crushed Obama 58% to 40% this past fall. Accordingly, the Republican nominee will be heavily favored to hold on to this seat, and the GOP is likely to have plenty of candidates looking to get a promotion to Washington. Potential contenders include White House Political Affairs Director Matt Schlapp, State Sen. Susan Wagle, State Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt.

That said, the district has been known to elect Democrats - until the 1994 red tsunami, in fact, when Tiahrt  unexpectedly defeated Rep. Glickman. Furthermore, Democrats have somewhat of a bench in KS-04. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and state Sen. Raj Goyl (who comfortably upset a Republican incumbent in 2006 in a red-leaning area) would be very credible candidates if the DCCC can recruit them.

Naturally, Tiahrt’s decision is most important in regards to the Senate race.

Awaiting him in the Republican primary is fellow congressmen Jerry Moran, who was first elected to the House in 1996 and who announced his candidacy in late 2008. While Moran is considered the slight favorite, their contest is likely to be stay very heated all the way until Kansas’s August primary.

The problem for the GOP is that Kansas is one state in which a competitive primary could really hurt their chances.

Kansas Republicans have long been engaged in an ideological civil war, with conservative and centrist less conservative factions warring over the control of the party. A number of politicians from the moderate faction have switched parties over the years, and this has helped the Democratic Party stay alive in a state in which it might have had a very difficult time otherwise.

While Moran and Tiahrt are both reliable conservative with little policy disagreements to differentiate them, their opposition could fit in that narrative of a warring state party. Moran bridges the two factions, satisfying conservatives and moderates alike since the time he was one of the leaders of the state GOP (he served as the state Senate’s Majority Leader in the early 1990s). That might be good enough for Republicans if it were not for the fact that Tiahrt is known as a movement conservative, closer to the profile of base activists, with a social conservative profile and ties to pro-life groups.

First, this means that Tiahrt’s camp is likely to try to make this primary into an ideological battle, and that is a recipe for a bruising contest. Second, this could lead to general election troubles for the eventual nominee: If Tiahrt reignites the party’s civil war and then goes on to win the primary, moderate Republican voters could stay away from the polls or even back the Demoratic nominee.

All of this will only matter, of course, if Democrats can field a credible candidate. The big - the huge - question mark remains whether Governor Kathleen Sebelius will jump in the race. If she does, Kansas will host one of the most important Senate battles of the cycle - and how bruising the GOP primary becomes will certailny matter. If she does not, it remains difficult to see what other Democrat could mount a strong run - and the GOP primary could then very well look like a general election.

If you like the website...

... Support Campaign Diaries