Yesterday, I highlighted some of the Democrats’ good House news - particularly their ability to avoid giving the GOP unnecessary openings. Within a few hours, yet another Democratic representative announced that he will not vacate his seat in 2010: Rep. Jim Matheson ruled out mounting a gubernatorial run, even though he is one of the only Democrats who could have taken advantage of the shuffle created by Governor Huntsman’s resignation. Matheson’s UT-02 is a red-leaning district that would have been very tough for Democrats to defend, so that sound you hear is yet another sigh of relief from the DCCC.
Yet, House Republicans are still as determined to go on the offensive next year: NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions just said that he was hoping to seriously contest 80 Dem-held districts come 2010! That’s an obviously unrealistic number, at this juncture ridiculously so, but at least Sessions is trying to change momentum after two disastrous cycles in which the GOP was stuck on the defensive. And Sessions went on to unveil its Young Guns program, the GOP’s equivalent of the DCCC’s Red to Blue. The initial list includes 13 challengers Republicans think are top-tier recruits:
Martha Roby (AL-02); Van Tran (CA-47); Cory Gardner (CO-04); Dennis Ross (FL-12); Charles Djou (HI-01); Vaughn Ward (ID-01); Adam Kinzinger (IL-11); Andy Harris (MD-01); Frank Guinta (NH-01); Jon Barela (NM-01); Steve Pearce (NM-02); Steve Chabot (OH-01); Steve Stivers (OH-15)
FL-12 is a GOP-held open seat, so that’s not an offensive opportunity. Of the 12 challengers on the list, some definitely should be on this list (AL-02, CO-04, ID-01, NH-01, NM-02, OH-01, OH-15); one seems to me to be weaker than other candidates the GOP could field (Andy Harris in MD-01); and a number continue to seem like wishful thinking (CA-47, HI-01 and NM-01 seem like too heavily Democratic to be worth the NRCC’s efforts). I am struck by OR-04’s absence: The NRCC spent so much time recruiting Sid Leiken that I’d expect him to now get more attention.
Meanwhile, the NRCC’s recruitment districts in other districts is having mixed results - as you can see from the round-up below.
NRCC misses its best shot at CT-04
CT-04 is not the most obvious of Republican targets - Obama prevailed by 20% last fall, helping dislodge Chris Shays - but the NRCC had been talking up Rep. Jim Himes’s vulnerability. That was perhaps because Himes is a freshman, perhaps because the district’s blue drift is bound to decrease and perhaps because the GOP was counting on recruiting a top challenger: State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who has a moderate reputation and whose father represented the distrist from 1971 to 1987.
After weeks during which he flirted with a run - even traveling to Washington to meet with NRCC officials - McKinney has just announced he will not challenge Himes in 2010. That’s a huge blow to the GOP’s prospects in this already tough district. Other credible Republicans might run - state Senators Rob Kane, Dan Debicella and Rob Russo are mentioned - but none have the advantage of McKinney’s last name.
Childrers draws top-tier challenger
After winning a springtime special election with surprising ease last year, Travis Childers did not have to worry much about his first re-election race in November. But 2010 should be very different: State Senator Alan Nunnelee, who has served in the legislature since 1994, just filed a candidacy statement. His entry makes this race a top priority for the NRCC.
Nunnelee has has better name recognition than your average challenger; his role as Appropriations Committee Chairman should make it very easy for him to raise money; and his prominence gives him the best shot at avoiding the GOP a divisive primary (in 2008, Republican divisions helped Childers scored an upset). In a district that gave McCain 62% of the vote, can Childers survive a well-funded challenger who is able to unite the GOP? Remember: MS-01 is one of those Southern districts that swung to the GOP in 1994.
GOP can now search for strongest challenger in VA-05
No one doubts that Tom Perriello is a very vulnerable incumbent: The only true surprise winner of the 2008 cycle, Perriello benefited from a favorable environment and he will now have to run without the benefit of Obama’s coattails. But a crucial question surrounded the race: Would the GOP make the most of its opportunity by fielding its strongest possible candidate? Former Rep. Virgil Goode, whom Perriello defeated in 2008, was very interested in seeking a rematch and he was acting like a candidate.
Yet, he just announced that he would pass on the race, which is undoubtedly good news for the NRCC: A longtime congressman, Goode is a well-known entity in the district so it would not have been easy for him to overcome voters’ decision to kick him out. Furthermore, his very conservative politics and his history of controversial statements are an increasingly bad fit for this blue-trending district. With Goode out of the picture, the NRCC can turn to fresher faces who can fashion themselves a more appropriate profile: State Sen. Robert Hurt and state Del. Rob Bell are potential contenders.
VA-11: Fimian is back
In 2008, Gerald Connolly’s victory in the VA-11 open race was slightly underwhelming: He came to the race with a far higher profile, had a much longer time to prepare his campaign and he benefited from Obama’s Northern Virginia coattails. The major explanation for why the race remained somewhat competitive was Republican Keith Fimian’s deep pockets. Through self-funding, this wealthy businessman was able to spend far more money than he would have had his fate rested in the NRCC’s hands.
That’s why Fimian’s announcement that he will seek a rematch meets the GOP’s only hope of contesting this district in 2010: While the district is now too Democratic for the NRCC to accept spending much money and for Republican donors to be convinced to invest, a self-funder can test Connolly’s vulnerability without needing much national attention.