A few days after the DCCC lost state Rep. Todd Book in the OH-02 race, another Democratic candidate has dropped out of a House race: former state Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers announced she was ending her campaign TN-03, left open by Republican Rep. Zach Wamp’s gubernatorial campaign.
Just like OH-02, TN-03 was a very tough district for Democrats to contest: John McCain got 62% of the vote last year, increasing George W. Bush’s margin of victory by 2%. And yet, the DCCC had enough success in comparatively conservative districts in the past cycle that it seemed possible an open race would become competitive; Flower’s entry was a good sign for Democrats since a former statewide official can be expected to have the campaign skills and the profile to succeed in conservative territory.
Her withdrawal, coupled with state Senator Andy Berke and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield’s springtime announcements that they wouldn’t run, leaves the GOP in firm command of the race.
At this point, the 2010 cycle is shaping to be favorable enough to Republicans that they probably won’t have to worry about keeping such red districts no matter who Democrats nominate; as such, Flower’s decision (just like Book’s last week) doesn’t really impact the House landscape. But it does speak to decreasing Democratic confidence: The party doesn’t have to buy into the GOP’s excessive optimism to admit that they won’t have as much success on offense as they did in 2006 and in 2008.
That said, the NRCC did suffer through two recruitment failures today.
In TX-17, the reddest district held by a Democrat (John McCain received 67% of the vote), it looks like the GOP will once again fail to field the strongest challenger possible against Rep. Chet Edwards. State Senator Steve Ogden just announced that he would not challenge the ten-term incumbent in what is a top Republican priority. (A reminder: Edwards is a rare Democrat who was targeted by Tom DeLay’s mid-decade redistricting who survived the 2004 elections, which is why he represents such an absurdly hostile district.)
That said, this is one district where it might not matter who the GOP nominates. In 2008, Rob Curnock ran a low-profile campaign but received 46% of the vote; he is now back for a rematch. Edwards has practically no Democratic base to rely on; if conservative voters are as angry as indicators suggest, it will be tough for the congressman to win cross-over support as he always does. After all, Edwards survived the 1990s but this is the first time he’ll have to run for re-election with a Democratic White House since his district was redrawn.
In GA-08, meanwhile, Rep. Jim Marshall has been dodging all the potentially most damaging bullets. This week-end, state Senator Ross Tolleson opened the door to a 2012 run but he announced he would not challenge Marshall next year. (Note that Marshall happens to be one of the most conservative House Democrats, so this is one case in which Blue Dogs are not vaulting to the top of the NRCC’s target list.)
The GOP has other candidates in the race (notably businesswoman Angela Hicks and a former county party chairman) but Marshall has proved an elusive enough target that he should be able to dispatch non top-tier opposition - unless the environment is very toxic for Democrats, but we aren’t there yet and in that case Republican recruitment could matter little anyway. It is true that Marshall had a very close call in 2006, but that race intervened just after Georgia Republicans (inspired by their Texas colleagues) had redrawn his district.
In both GA-08 and TX-17, redistricting could soonafter change the district’s make-up. At the moment, the GOP controls the process in both states, so even if they fail to pick-up either seat they could be in a position to make these districts even tougher to hold for a Democrat. (In this scenario, stakes are lowered for the 2010 House results since GOP takeovers would be likely in the years ahead.) Yet, Democrats could pick-up Georgia’s governorship or the Texas House next year; that would give them a voice in the redrawing process and force an incumbent-protection map; as such, if the GOP fails to pick-up the seats next year it could become harder for them to do so in the future.
And another potential headache is emerging for the NRCC in NJ-03: Just a few days after I wrote that it was up to football player Jon Runyan to show he has the political skills to be a serious candidate, he confirmed that rookie candidates are risks when he contradicted the statement he had issued shortly before, denied he was committed to challenging Rep. Adler and added he was only “exploring his options.” His spokesperson has since said that was meant in jest (?!), but this only confirms it might not be the best idea for Runyan to go back to the NFL until the season is over and thus launching his campaign.