Mike Sodrel must really have liked serving in the House in 2005 and 2006. This week, he announced that he would seek yet another rematch against Rep. Baron Hill. This will be the two men’s fifth consecutive match-up; Hill won in 2002, lost in 2004, reclaimed his seat back in 2006 and defended it in 2008. Sodrel’s entry certainly puts IN-09 on the map: he has the network and electoral experience to benefit from a favorable environment just as he did in 2004.
That said, Sodrel is one Republican recruit who isn’t make Democrats shake in their boots. While rematches are sometimes successful, voters are often reluctant to reconsider a decision they’ve already made once; that’s all the more the case when they’ve had to make it four times already! In 2008, Hill crushed 58% to 38%; his prior largest margin of victory had been 5%. While a lot of that is due to Barack Obama’s unexpected ability to transform Indiana politics, there’s no question that district voters no longer seem open to entertaining the thought of backing Sodrel; that would make it hard for him to take advantage of a potential red wave. In further proof of Sodrel’s diminished stock, he will face his first contested primary in eight years: attorney Todd Young has been running since early 2009, and he has mounted a credible enough campaign to wrestle the nomination from Sodrel.
Sodrel might not make IN-09 a GOP success story, but over the past few days the NRCC have managed to expand the map yet again, putting in play two PA districts (PA-08, PA-17) while solidifying their chances in a third (PA-06).
In PA-08, Rep. Patrick Murphy did not appear to have much to fear in 2010: His district voted for John Kerry (albeit only by 3%) and backed Obama by 9% in 2008. Certainly not unwinnable by the GOP, but the party certainly has more promising districts to go after next year. Yet, the congressman Murphy defeated back in 2006 - former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick - just announced he will be running for his old job; he lost by just 1,521 votes that year. The major caveat to Fitzpatrick’s candidacy is that he only represented the district for one term. In fact, Fitzpatrick won his only congressional race in bizarre circumstances: longtime Rep. Greenwood announced he was dropping out after the primary, so Democrats weren’t able to replace the sacrificial lamb they had already nominated which allowed Fitzpatrick to score an easier victory than he should have given the district’s demographics. Despite the fact that Fitzpatrick won’t be able to rely on a long relationship with district voters, he is a rare Republican who can at least put the district on the map.
In PA-17, the NRCC managed to recruit a top candidate who just two months ago had said he was “99% certain” not to run, yet another sign that Republicans are increasingly confident that they can score great gains in this fall: This sets up 9-term Blue Dog Rep. Tim Holden’s first competitive race since he unexpectedly survived a redistricting-induced fight against a fellow incumbent back in 2002. Holden was not supposed to win that race, by which I mean that PA-17 was drawn to ensure GOP Rep. George Gekas’s re-election; it’s a conservative district that gave Bush a 16% victory in 2004 and McCain a 3% victory in 2008. Can state Senator Dave Argall succeed in picking-up the district Gekas failed to hold? Holden’s stature leaves him as the clear favorite, but there is no question that the DCCC will have to seriously sweat it out for yet another longtime incumbent.
In PA-06, finally, the NRCC has successfully cleared one of the obstacles to Rep. Jim Gerlach’s road to the GOP nomination: After initially announcing that he would stick to the race and blasting Gerlach for treating the district as a “consolation prize,” Rep. Curt Schroder announced today that he was dropping out. The anguished statement he released to explain his decision cites as a main reason the financial difficulties he was sure to face; the statement also clears any ambiguity there might have been about Schroeder’s ideological profile: he cites former Reps. Bob Walker and Pat Toomey (both known as staunch conservatives) as people he “highly respects,” which would have made for an interesting general election campaign in a district Obama won by 17%.
With Schroder’s out, Gerlach’s only obstacle to the Republican nomination (and to Democratic hopes that they won’t have to face the incumbent in November) is businessman Steven Welch, who could continue relying on his personal fortune to overcome the financial challenge of facing an incumbent. Before settling on any plan, will Welch at least check in with the Club for Growth about their interest in opposing Gerlach?
For Democrats to receive some good news tonight, let’s end this post in southwestern Virginia, as the NRCC has suffered an important recruitment blow in VA-09: In their efforts to expand the map and to target Rep. Rick Boucher in a district that gave McCain a 19% victory, Republicans had been heavily courting state Delegate Terry Kilgore. (You’ll probably recognize his last name, as he is the brother of the GOP’s 2005 gubernatorial candidate, who led for most of the race before losing to Kaine.) Yet, Kilgore announced last week that he would not challenge Boucher, which is a relief for the 14-term incumbent. Republicans are now courting state Sen. William Wampler, though he doesn’t appear likely to get in. As we learned in PA-17, the NRCC won’t rest until the filing deadline has passed, but VA-9 is shaping to be one conservative district the GOP won’t be able to put on the map.