Last night, Judy Chu won the Democratic nomination in the special election to replace Hilda Solis in California’s 32nd District. The vie-chairwoman of the state’s Board of Equalization edged out state senator Gil Cedillo by 9%. There were few ideological differences, with the contest largely focusing on the candidates’ experiences and racial background. (The race took a turn to the brutal last week when Cedillo launched an unjustifiably nasty attack against a third candidate, a 26-year old political novice who was threatening to cut into the state Senator’s hold on the Hispanic vote.)
Just as Mike Quigley in IL-05 earlier this year, Chu is now the overwhelming favorite to win the general election, which will take place on July 14th. CA-32 gave Barack Obama 68% of the vote and there will be no surprise in two months.
But many other House races are just starting to heat up and we haven’t been the only ones keeping track: Nearly a month after I published my analysis of 62 vulnerable GOP-held House seats, the NRCC finally unveiled the first 10 members of its Patriot Program, which regroups the most vulnerable Republican incumbents. (This is the equivalent of the DCCC’s Frontline Program, which Democrats created long ago and which worked very well in the 2008 cycle.)
In exchange with receiving special care and being helped with additional money and fundraisers, incumbents on the Patriot Program will be accountable to NRCC officials. They will have to meet fundraising guidelines, show that they are taking their re-election races seriously and demonstrate that they have a solid team in place. In short, the NRCC wants to avoid situations that arose in the final weeks of the 2006 and 2008 cycles, when the committee had to make tough choices because of some incumbents’ unpreparedness. This time, the NRCC is warning, raise funds early and show your serious or you won’t get any help down the line.
(Of course, the NRCC can always break its word in the fall of 2010, if it realizes that a few thousands spent helping an incumbent who has flunked out of the Patriot Program could save the GOP a seat. On the other hand, it’s not like the committee can afford to do that too often if it wants this program to be credible in future cycles.)
Given the circumstances of the program’s creation, incumbents who are added early are not necessarily those who are the most vulnerable. They can also be representatives who have not faced a competitive race for many cycles and whose campaign and fundraising skills might need some dusting off by the NRCC. A look at the list confirms this:
|Judy Biggert (IL-13)||54%||N/A||Held to 10% win in ‘08|
|Brian Bilbray (CA-50)||51%||Likely R||Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory|
|Ken Calvert (CA-44)||50%||Likely R||Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory|
|Anh Cao (LA-02)||74%||Toss-up||Freshman|
|Thad McCotter (MI-11)||54%||Lean R||Hostile territory, no opponent|
|Dan Lungren (CA-03)||49%||Lean R||Unexpectedly narrow ‘08 victory|
|Leonard Lance (NJ-07)||51%||Lean R||Freshman|
|Chris Lee (NY-26)||46%||Likely R||Freshman|
|Erik Paulsen (MN-03)||52%||Lean R||Freshman|
|Dave Reichert (WA-08)||57%||Toss-up||Narrow victories in ‘06 and ‘08|
While these do not represent the most vulnerable Republican seats, I am only (slightly) surprised by the inclusion of Chris Lee, who represents a red-leaning district and scored a solid victory in a very hostile environment last year. Even though Judy Biggert was not included in my House ratings, the GOP understandably wants to make sure she entrenches herself better after she was held to 54% by an underfunded and little-noticed challenger.
Interestingly, only 2 of the 6 races I identified as toss-ups are included on the list. This is not because the NRCC does not fear losing DE-AL, IL-10 and PA-06 but because the incumbents in each of these races are mulling leaving their seats for a Senate or gubernatorial run. Since the whole point of this program is to set strict fundraising goals and clear benchmarks, it makes no sense for Castle, Kirk and Gerlach to sign up before making up their minds. If they choose to stay in the House, there is virtually no doubt that they will be integrated in the program.
Of course, the NRCC is not just thinking about defense and it just got some recruitment news out of a Dem-held seat, WI-08: This is a swing district that gave Bush 55% in 2004 and Obama 54% in 2008. Rep. Steve Kagen is undoubtedly vulnerable, but the GOP will not get far if it does not recruit a top challenger. Until this week, the only candidate was Mike Savard, a member of the Door County Board of Supervisors; he will now face primary competition from a Republican who has a similar profile: Brown County Supervisor Andy Williams who was only elected in 2007 and who identified taxes as the focus of his campaign.
At the very least, this will allow Republican voters to try to figure out whether one of these two candidates has what it takes to unseat Kagen - but at first glance the Democrat still looks like he is in a good position as neither Savard nor Williams have the same stature as his opponent in the 2006 and 2008 races, former Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly John Gard.