Freshman Reps. Joseph Cao (LA-2) and Walt Minnick (ID-1) won uphill congressional races in 2008 in part by convincing voters to look beyond party labels. To win again in 2010, though, each must convince voters they can find a way to represent their districts from the opposite side of the aisle.

To challengers, the two unexpected victories make both easy targets in 2010, forcing them to seek a balance that accounts for both party and district. In Idaho, Rep. Minnick has earned a reputation as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, voting against President Barack Obama’s budget and the administration’s stimulus plan.

“The Party recognizes that they have to cut him some slack,” says Gary Moncrief, a political science professor at Boise State University. “Unless he becomes the pivotal vote and bills are won or lost on his shoulders, I think he has a lot of latitude to do what he thinks is both right and right for his district.”

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