This week, the National Republican Campaign Committee committed to $22 million in television ad buys for a purely offensive push in 40 competitive U.S. House races across the country. Below is a breakdown of those races by district.
SC-5: John Spratt* (D) v. John Michael Mulvaney (R) – South Carolina’s 5th District has a Cook PVI of R+7. It is curious then that this district has not sent a Republican to Congress since 1882. The founder of the Republican Party of South Carolina and self-liberated slave, Rep. Robert Smalls, was the last member of the GOP to represent SC-05 in Congress. This district tends to reward its representatives with very long terms, and Rep. John Spratt is no exception. He has served this district since 1983, riding the anti-Reagan ’82 midterms into Congress and staying there. While Spratt has a history of reaching across the aisle, he reluctantly cast a pro-healthcare reform vote which he considered “sharing a moment in history.” Were it not for that vote, it is doubtful that this district would be as competitive as it is. A PPP poll from January 27, 2010, showed Spratt polling at 46 to 39 against his challenger, state Sen. John Michael “Mick” Mulvaney. That 7 point spread is enough to concern the 14-term representative, but it’s certainly not cause for alarm. While his approval ratings in that poll were upside down, the deficit was just a single point. In May, Mulvaney released a poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from May 17th to 18th, 2010, that showed him within two points (41 to 43 percent). When a challenger releases an internal that shows them down against their opponent, conventional wisdom holds that it is a sign of weakness or part of a renewed fundraising effort. However, it is Spratt that has gone on a highly visible offensive, tying his opponent, derisively, to the Tea Party movement. The gamble there is that Spratt’s constituents will view such associations as contemptuously as he does.
SD-AL – Stephanie Herseth Sandlin* (D) v. Kristi Lynn Noem (R) – Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won her seat in 2004 when former Republican Governor turned Rep. Bill Janklow resigned from office after he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Before Herseth Sandlin, the last Democrat that South Dakota sent to Congress was Rep. Tim Johnson from 1987 to 1997. A true “red-state” Democrat, OpenCongress.com has Herseth Sandlin only voting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 82 percent of the time. For Congressional Democrats, that is relatively low. Unfortunately for Herseth Sandlin, that is probably 80 percent higher than her district can tolerate this year. A Rasmussen poll from August 6th, 2010 has her opponent, state Rep. Kristi Noem, leading Herseth Sandlin by 9-points. That number has been stable (fluctuating by no more than 3 points) since June. What’s more, only 5 percent of voters are undecided in this race, making this one of the more engaged districts in the nation. A debate (video here) this week during the normally sleepy August recess (save for the ’09 town hall protests) was conducted in front of a packed house. Turnout in the fall will be key to keeping that Herseth Sandlin’s losses are manageable.
TN-8: Roy Brasfield Herron (D) v. Steve Fincher (R) – No matter how Republican this district leans nationally, much of the old Confederacy still votes Democratic on the local and representative levels. This R+6 district has elected only one Republican to congress (and for a single term) since 1923. Rep. John Tanner has held this seat since 1989 and in December, 2009, announced his pending retirement. This contest is now a race between political newcomer and Republican candidate Steve Fincher and state Sen. Roy Herron in the fall. Both candidates describe themselves in largely similar terms; Christian and conservative. Unfortunately for Herron, what Republicans learned in 2008, Democrats are likely to relearn this cycle; in a battle to be more like the other side, the other side will always win. This week, Fincher released an internal poll, reported in Congressional Quarterly and conducted by the Tarrance Group on August 10th and 11th, 2010, that shows him ahead of Herron with 47 to 37 points. Fincher spent much of his funds in the three-way, $5 million primary campaign. The NRCC will have to quickly counter Herron’s ad, released two weeks ago, that focuses on austerity and job creation. Judging by the tenor of the debate between the two candidates so far, Fincher’s ad is probably going to be identical to Herron’s. Just change the names.
TX-17: Chet Edwards* (D) v. William Flores (R) – Cook’s PVI gives Texas’ 17th a daunting 20-point lead for Republicans. Perplexingly though, this district has never elected a Republican to Congress since its creation in 1919. Rep. Chet Edwards has represented this district since 2005 and has been a reliable vote for House Democrats. In fact, in August of 2008, it was widely reported that Edwards was on a short list of potential running mates for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Fortunes can change that quickly in national politics. In May, the Rothenberg Political Report reported that an OnMessage Inc. poll, taken from May 2nd to 3rd, 2010, showed Edward’s opponent, William Flores, held a 53 to 41-point lead. The good news for Edwards in that poll, and incongruous with the overall results, was that Edwards remains popular in the 17th with a 53 to 38 percent favorability rating. OnMessage Inc.’s Wes Anderson was quoted saying that GOP members in that district like Edwards and “voted for him in the past, but they aren’t going to do it this time.” Both candidates have recently weighted in on the Ground Zero mosque controversy, an astute observer of Texas politics will be able to guess which way both candidates landed on the issue. Everything from veteran’s healthcare to football have become issues in this race. Congressional Quarterly reports that both candidates raised roughly $600,000 in the second quarter of 2010; but while Edwards has $2 million in the bank, Flores is left with only $415,000.
TX-23: Ciro Rodriguez* (D) v. Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco (R) – Texas’ 23rd District, Majority Hispanic and the longest contiguous district along the Rio Grand, was created in 1967 and has only sent 4 Representatives to congress. Long serving Congressman (1993 to 2007) Rep. Henry Bonilla was the only Republican among them. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez previously represented the 28th district form 1997 to 2005. In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Texas legislature had violated the voting rights act when it tried to redistrict the 23rd in favor of Bonilla by excluding most of the city of Laredo. Rodriguez challenged Bonilla under a storm of controversy and, in a runoff, scored an upset win with 54 to 46 percent. Attorney and present GOP nominee, Francisco “Quico” Canseco, is challenging Rodriguez in his third bid for Congress. He has $453,000 to Rodriguez’s $702,000 in cash on hand, but Canseco outraised Rodriguez in the second quarter. In the spring, Canseco released an internal poll, taken by OnMessage Inc. from May 11th and May 13th, 2010, that has him trailing Rodriguez by 3-points (48 to 45 percent).
VA-2: Glenn Nye* (D) v. Edward Rigell (R) – Virginia’s 2nd District, encompassing Virginia Beach and that part of the Delmarva peninsula that Maryland does not claim, is a right-leaning, swing district dominated in the last decade by Republican representatives. Obama won Virginia’s 2nd by two points, while Bush handily won in 2000 and 2004 by more than 10-point margins. Freshman Rep. Glenn Nye voted “yes” on the stimulus bill, but declined to vote with the majority on cap-and-trade and healthcare reform legislation. While this voting record would allow most Democratic incumbents an independent position to run on, Nye’s pro-stimulus vote was the primary focus during a debate between Nye and his opponent, wealthy businessman Scott Rigell, on Thursday night. Rigell’s campaign released an internal poll, taken by Public Opinion Strategies between June 14th and 15th, 2010, which showed him leading Nye, 41 to 35 percent.
VA5 – Thomas Perriello* (D) v. Robert Hurt (R) – Freshman Rep. Perriello, a reliable vote for Democratic leadership in congress but a hawk on foreign policy issues, has been a Democrat rising star since his upset victory over Republican Rep. Virgil Goode in 2008. Finally certified in December, 2008, Perriello won that election by the slimmest of margins, 727 out of the 316,893 votes cast. This race has gone negative early; Perriello’s latest ad attacks his opponent, state Sen. Robert Hurt, for missing an August 11th candidate forum. There is some speculation that he intentionally skipped the three-way debate because he would only debate Perriello one-on-one. There are reports that Hurt posted an equally negative response to Perriello’s ad, but it has since been taken down. Hurt’s website features only this ad that focuses on familiar economic themes. A SurveyUSA poll, taken July 20th for Roanoke’s WDBJ-TV, showed Hurt leading Perriello 58 to 35 percent. However, Perriello’s campaign called SurveyUSA polls “worthless.” That assessment may have been confirmed by a recent Hurt camp internal poll. An American Action Forum poll, commissioned by the Hurt campaign from July 28th to August 1st, 2010, shows that devastating lead has since been erased. Hurt leads his opponent in this poll by only 6-points. The new poll suggests that this, one of the closest-watched Congressional races in the country, is much closer than previously thought.
WV-1: Michael Oliverio (D) v. David McKinley (R) – Rep. Alan Mollohan, West Virginia’s 1st district’s incumbent representative since 1983, lost in the Democratic primary this year to Michael Oliverio. Oliverio, a pro-life, conservative Democrat, has not been enough of a “strong supporter of labor” for the AFL-CIO to justify a full-hearted endorsement. Politico reports that AFL-CIO president Kenneth Purdue, mourning the loss of Alan Mollohan, will withhold its endorsement, a serious blow to any campaign in the unionized labor stronghold of West Virginia. Oliverio’s opponent, meanwhile, is making cap-and-trade initiatives that would negatively impact coal mining, the district’s primary industry, his number one issue. Oliverio’s campaign has released an internal poll, taken from July 30th to August 2nd, which shows him up 16 points (52 to 36 percent) over McKinley. In truth, West Virginia has some tough choices to make in November. With the passing of long-time Senator Robert Byrd and the defeat of tenured Rep. Mollohan, a state that depends heavily on its senior Congressional members directing pork-barrel spending projects their way have to find new ways of doing business (although, Rep. Nick Rahall and Sen. Jay Rockefeller may have enough senior status to continue that tradition). Seniority, normally a significant issue in West Virginia elections, will not be a factor in 2010. The last time this occurred was a special election in 2001 between Shelly Moore Capito and local attorney Jim Humphreys. However, it has been several decades since West Virginia had to decide between two potential-freshman representatives in a general election.
WI-7: Julie Lassa (D) v. Sean Duffy (R) – This year will be Rep. David Obey’s 41st year in Congress representing Wisconsin’s 7th District. He took the opportunity of that milestone to announce his retirement. Before Obey, Wisconsin’s 7th District had only sent Republicans (and one Progressive) to Congress since 1893. Wisconsin’s primary is schedule for September, 14th, but the races are likely to deliver nominations to Democratic state Sen. Julie Lassa and Ashland District Attorney, Republican Sean Duffy. With strong party support, Lassa outraised Duffy in the second quarter, but Duffy maintains a $376,000 lead in cash on hand. This Democratic-leaning district (D+3) may have been fertile territory for the young, attractive, 90s-era MTV celebrity Duffy to take on the aging Obey, but conventional wisdom held that his exit and Lassa’s entry have changed the dynamics of this race dramatically. The only polling data from this race comes from We Ask America; WAA polled Wisconsin’s 7th on August 4th and found that Duffy leads Lassa 42 to 33 percent with a full quarter of the electorate remaining uncommitted. Chicago’s New Prosperity Foundation launched a TV ad against Lassa that same week, attacking her record on taxation and spending. Lassa’s campaign responded by linking the group to its financial support of the Bush Administration and “special interests.”
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com