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The Friday Line: Scandals Put a Few "Safe" House Seats in Play

Changes are afoot in The Fix's first Friday Line ranking of competitive House races in the new year.

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea deal with federal investigators could seriously endanger several Republican incumbents. The the scope of the scandal seems likely to grow rather than contract over the next ten months. While no lawmaker has been indicted in the Abramoff scandal, for the moment the lobbyist's cloud is darkening several political futures.

Not everything has changed in the House line since the last rankings were published in December.  Open-seat races remain the top pick-up opportunities for the two parties. (The Fix is nothing if not a history buff.)

As always, the ten races below are what The Fix sees as the most competitive at this moment in the 2006 cycle; the races are ranked from least likely to flip party control to most likely.  Register your questions, criticisms and kudos in the comments section below.

On the the line:

10. Vermont's At-Large District --OPEN: Incumbent Bernie Sanders (I) is running for Senate. Despite the strongly Democratic nature of the state, Republicans believe they can pull an upset here because of the star quality of their likely candidate -- Adjutant General Martha Rainville (R).  Rainville is expected to join the race within the next month but will face a primary challenge from state Sen. Mark Shepard (R). State Sen. Peter Welch is the likely Democratic nominee. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Pennsylvania's 6th District: Incumbent Jim Gerlach (R) and 2004 Democratic nominee Lois Murphy have devoted much of their time to raising money thus far, a necessity given the cost of advertising in the Philadelphia media market. Democrats believe that with Gov. Ed. Rendell (the former Philly mayor) leading the 2006 ticket, Murphy will get a turnout boost. Republicans retort that Rendell won't spike turnout any higher than presidential nominee John Kerry did last cycle when Murphy came up short. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Indiana's 8th District: Can Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D) figure out a way to defeat Rep. John Hostettler (R)?  Hostettler raises little money and runs unconventional campaigns but somehow always ends up on the right end of things when the votes are counted. On paper, Ellsworth looks like the right candidate. Socially conservative, handsome and energetic, he is also likely to get a boost from the Democratic tilt of the national playing field.  If Ellsworth loses in this swing district, Democrats can probably pack up their election night celebrations. (Previous ranking: N/A, but was no. 10 in Nov. rankings)

7. Illinois's 8th District: Rep. Melissa Bean's (D) biggest hurdle on the road to reelection is the Republican nature of her district, which President Bush won by 12 points in 2004.  A cavalcade of Republicans are running to challenge her, several of whom are personally wealthy.  Businessman David McSweeney (R) seems like the favorite at this point. (Previous ranking: 5)

6. Ohio's 18th District: Rep. Bob Ney (R) appears to be in more legal jeopardy than Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) but has vowed to run for reelection whether or not he is indicted in connection with the Abramoff investigation. Like DeLay, Ney has the benefit of a strongly Republican district, but internal GOP polling shows him losing to both Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer (D) -- the establishment party favorite -- and attorney Zach Space (D). Neither Democrat is considered a particularly strong candidate.  Filing closes in the middle of next month. It will be interesting to see whether any serious Republicans decide to challenge Ney in the primary. (Previous ranking: N/A)

5. Texas's 22nd District: With a new independent poll out showing Rep. Tom DeLay (R) losing to former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) and no end in sight to the Republican's legal problems in Texas or the federal investigation into Abramoff in D.C., it could well be the end of the road for DeLay.  DeLay's biggest strength is the Republican nature of the Houston-area district, but it may not matter if voters have decided his time has passed. DeLay won't go down without a fight, and he's already predicting that this will be the most expensive House race in U.S. history. (Previous ranking: N/A)

4. Arizona's 8th District -- OPEN: Democrats got their first-choice candidate in ex-state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords.  Republicans, on the other hand, could be headed for a potential problem as former state Rep. Randy Graf is the early frontrunner for the nomination. Graf challenged Rep. Jim Kolbe in a 2004 primary and the lawmaker has said that he does not believe his former opponent can hold the seat in a general election. Republicans were hoping that U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona would run for the seat, but he ruled out a bid on Jan. 17. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Ohio's 6th District -- OPEN: State Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R) and state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) both face May primary challenges but seem very likely to face off against one another in the fall. The southeastern Ohio seat went for President Bush by two-point margins in 2000 and 2004, giving Republicans a slight edge. Republicans are also convinced that their opposition research file on Wilson ensures victory. Incumbent Rep. Ted Strickland (D) is running for governor. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Iowa's 1st District -- OPEN: All eyes in this race are on the June 6 primaries, the results of which should give us a better sense of where this contest is headed. On its face, the district should be a Democratic takeover -- John Kerry won it by seven points in 2004. Former Iowa Trial Lawyers Association head Bruce Braley (D) and state Rep. Bill Dix (R) seem like the frontrunners at the moment. Incumbent Rep. Jim Nussle (R) is running for governor. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Colorado's 7th District -- OPEN: Likely GOP nominee Rick O'Donnell tried to put some distance between himself and the House Republicans he is hoping to join recently when he announced his support for comprehensive lobbying reform.  O'Donnell's move symbolizes his struggle to hold this seat for Republicans. The current political climate tips toward Democrats and demographically this district is moving away from the GOP. As a result, either former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) or former state Rep. Peggy Lamm (D) will have an edge against O'Donnell in November. Incumbent Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) is running for governor. (Previous ranking: 1)

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 27, 2006; 8:26 AM ET
Categories:  House , The Line  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Bob Ney Not Afraid of a Fight
Next: House Republicans: Reynolds Says Majority Not at Risk


what does the seer think of the Shays-farrell race? Could this seat flip in an anti war backlash? Is Shays at all vulnerable because of the war and the feelings towards Bush?

Posted by: | March 1, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Ohio 6th is in further jeopardy as Sen. Wilson is in danger of being removed from the ballot for invalid petition signatures.

If the ruling holds through an upcoming onslaught of legal actions, none of the other D candidates is likely to emerge as a serious challenge to Rep. Blasdel.

Even as a write-in, Wilson would have an uphill battle.

from Gongwer's Ohio Report- Report 35, Vol. 75 2/22/06

Wilson-Ballot: The Columbiana County board determined that Mr. Wilson submitted 46 valid signatures from qualified 6th District voters, four short of the 50 that are required to make the ballot.

Mr. Wilson originally submitted nearly 100 signatures, but many of those came from residents in a portion of Belmont County that lies outside the 6th District.

Sen. Wilson said Thursday his campaign was exploring all legal options, including gathering affidavits from some of the petition signers in an effort to prove they live in the correct district. In the meantime, the lawmaker said he would move forward with contingency plans, such as a write-in campaign, to get on the ballot.

Two other Democrats, and Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R-E. Liverpool) have filed for the seat.

Posted by: RMill | February 23, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

many of the races across the county will be competetive. There are atleast 100 races between open seats, scandal ridden incumbents, and competetive districts. Remember guys, he only has 10 races, should go up to 20 or 30, many of the races that are competetive are not the most competetive so they never make it on here.

Obviously, races in Massachusetts, Idaho, and other heavily leaning districts will not be competetive, but many races are, they just don't make the news, or this list.

Posted by: Rob Millette | February 6, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Another competitive district is Ohio's First. City Councilman John Cranley is taking on Steve
Chabot who's been there since 1994. John is much
better known since he was when he ran the same
race just out of college 12 years ago. Both are
lifetime West Side Cincinnatians, both are
anti-choice, unfortunately, both are Roman Catholics, as is much of the West Side. The district also includes all the African American
voters in the area, a plus for John.

Posted by: Kathy | February 1, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with a previous post that everything considered the list of competitive seats should be longer than least 20...if nothing else it doubles our political fun!

Posted by: Scott | January 31, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

You're right Tripp, unfortunetly the media gets so hung up with the money in politics story that it completely misses the real scandel in this country and it is the lack of competitive or natural congressional districts. A hand full of states like IA have a nonpartisan commissions draw the lines. We need something like this on a national level.

Posted by: Brent Parrish | January 29, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

435 races and only ten - maybe twenty - are competitive? And all it took to create competitive races was a major political scandal?

Doesn't that concern anybody? Shouldn't 400+ races be competitive?

Posted by: Tripp West | January 29, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

You need 20 seats on the list not 10. That way potentially compettive races can come in such as CO 3, NY 29, NY 19, LA 3, CT 2, CT 4 etc

there will be more than 10 races to watch.

Posted by: Ben D | January 29, 2006 4:59 AM | Report abuse

Gary, I usually dont respond to winger trolls, but ill make an exception for you. As you know, all of those contributions were made by Indian tribes, and none by Jack Abramoff. Abramoff didnt give one dime to Democrats. Are you implying that any money given by an Indian tribe to a lawmaker is de facto a bribe? Can you name any Dem lawmakers or Indian tribes under investigation over these donations? Of course you can't. This is a REPUBLICAN SCANDAL. In fact, a nonpartisan investigation has shown that once tribes hired Abramoff they gave much more money to Republicans than they had before. See:

Posted by: Phil | January 28, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

dear chris,
You finally have got Rep Delays' district on your list. How dumb can Texans'get to want to put this guy back in office?
Only if you value pork and influence over integrity do you vote the hammer back in.
As far as our race here in Nebraskas' district 2 goes, R. Lee Terry has not done anything that i can think of to warrant his re-election, but then he never does and has be re-elected at least twice.(and this after he promised in his first race to step down after two terms).
But he did come out recently and said Pres bush warrentless wiretapping was out of bounds.
and if this guy thinks it improper, that is not a good sign for our leader on this.

ricky from omaha

Posted by: ricky | January 27, 2006 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Will You Liberals Please quit lying and saying this Abramoff situation is a republican scandal! Read what your senators received from Abramoff!

Forty of forty five members of the Democrat Senate Caucus took money from Jack Abramoff, his associates, and Indian tribe clients. Below is a breakdown of how much each Democrat Senator received:

Max Baucus

Received At Least $22,500

Evan Bayh

Received At Least $6,500

Joseph Biden

Received At Least $1,250

Jeff Bingaman

Received At Least $2,000

Barbara Boxer

Received At Least $20,250

Maria Cantwell

Received At Least $21,765

Tom Carper

Received At Least $7,500

Hillary Clinton

Received At Least $12,950

Kent Conrad

Received At Least $8,000

Jon Corzine

Received At Least $7,500

Chris Dodd

Received At Least $14,792

Byron Dorgan

Received At Least $79,300

Dick Durbin

Received At Least $14,000

Dianne Feinstein

Received At Least $2,000

Russ Feingold

Received At Least $1,250

Tom Harkin

Received At Least $45,750

Daniel Inouye

Received At Least $9,000

Jim Jeffords

Received At Least $2,000

Tim Johnson

Received At Least $14,250

Ted Kennedy

Received At Least $3,300

John Kerry

Received At Least $98,550

Mary Landrieu

Received At Least $28,000

Pat Leahy

Received At Least $4,000

Carl Levin

Received At Least $6,000

Joe Lieberman

Received At Least $29,830

Blanche Lincoln

Received At Least $14,891

Barbara Mikulski

Received At Least $10,550

Patty Murray

Received At Least $78,991

Bill Nelson

Received At Least $20,168

Ben Nelson

Received At Least $5,200

Barack Obama

Received At Least $7,500

Mark Pryor

Received At Least $2,300

Jack Reed

Received At Least $3,500

Harry Reid

Received At Least $68,941

John Rockefeller

Received At Least $4,000

Senator Ken Salazar

Received At Least $4,500

Paul Sarbanes

Received At Least $4,300

Chuck Schumer

Received At Least $29,550

Debbie Stabenow

Received At Least $6,250

Ron Wyden

Received At Least $6,250

Posted by: Gary | January 27, 2006 9:18 PM | Report abuse

How about Minnesota's 6th District? Elwyn Tinklenberg, former Minnesota Governor Jesse "The Bod" Ventura's Commissioner of Transpoortation, is running as a Democrat.
He is a moderate pro-life, pro-Second Amendment rights United Methodist minister, former mayor of one of the larger suburbs in the District and a small business owner.

Posted by: Knute | January 27, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Still no mention of the Illinois 6th? THe Duckworth/Cegelis Democratic primary is going to be pretty interesting. Check out Duckworth's platform, she's got a real chance to steal this long-standing red seat.

Posted by: Chris | January 27, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Respectually, Rendell leading the ticket is not a plus but a minus. Lynn Swann is actually leading him in the latest polls I've seen.

I'm partisan to the Democrats but overall I'm dubious that corruption will be enough to cause a tsunami. The Democrats have to STAND FOR SOMETHING. To this point, the party remains feckless. Without a credible and viable alternative the status quo presided over by crooks, liars and cheats will remain.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | January 27, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Your comments on Ney and DeLay seem to say that you think people in Ohio and Texas are so dumb they'll vote for CROOKS if the crooks have the most money. And they'll always have the most money - they're CROOKS. Are there any voters out there who have enough personal honor to throw away the party labels and refuse to allow their vote to be used to put CROOKS in office?

Posted by: retired and watching | January 27, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Your comments on Ney and DeLay seem to say that you think people in Ohio and Texas are so dumb they'll vote for CROOKS if the crooks have the most money. And they'll always have the most money - they're CROOKS. Are there any voters out there who have enough personal honor to throw away the party labels and refuse to allow their vote to be used to put CROOKS in office?

Posted by: retired and watching | January 27, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

What about the PA-08? Mike Fitzpatrick (R)just earned a front cover above the fold 3 page spread in the local paper on Sunday for his ties to Abramoff related money to the tune of $211,000. Mike is under pressure to flip-flop again on Medicaid and Student Loan cuts...which he voted FOR before he voted AGAINST before he voted FOR them...The guy's a conservative Freshman in a moderate district that went for Kerry. He's facing the top money raiser of the so-called "Fighting Dems" Patrick Murphy.

Posted by: YellowDog | January 27, 2006 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Chris, Very interesting observations. Much of the polling done for the 2006 election has not shown any major trend developing yet except deep distrust for all levels of government by the voters. What do you think of California as being a probable trend setter? The volatility of the voters in California remind me more of postwar Italy where they changed governments as often as their underwear. In this country we traditionally have had stable House districts with little turnover except in years of major shifts in the perception of a dominate party. The last shift occurred when the House flipped after 40 years or so of democratic rule in 1994. Corruption and fecklessness was the catalyst for the last changes. A characteristic demonstrated in abundance by our republican party. These newly empowered republicans in 1994 took to corruption like a duck to water. Surely they expect to pay an electoral penalty for these behaviors at some time.

I would think one element that has potential to add significantly to volatility is the huge and growing number of independent voters. So far it hasn't been much of an issue nationally except in California where first Gray Davis crashed and burned and it looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the same downward spiral. Do you think we may be moving into an era of electoral instability? From what I have seen of Bush's polling his only solid support it would appear from this point on will in in the ranks of republicans. Even within my party (republican) there is evidence of erosion. Being retired I have had some time to look at data from various polling organizations. If charted on a circular chart divided into 12 segments with the outer band equaling 100% and the center point equaling 0 %. If you put a dot on a line designated for each month of the politicians positive ratings (use an average of at least 4 different polling organizations if you can get them) you will notice a number of politicians who are in a significant downward spiral toward probable political oblivion. Gov. Taft in Ohio is a spectacular example. This type of chart is a good way to see seasonal up tics in some politicians polling numbers. Bush is a fine example of getting a bounce at Christmastime 3 years in a row only to erode shortly after to a new low point continuing a step by step decent to who knows where?

Posted by: Red Ruffian | January 27, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Two points.
I don't see how the GOP is going to pick up the Vermont seat. With the power that Howard Dean, and Bernie Sanders have in that State seems like a walk for the democrats. Also as the national environment moves away from the Republicans it will only solidify the Democrats chances.
Second, where does Heath Shuler's run in North Carolina rank? He was courted heavily by the GOP but chose the democrats and is well known and liked in his district.

Posted by: Andy R | January 27, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Understanding your open seat policy, it is still a mystery why FL 22 has not popped up since November. Ron Klein outraised Clay Shaw for the fourth straight quarter in a district that went big for Kerry. And according to Hotline Steny Hoyer recently called Klein our "Number one candidate in America."

Posted by: modjob | January 27, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I know there are a lot of races in play this cycle but another one to watch is KY 3. Ann Northup is going to have the challenge of her life with Iraq vet Andrew Horne.

Posted by: Brent Parrish | January 27, 2006 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Oops my bad. House races. Tee hee.

Apologies, Chris. I guess I'll have to wait till the next posting or the next for your daily insult.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 27, 2006 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Are you F'ing KIDDING me that Bernie's race (VT) is on here? Damn, Chris, are you really that clueless (or did the VT GOP pay for play)?

All you have to do is google "bernie sanders poll senate" and the first link shows that Bernie has 70% support in VT as of Jan 2006 (Rasmussen).

Nice job Chris, once again. Thanks for insulting our intelligence on a daily basis.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 27, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

you should have included New Mexico's 1st district. it's a pure toss-up.

Posted by: sayan "south asian politico" | January 27, 2006 8:49 AM | Report abuse

you should have included New Mexico's 1st district. it's a pure toss-up.

Posted by: sayan "south asian politico" | January 27, 2006 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: RPR | January 27, 2006 8:29 AM | Report abuse

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