The Line: Foley Mess Puts Another GOP Seat in Play
Rep. Mark Foley's resignation last week and the subsequent controversy over whether House Republican leaders knew before last week about his sexually explicit conversations with teenage boys has roiled the House Line just 5 weeks before Election Day.
Foley's name, which is likely to be something close to mud in Florida's 16th District by Nov. 7, will remain on the ballot. On Monday, Sunshine State Republicans selected state Rep. Joe Negron as Foley's stand in; Foley's name will remain on the ballot, but all votes cast for him will go to Negron in the record books.
But will that matter much to voters? National party leaders insist the 16th is a Republican district -- President George W. Bush carried it with 54 percent in 2004. They argue that voters will stick with the GOP once they know that Negron, not Foley, would be elected to the next Congress.
The Fix is VERY skeptical about that reasoning. How many Republicans in the district will bring themselves to pull a lever for Foley even if they know it isn't really a vote for him? By now you've guessed that Florida's 16th, once a pretty safe GOP seat, has earned a slot on today's installment of The Line.
Against The Fix's better judgment, this list of competitive House races is growing from 20 to 25 for the remainder of the campaign -- so expect shorter write-ups as yours truly needs to preserve a shred of sanity.
As always, the No. 1 ranked race -- a new one this time! -- is the most likely to switch parties this fall. The comments section awaits your responses.
To the Line!
25. (Tie) Vermont's At-Large District: Democrats continue to pooh-pooh Adjutant General Martha Rainville's (R) chances in this open-seat race, but polling tells a different story. Two surveys conducted last month show Rainville trailing state Sen. Peter Welch (D) by six and three points, respectively. And the National Republican Congressional Committee is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up the difference. Vermont is a decidedly Democratic state; to win Rainville must convince independents and Democrats that she is the best choice. It's far from an easy sell, but we're not ready to entirely dismiss her chances just yet. (Currently Held by an
Democrat independent who caucuses with House Democrats; Previous ranking: N/A)
25. (Tie) Ohio's 18th District: This contest has been on and off The Line for months. Now that we know state Sen. Joy Padgett will be the Republican nominee, we can make a better judgment about the competitiveness of the race. Padgett's biggest advantage is that she is not named "Bob Ney." Her biggest disadvantages are twofold: Ney endorsed her as his chosen replacement, and she also served in the administration of Gov. Bob Taft (R) -- one of the least popular governors in the country. Given those connections it will be tough for Padgett to cast herself as an outsider. Two recent polls (one Democrat, one Republican) show attorney Zack Space (D) with a lead over Padgett. The question is whether he can hold it as she gets better known. (Currently held by a Republican; Previous ranking: N/A)
24. Pennsylvania's 8th District: Iraq war veteran Patrick Murphy (D) has improved as much as any candidate we've seen this cycle. He has gone from a naive, first-time politician to a savvy challenger who is now within striking distance of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R). A poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee early last month showed Fitzpatrick with a 43 percent to 38 percent lead over Murphy, not a terribly strong place to be for an incumbent. Fitzpatrick is sitting on a boatload of cash ($1.1 million on hand as of June 30) and is seeking to put distance between himself and the president. This is a race to watch and could be moving up The Line in the near future. (Currently R; Previous ranking: N/A)
23. Ohio's 1st District: One of the most interesting stops of the Ohio River Ramble was in this Cincinnati-area district where city Councilman John Cranley (D) is waging a stronger-than-expected challenge to Rep. Steve Chabot (R). Cranley, who ran in 2000 against Chabot, is seeking to tie the incumbent to President Bush; witness a new ad where a Bush impersonator thanks the congressman for supporting his agenda 92 percent of the time and voting to privatize Social Security. Chabot, on the other hand, is focused almost exclusively on illegal immigration -- an odd issue for this land-locked seat. (Currently R; Previous ranking: N/A)
22. New York's 24th District: Democrats have chosen an interesting attack here in the Upstate New York seat being vacated by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R). The national party and Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri (D) are hitting state Sen. Ray Meier (R) for his alleged support for a sales tax increase. In a region where job creation remains the main issue, this could be a potent attack -- especially if Democrats can convince voters that Meier helped slow down (rather than speed up) the region's economy. Still, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by 40,000 in this district, meaning that Arcuri needs to convince thousands of GOPers to cross party lines. (Currently R; Previous ranking: N/A)
21. Illinois's 6th District: A new survey done for Emily's List shows Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth tied with state Sen. Pete Roskam (R) in this open-seat contest. The poll shows both candidates with 41 percent support; the generic ballot test is also knotted at 41. The two candidates sparred over the Iraq war during their first debate last month, with Duckworth accusing Roskam of supporting the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy and Roskam firing back that Duckworth wants to "cut and run." He probably could have chosen a different phrase, given that Duckworth lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 19)
20. Georgia's 8th District: Rep. Jim Marshall (D) remains Republicans' best chance to beat a Democratic incumbent this cycle. Former Rep. Mac Collins (R) is running a capable campaign, and it's to his advantage that President Bush carried this redrawn district with 61 percent in 2004. That said, Marshall has considerable strength in the Macon media market (he was the city's mayor before being elected to Congress) and that should provide him with enough votes to overcome Collins's strong showing elsewhere in the district. (Currently D; Previous ranking: 18)
19. Connecticut's 4th District: No matter what people in Washington think of Rep. Chris Shays (R), the constituents in this seat remain happy with his performance in Congress. While Shays has put himself on a limb when it comes to the Iraq issue, even Democrats admit that it is VERY hard to move his numbers in this district. Democrat Dianne Farrell is running a strong campaign and we fully expect this race to be close. But Democrats must find a way to diminish Shays's strong approval ratings if they hope to beat him. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 15)
18. Connecticut's 5th District: A new poll from state Sen. Chris Murphy's (D) campaign shows the challenger tied at 42 percent with Rep. Nancy Johnson (R). (A survey done in early September for the National Republican Congressional Committee showed Johnson with a 50 percent to 36 percent margin.) That the race is still close even after Johnson's striking ad on national security shows that Murphy is not going away. The Democrat is pushing back on security now and is using Johnson's seniority (she has held a seat in Congress since 1982) against her. If Murphy can frame the election as a choice between change and more of the same, he can win. Johnson's biggest asset? Her $2.6 million bank account. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 16)
17. Kentucky's 4th District: No race in the country prompts such different reactions from the two parties. Democrats insist that not only is former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) ahead of Rep. Geoff Davis (R) at the moment, but he is also running in a political environment considerably more friendly to his party than in any of his past three wins in this northern Kentucky seat. Republicans view Lucas's 1998 victory as an anomaly (and blame it on their own damaged nominee) and say his two reelection wins reflect nothing more than the power of incumbency. This is a very conservative district, and Lucas is smartly touting his conservative credentials. But has Davis committed any fireable offense? (Currently R; Previous ranking: 14)
16. Florida's 22nd District: If Rep. Mark Foley's admission of guilt in "Page-gate" affects any other member of Congress, it is likely to be Rep. Clay Shaw (R). The two lawmakers' districts abut one another, and the saturation coverage of Foley's problems is sure to scuff the Republican brand in the 22nd District as well as the 16th. Shaw's other major problem is the unhappiness that seniors feel about the Medicare prescription drug law passed by the GOP Congress in 2003. This district is one of the oldest in the nation, and if that discontent registers anywhere it will be here. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 11)
15. Connecticut's 2nd District: If Rep. Rob Simmons (R) loses his reelection bid, Democrats are likely to win back control of the House. Why? Because Simmons has done everything right in this race. The only thing that makes him vulnerable is the fact that John Kerry carried this eastern Connecticut district by 10 points in 2004. A recent Simmons-sponsored poll showed him ahead of Democratic nominee Joe Courtney by 14 points. Watch this race in the final weeks. If Simmons's lead starts to erode, it could signal the collapse of the political landscape for Republicans nationally. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 12)
14. New Mexico's 1st District: It's a testament to Democratic chances this fall that Rep. Heather Wilson (R) is ranked this low. A new independent poll shows Wilson and state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D) tied at 44 percent. This race is going to be decided by a point or two, and much depends on how much of an effect the negative national environment for Republicans will have against Wilson. In a neutral year Wilson wins. But this is no neutral year. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 9)
13. Indiana's 9th District: An ad by former Rep. Baron Hill (D) that accuses Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) of breaking his word to a minister about running a clean campaign is powerful. Republicans seem content to follow their blueprint from 2004 -- mine Hill's voting record for evidence that on social issues like flag-burning and same-sex marriage he is more liberal than the average voter in the district. Hill seems more ready to fight back this time, and Sodrel needs to find a way to distance himself from unpopular Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). (Currently R; Previous ranking: 13)
12. Pennsylvania's 6th District: We were as shocked as anyone when Republicans released a poll that showed Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) ahead of 2004 nominee Lois Murphy (D) by 11 points. Democrats immediately disputed the results, but the survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, one of the leading, if not the best, polling firm on the Republican side. About a week later an independent poll came out that showed Gerlach ahead 45 percent to 37 percent. Is it possible we have been overestimating Democrats' chances here all along? (Currently R; Previous ranking: 6)
11. North Carolina's 11th District: Some of the promised dirt on former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler's (D) business practices is starting to come to light. A real estate brokerage that carried Shuler's name and in which he has a 20 percent ownership stake paid $69,000 in back taxes late last month after it came to light the business had regularly been tardy in making payments. Shuler is sure to suffer a few more indignities like this, but the fundamental question in the race is whether voters have tired of Rep. Charles Taylor (R). (Currently R; Previous ranking: 8)
10. Indiana's 2nd District: Rep. Chris Chocola (R) has bounced back somewhat, according to national GOPers, but still faces an uphill race against Democratic nominee Joe Donnelly. An independent poll conducted in mid-September showed Donnelly with a 50 percent to 42 percent lead, and the political environment in Indiana couldn't be worse for Republicans. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 7)
9. Pennsylvania's 7th District: Rep. Curt Weldon (R) is now the most endangered Republican in the Philadelphia area, eclipsing Rep. Gerlach for the first time since The Fix began ranking House races. A Franklin & Marshall College poll put retired Admiral Joe Sestak (D) ahead of Weldon 44 percent to 43 percent. More troubling for the incumbent was that just 37 percent of the sample said he deserved reelection while 49 percent said it was time for a change. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 17)
8. Ohio's 15th District: Republicans are growing more and more pessimistic about Rep. Deborah Pryce's (R) chances of winning this race. Pryce has not had to run a real campaign for several cycles and has not adapted well to the challenge from Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D). A recent Democratic poll showed Pryce up 43 percent to 42 percent, but the same poll showed Democrats leading on the generic ballot by 10 points. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 10)
7. Pennsylvania's 10th District: Rep. Don Sherwood's (R) 55 percent showing against an unknown and unfunded Republican primary challenger was the first signal of just how much damage he had inflicted on himself with the revelation of an extramarital affair and allegations that he was abusive to his mistress. And now Democrat Chris Carney is on television with a devastating ad that features a former Republican supporter of the congressman detailing the allegations of abuse. The man -- named Joseph Lech -- holds up a photo of his stepdaughter and asks: "How can I tell her I support Don Sherwood and feel good about myself?" Ouch. And don't underestimate the echo of Rep. Foley's problems in this district. (Currently R; Previous ranking: N/A)
6. Indiana's 8th District: Having visited this southern Indiana seat during the Ohio River Ramble, it's not a stretch to name Rep. John Hostettler (R) as the country's most endangered incumbent. Two recent polls -- one done for Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth's (D) campaign and the other by an independent survey research firm -- showed the Democrat with a double-digit lead. Per usual, the National Republican Congressional Committee is spending heavily to save Hostettler, but it looks like his time has come. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 4)
5. Iowa's 1st District: Republicans are actually feeling a bit more optimistic about restauranteur Mike Whalen's (R) chances in the eastern Iowa seat. Whalen is trying to turn the race into a referendum on attorney Bruce Braley's (D) position on the war in Iraq. Braley is now fighting back on television by declaring his support for the troops but not for a "stay the course" approach. This seat has a decided Democratic tilt generically. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 2)
4. Texas's 22nd District: The more we learn about the write-in voting process in this seat, the more convinced we are that former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) will be coming back to Congress next year. Voters will be required to turn a dial to highlight each letter of the Republican write-in candidate's name. That name is Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. Republicans better hope for a whole lot of patient voters. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 5)
3. Florida's 16th District: Since Rep. Foley's resignation is just a few days old, it's tough to make hard-and-fast predictions about this race. What we do know, however, would seem to doom Republicans' chances of holding on to the district. First, Foley's name will appear on the ballot, and we would guess even the most loyal Republicans will struggle to vote for him even if they know it is really a vote for state Rep. Joe Negron. Second, this district is far from a GOP stronghold, as President Bush carried it with just 54 percent of the vote in 2004. (Currently R; Previous ranking: N/A)
2. Colorado's 7th District: While we have voiced concern about the methodology surrounding auto-dialed polls in the past, Survey USA is the best of the bunch. With that caveat, it's worth noting that a recent poll by the firm showed former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D) with a 54 percent to 37 percent lead over Republican Rick O'Donnell. Even if that margin seems a bit high, things have clearly gone south for the GOP in Colorado. (Currently R; Previous ranking: 1)
1. Arizona's 8th District: The financial pullout by national Republicans following former state Sen. Randy Graf's (R) primary victory means ex-state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D) will be the district's next congresswoman. (Currently: R; Previous ranking: 3)
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