Gizzi on Politics July 27, 2009

House Races 2010: The Road Back  

With a combined loss of 54 House seats in the of ’06 and ’08 election cycles, it’s fair to say that Republicans have their work cut out for them when it comes to regaining control of the lower house of Congress in 2010. But that hasn’t stopped conservative Republicans throughout the country from stepping up to challenge Democratic incumbents.  

“Among the strongest evidence we have that a Republican resurgence is in the works,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) told me recently, “is the number of folks who are volunteering — calling us to say they want to run in districts now held by Democrats.” As an example, Sessions noted that two former state legislators had contacted the NRCC and expressed their interest in taking on Rep. Ike Skelton (D.-Mo.), a 33-year incumbent who is chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee.  

Three weeks ago, scores of GOP House hopefuls converged on Washington for training sessions sponsored by the NRCC and meetings with potential supporters among the political action committees. Last week, interest in the Republican House candidates in 2010 was enhanced as Republicans in Congress and around the nation began to sound “cautiously optimistic” about stopping the Obama health care plan in its tracks.

A look, then, at three Republican House contenders who are already attracting some attention.

‘Once More With Feeling’

After three decades covering political campaigns, one thing I have learned is that talk about former congressmen who lost their seats, but are attempting comebacks — no matter what the circumstances or how respected they are — usually elicits rolled eyes or yawns from pundits and pols. Two respected Republican House members, conservative Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania (2000-06) and moderate Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire (2002-06), got caught in the Democratic tidal wave and were defeated by little-known Democrats in major upsets. Both attempted comebacks in ’08 and lost rematches by bigger margins than in ’06.  
Although “second acts” do take place and comebacks in Congress have been made, they are rare.  

In Ohio’s 1st Congressional District (Cincinnati), there may be one of these exceptions. Former (1994-2008) Rep. Steve Chabot, who lost his seat last year to liberal Democrat Steve Driehaus, announced earlier this year that he will be running to reclaim his seat in 2010. A stalwart conservative onetime member of the Cincinnati City Council, Chabot told HUMAN EVENTS correspondent Chris Donnelly that he isn’t complacent with simply moving on from Congress in the way many members who lose re-election are because there is “too much work left to be done”.

Chabot cited wasteful government spending, which he stood strongly against in Congress during Democratic and Republican administrations alike, as one of the key issues on which he differs with incumbent Driehaus, who voted for Obama’s “stimulus” bill and $3.6 trillion budget. “If the economy improves, it’s going to be in spite of the stimulus bill, not because of it,” said Chabot. The former Buckeye State congressman also said he was troubled by Driehaus’s failure to disclose all of his earmark requests for the coming fiscal year, “especially after he ran a campaign promising transparency.”  

In spite of his ’08 loss, Chabot is confident that voters in this Cincinnati-based district will send him back to Washington next year. As he explained, “There was unprecedented turnout in heavily Democratic urban precincts, but that was because of Barack Obama more than anything else.” This time, without the President on the ballot, Driehaus is going to have to stand on his own, insists Chabot. Also encouraging for Chabot was the first-quarter fundraising this year. Chabot’s campaign reported hauling in $232,000, while Driehaus collected $197,000, the only instance nationwide in which a Republican challenger outraised a Democrat incumbent.  

A Star Falls On Alabama-2

Freshman Alabama Democrat Bobby Bright can be added to the possibly endangered list. Following a divisive Republican primary last year, Bright, then the mayor of Montgomery, scored a narrow (1% of the vote) victory over Republican State Rep. Jay Love. With Love leaning toward running for re-election to the state legislature rather than a re-match, Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby appears to be Bright’s likely opponent. At 32, Roby would represent a new generation of young conservative GOPers in Congress that is currently exemplified by 27-year-old Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois and 33-year-old Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.  

An attorney and mother of two, Roby is a strong conservative on fiscal and cultural issues.  
By most accounts, “Blue Dog” Democrat Bright will be a tough political customer. So far, he has cast votes that accord with the district’s conservative bent: voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which eased restrictions on workers’ filing pay discrimination lawsuits, the “stimulus” package, President Obama’s budget, and the President’s mortgage assistance legislation. He was even one of just two Democrats (the other being Georgia Rep. Jim Marshall) to vote against reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP),  positioning himself to the right of two of the Republican House members in the Alabama delegation (Robert Aderholt and Mike Rogers) who voted for the bill.

Working in Roby’s favor is the nature of the 2nd District: It includes Montgomery and a broad swath of rural counties, gave 63% of its votes to John McCain last year, and sent Republicans to the House from 1964 until last year without interruption.  

On Wisconsin-3

Since moderate Republican Rep. Steve Gundersen retired in 1996, Wisconsin’s 3rd District (Eau Claire-La Crosse) has sent Democrat Ron Kind (lifetime ACU rating: 11%) to Congress. It was only in ’04 that Kind had his first stiff challenge for re-election, when the GOP nominated moderate State Sen. Dale Schultz (who drew about 43% of the vote).

This year, the 3rd District is again on the radar screen of Badger State Republicans and they have a heavyweight candidate in State Sen. Dan Kapanke, owner of the La Crosse Loggers baseball team and a U.S. Marine Corps reservist.  

Noting that just over half the 19 counties in the 3rd District are in his Senate district, the 62-year-old Kapanke told me that the real difference between himself and the incumbent is experience. “I’ve spent a lifetime in the private sector, with the baseball team and as district sales manager for the Kaltenberg Seed Farms. I would never have voted to throw away money on the financial bailouts last year or the stimulus package, both of which my opponent voted for.” In addition, Kapanke’s involvement in local civic projects makes him what NRCC Chairman Sessions calls “a community leader — what we look for all the time in recruiting candidates.”  

Kapanke’s wide circle of friends in the business community and local politics is likely to provide him with seed money and good grass-roots volunteers for a spirited challenge to Kind. Most significantly, a Kapanke-Kind race will almost surely provide fresh debate on the issues of government spending and huge new programs — issues that are clearly the glue that holds the conservative coalition together.