Two years after they won their largest majority in the House of Representatives since 1946, are Republicans facing a loss of that majority next year—much as they lost their last big majority in 1948?
A much-discussed story in Politico yesterday certainly got the punditocracy in Washington speculating about that scenario. Politico noted that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently announced that its recruitment efforts had successfully produced 60 candidates to run against GOP House incumbents and for open seats.
Moreover, a just-completed Wall Street Journal-CBS poll shows voters nationwide prefer Democratic control of Congress to Republican by a margin of 45% to 41%.
But before pundits begin putting many of the Tea Party-backed freshman lawmakers into the “likely to lose” column and envisioning the return of Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s podium in January 2013, they might just consider that Republicans have more than a few targets in Democratic-held districts and, as National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Tex.) has repeatedly noted, the party has no problem encouraging candidates to run.
One obvious case in point is New York’s 22nd District (Hudson Valley), where 20-year Rep. Maurice Hinchey finds himself in political hot water. In the Democratic year of ’08, Hinchey defeated teacher George Phillips by a margin of 2 to 1, and few thought that the eight-county district would ever change hands. Last year, however, Phillips raised political eyebrows throughout the Empire State when he held Hinchey to 52% of the vote.
Although the 35-year-old Phillips wants a third crack at the 72-year-old incumbent, a number of Republicans and members of the New York Conservative Party (which has the third line on the state ballot) increasingly believe it is time to field a new contender. So that’s why the entry of attorney and former federal prosecutor Tom Engel into the GOP and Conservative nomination contest last week drew so much press.
During a recent visit to Washington, Engel told HUMAN EVENTS that the record of Hinchey (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 4.43% “certainly doesn’t reflect my views nor, I’m sure, most of the voters here in New York’s 22nd District.” The lawyer, who worked with Rudy Giuliani when they were both assistant U.S. attorneys, cited the incumbent’s votes for ObamaCare and the stimulus package, and his recent support for the Obama spending package that included tax increases, as key issues that have made Hinchey more vulnerable in ’12 than ’10. Engel backers support his background as a prosecutor of narcotics dealers and work in antiterrorism as firm evidence he brings fresh experience to the political table.
Although Columbia Law School graduate Engel has never held nor sought office before, he has been involved in GOP politics and, in fact, contributed $1,000 to present primary opponent Phillips’ 2010 campaign. (Phillips was outspent by a margin of 2 to 1 in ’10. Engel supporters say their candidate will raise what it takes to unseat Hinchey.)
“With all respect to George Phillips, he has run twice before, and it’s time to get a new candidate who can win,” said Engel campaign quarterback Rob Ryan, who ran the near-successful race of Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman for Congress in New York’s 23rd District two years ago.
Whatever the shape the still-incomplete redistricting process makes of New York-22, and whomever Republicans nominate, it seems safe to say that Democrats don’t have a monopoly on targeting the opposition’s vulnerable House districts. And those who predict a Democratic recapture of the House do so at their own risk.