That’s the giddy — and inevitable — reaction the arbiters of Roll Call’s beloved “10 Most Vulnerable House Incumbents” franchise had as we contemplated putting together the first list since the eventful elections of 2006.
We don’t have to stick Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) on the list anymore. Or Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas). Or Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.). These are tough incumbents who defy the odds cycle after cycle and find a way to win, despite the unfavorable numbers in their districts. (By the way, Wilson is running for Senate this time around, so we won’t have her to kick around anymore. But we still think Shays could lose. We just wouldn’t bet money on it.)
The Democratic wave of 2006 put many districts in play in 2008 that haven’t been for several cycles — endangering several incumbents along the way.
There are a few “accidental Congressmen” on this list — Democrats who won conservative districts in the previous cycle, often because the Republican incumbent was caught up in a scandal. And there are Republicans whose vulnerabilities leaped to the fore in the previous cycle and who could be finished off in 2008.
Being on this list doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to lose. Only two of the 10 vulnerable incumbents listed in the November 2005 Election Preview went down to defeat a year later: Reps. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) and Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.).
But as the election cycle progressed, you could see which way the wind was blowing. In the May 2006 Election Preview, all 10 of the most vulnerable House Members were Republicans. A month before Election Day, the only Democrat on the list was Rep. William Jefferson (La.), who wound up winning re-election despite the scandal swirling around him. Seven of his colleagues on the list weren’t so lucky.
So here’s our first crack at election 2008 — in alphabetical order:
Boyda stunned Rep. Jim Ryun (R) last year after losing to him by 15 points in the previous cycle. Ryun wants his old job back, but he’ll first have to get through a tough Republican primary against state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins. Whatever happens in the GOP contest, Boyda will have a fat target on her back, and no matter how hard she works, in a district that President Bush carried by 20 points in 2004, Republicans may be able to yell “bull’s-eye” a year from now.
Carney was one of the “scandal babies” of 2006, upending then-Rep. Don Sherwood (R), who was accused of attempting to choke his girlfriend. Carney seems to be doing all the right things at home and is raising decent money, but the northeast Pennsylvania district may simply be too conservative for him to survive in a more normal election. The district gave President Bush a 20-point victory in 2004, and Republicans have two prosperous businessmen running.
With her husband ill, Cubin has been absent from Capitol Hill for a good chunk of the year — and she also broke her leg visiting him in the hospital. She raised a pittance from July 1 to Sept. 30, $11,000, closing the period with just $9,000 on hand. Several highly regarded Republicans are circling like buzzards and may run regardless of what she does, and the Democrat who almost upset her last year, businessman Gary Trauner, is trying again. In all likelihood, Cubin won’t be back for the 111th Congress; the question is whether she retires or whether the voters send her packing.
Most Republicans want Doolittle gone, and it’s easy to see why. His connection to incarcerated GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his decision to pay his wife handsomely with his campaign funds have put his otherwise safe Sacramento-area seat in serious peril. Doolittle beat Democratic nominee Charlie Brown by just 3 points last year, and Brown in 2008 has a very realistic shot of successfully kicking the football. Small wonder that some Republicans are preparing to take on Doolittle in the GOP primary, and why House GOP leaders already have begun trying to ease the Congressman out.
Victory must have been sweet for Lampson in 2006, as he took over the 22nd district from former Rep. Tom DeLay (R), the man who had engineered his ouster two years earlier by redrawing the Texas Congressional map. But as skillful a politician as Lampson is, the 2006 election in the 22nd was like an out-of-control carnival ride, and a return to any semblance of normalcy in 2008 puts him in serious danger. While Republicans have a large field and will have a hard time sorting out their nominee, the GOP standard-bearer will have the benefit of running in a district that gave President Bush a 28-point victory in 2004.
Count Mahoney as one of the “accidental” freshmen of 2006. His opponent last year was scandal-plagued ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R), who could not take himself off the ballot even though he already had resigned from Congress. Mahoney has raised money aggressively since then, banking more than $1.1 million through Sept. 30. And there is a crowded and confusing Republican primary to take him on. But in the end, the GOP nominee should be pretty strong, and Mahoney will be in great danger.
Marshall has defied the strong Republican trends that have gripped Georgia since 2002 — he votes his district assiduously and may be the most conservative Democrat in the House. But in a Republican state and a Republican district, a Democrat is still a Democrat — and an endangered species. Republicans are sky-high on their likely nominee, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, who was the commanding officer of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base in the district. Marshall, a decorated Vietnam veteran himself, won his previous race by just 1,700 votes. It may be that close again this time.
McNerney was the beneficiary of two years of attacks on the man he ousted last November, then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R). Pombo, who was then the House Resources chairman, was Public Enemy No. 1 for national environmental groups, and they spent a fortune working to defeat him. McNerney — who first pulled an upset in the Democratic primary — surfed the wave that the environmentalists created all the way to victory. While McNerney has worked quietly to solidify his hold on the district, it did give President Bush a 9-point victory in 2004, meaning a less toxic Republican than Pombo, like the likely GOP nominee, former state Assemblyman Dean Andal, could do very well.
Reichert faces a rematch with former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner (D). She was a novice candidate last time, flawed in many ways, but she raised a lot of money and came within 7,000 votes of winning. For a number of reasons, the dynamic could be dramatically different this time. Reichert retains an incredible amount of goodwill in the suburban Seattle district from his service as King County sheriff, but the district is getting progressively more Democratic and at some point — whether it’s in 2008 or deeper into the future — it will turn against him.
Schmidt is an accomplished marathon runner, but she could be tripped up by several obstacles on the campaign trail. She faces a tough Republican primary challenge from former Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich; if no other well-known Republican gets into the race, she probably will be the underdog. And even if she limps through the primary, she’ll then face a likely rematch with physician Victoria Wulsin (D), who finished just 2,500 votes out of the money in 2006 without any help from the national party. Despite the fact that her suburban Cincinnati district gave President Bush a 28-point victory in 2004, the gaffe-prone Schmidt has never had a real hold on the district, and she could lose her grip completely this cycle.