A Year When Everybody’s Vulnerable

Voter Anger, Aggressive Advertising Put Many Incumbents in Jeopardy

Posted October 6, 2008 at 9:55am

Who knows, by the time this is all over, we may have to put all 434 Members (there is one vacancy) on our list of most vulnerable House incumbents — the voters are that angry with Washington.

As Election Day draws nearer — and as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and outside groups target more and more races — we can think of more and more incumbents who may be vulnerable.

It’s a stark contrast to some election cycles, when we have had a hard time compiling this list. This time, we had a hard time eliminating people from it.

With one month to go, it’s still too early to tell if another huge wave election is coming. By all accounts, the Democrats are poised to win more seats. But after their 30-seat gain in 2006, followed by three more in special elections this year, there are a limited number of obvious pickup opportunities. Give the DCCC credit for expanding the playing field. Republicans are counting on this being a “throw the bums out” election — all bums, not just those who have occupied the White House for the past eight years. We’ll know soon.

The endangered incumbents here are listed in order of their vulnerability.

1. Don Young (R-Alaska)

He’s under federal investigation. He won his primary by 300 votes. He’s made lots of enemies during his 35 years in Congress. Corruption scandals are swirling around many of the state’s leading Republicans. And the Democrats have a pretty good challenger in former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz. Not even Sarah Palin can save Young now — and it’s not clear that she’d want to, anyway.

2. Nick Lampson (D-Texas)

Tough, tough district, even for a skilled pol who gets how to be a Congressman. Republicans lucked out when they nominated solid former Senate aide Pete Olson instead of erratic ex-Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Hurricane Ike gave Lampson an opportunity to shine, but it also may have wiped out the few Democratic pockets in his district. He’s savvy enough that we wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see him gone, either.

3. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.)

All the baggage that is weighing down the 12-term Congressman this year he’s carried with him in previous cycles. But this time things seem different — and there’s an air of “done” surrounding Kanjorski. Democrats point out that the incumbent defeated his challenger, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R), fairly easily six years ago — even though it was a Republican year. But thanks to his city’s tough policies on immigration, Barletta has a national following now. And he carries himself like a winner. With good reason.

4. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.)

Musgrave made no effort to hide her social conservatism when she was elected in 2002, but many of her constituents were surprised when she immediately became a central figure in the toxic debate over gay marriage. Liberal outside groups have been working hard (and spending furiously) to defeat her ever since, and this time they should succeed, aided by a solid Democratic challenger in former Senate aide Betsy Markey. Musgrave has been trying to highlight her constituent services — and to bloody Markey. But even in a conservative district, both efforts are probably too little, too late.

5. Jon Porter (R-Nev.)

Porter returns to the list for the first time since October 2004, and it isn’t even his fault. His suburban Las Vegas district is trending Democratic, Nevada Democrats are more organized than they’ve ever been, and he’s facing his toughest opponent yet, former state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus. Titus was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2006, and voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse for having chosen calamity-prone Jim Gibbons (R) over her. Gibbons is doing his former Congressional colleague Porter no favors.

6. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.)

Jack Abramoff. Scotland. Golfing trip. ’Nuff said. But even without the specter of scandal shadowing him, Feeney would have reason to worry. His Orlando-area district is turning more Democratic. And he has a tough, well-funded opponent in former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D). Did Feeney’s mea culpa ad on the Abramoff trip help him at all? In the ad, he described the trip as a rookie mistake. For a former state Speaker, that’s hardly credible.

7. Don Cazayoux (D-La.)

Cazayoux’s special election victory in May was one of the highlights of the cycle for House Democrats. But reality may be back to slap them — and Cazayoux — in the face come November. The Baton Rouge-area district is tough for Democrats under any circumstance, and Republicans have a much better candidate than they did in the special election. Cazayoux isn’t helped by the fact that an African-American Democratic state legislator is running as an Independent. Any vote he gets will be directly out of Cazayoux’s column.

8. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.)

Shea-Porter’s surprise win in the 2006 Democratic primary was a testament to her grass-roots support. But in her rematch with the man she defeated, ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), the element of surprise is gone. And once you’ve led your grass-roots army to victory, you’ve got to govern, and Shea-Porter’s performance in office has been uneven so far. She benefited enormously from a huge Granite State Democratic wave in ’06; this year, the state’s political leanings seem harder to read, even though she was leading in a recent Roll Call poll. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is riding to the rescue, and that should help.

9. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.)

Mahoney is one of those class of 2006 Democrats who needs to prove that his election was no fluke. He won because he was running against scandal-plagued Rep. Mark Foley (R), whose name remained on the ballot even after he dropped out of the race. Since then, Mahoney has been working hard for his constituents and raising money at a steady clip. But his district still favors the GOP, and the strongest possible challenger emerged from the Republican primary, attorney Tom Rooney. Perhaps most troubling to Mahoney now are the questions being raised about where, and how, he lives. It may be incidental, but it’s something tangible that voters can grasp — and that Republicans can exploit.

10. Phil English (R-Pa.)

English has barely had to sweat re-election in his blue-collar district in the past, but that’s not the case this time. Businesswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D) is running a classic outsider’s campaign, and even though English was prepared, particularly on the financial front, his poll numbers have been sluggish, and his prospects look increasingly grim. For a Republican, English has enjoyed strong support from organized labor in the past, but Dahlkemper is cutting deeply into it this year, and that could be the difference.