Posted October 6, 2008 at 10:32am



1st district
Open seat: Rick Renzi (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans initially thought Renzi’s departure — he was indicted earlier this year on 35 corruption counts — would help them hold on to the seat, but they could not recruit a top-tier candidate.

Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) gets the slight edge over anti-tax activist Sydney Hay (R), based partly on her superior financial advantage, which is being bolstered by a cash-rich Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

This sprawling northern and eastern Arizona district leans conservative despite the fact that a majority of its voters are registered Democrats. But it is not overwhelmingly conservative, and Hay, who ran for the 1st district seat in 2002 but lost the GOP primary to Renzi, is viewed as too far to the right for most voters.

Kirkpatrick may be seen by some voters as too liberal. But she is likely to fare better with the key American Indian voting bloc than Hay. Renzi’s strong relationship with the American Indian community bolstered his three victories in the 1st district, and Hay is seen as unlikely to replicate that particular success.

3rd district
Incumbent: John Shadegg (R)
7th term (59 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Shadegg is facing a spirited challenge from attorney Bob Lord. The Democrat is well-funded, on the air with multiple television spots and attempting to position himself as something of a centrist. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also been advertising in the 3rd district on Lord’s behalf.

But the suburban Phoenix 3rd district remains solid Republican territory, and Shadegg should benefit from the newfound energy among the GOP base in the wake of hometown Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) decision to select Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his vice presidential running mate — not to mention McCain’s position at the top of the ticket.

Shadegg’s short-lived decision to retire — he changed his mind several days later after being pressured by colleagues and constituents — gives Democrats some extra hope, but it shouldn’t be much of a factor among average voters.

5th district
Incumbent: Harry Mitchell (D)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert, who emerged from a crowded and competitive GOP primary, is a viable candidate who in a more hospitable environment for Republicans — and against a different Democrat — would have a better chance of winning.

But Mitchell has run for office in some portion of the GOP-leaning 5th district almost 20 times, and the voters there simply like him and do not see him as being as politically out of step as Republicans argue.

Despite Arizona Sen. John McCain’s position at the top of the ticket as the GOP presidential nominee, Schweikert is still likely to fall short, thanks in no small part to the late Sept. 2 date of the GOP primary and the lack of national Republican funds to spend on this race. Financial support from the Club for Growth — which endorsed him in the primary — will help Schweikert some, but not enough to make a difference.

8th district
Incumbent: Gabrielle Giffords (D)
1st term (54 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

State Senate President Tim Bee is probably the only Republican who could have beaten Giffords this year — except that no one could have beaten her this year.

The 8th district leans Republican, but Giffords has successfully positioned herself as the kind of moderate 8th district politician that voters like (see: moderate former GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, whom Giffords succeeded). That has made it tough for Bee to tout his own moderate credentials.

Giffords has cast several House votes that could put into question her moderate credentials. But neither Bee nor national Republicans have the money lying around to spend on a tough district like the 8th. The Congresswoman’s war chest is full enough, and she appears personally popular enough, to fend off any challenge.

It didn’t help Bee’s cause that Kolbe pulled his endorsement in the middle of his campaign after the state Senator came out against same-sex marriage in the Legislature. Kolbe is openly gay.

New Mexico


Open seat: Pete Domenici (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Democratic

The good reputation Rep. Tom Udall (D) earned during his two terms as state attorney general and the crisp operation of his Senate campaign appear to be winning the day over Rep. Steve Pearce (R) and his possibly accurate charge that Udall is too liberal for many voters in the Land of Enchantment.

Pearce failed to nail Udall on his long-standing opposition to increasing domestic oil drilling — the one issue this election cycle that has played directly into the Republicans’ hands. Meanwhile, Udall smartly went on television saying he favored more domestic drilling, among other measures, and appears to have nipped Pearce’s one advantage in the bud.

Pearce, who endured a tough GOP primary with Rep. Heather Wilson, has suffered from a campaign that has at times appeared directionless while mostly misusing the folksy and charming Congressman in its ads by failing to allow his personality and warmth to shine through.


1st district
Open seat: Heather Wilson lost the Senate GOP primary
Outlook: Tossup

As good a candidate as Wilson was, she barely managed to hang on to this Democratic-leaning district in several successive elections, and even then it took some big-time help from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

This year, the NRCC doesn’t have the money to spend on this seat, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee does. Additionally, former Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich should benefit from the seat’s Democratic lean — Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been polling well in the district — and the diminished image of President Bush and the GOP, which Heinrich is attempting to exploit.

But Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White is capable of holding the seat for the GOP.

New Mexicans like their law enforcement officials, and White is a hard worker with some cross- party appeal. He could capitalize from a renewed enthusiasm among the Republican base and recent questions that have been raised about Heinrich’s career as a small- business man.

2nd district
Open seat: Steve Pearce (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Tossup

This majority Democratic district has sent Republicans to Congress since 1980 because voters here tend to agree with the GOP on most major issues.

Former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague (D) has an opportunity to change that, based in part on his personal fortune, his background in the oil services industry, his attempt to position himself as a conservative Democrat, and the fact that his home county has been key to winning the district (Pearce is based in Lea County).

However, wealthy restaurateur Ed Tinsley (R) is more politically in line with the district, and he should benefit accordingly. Although he is not based in Lea County, Tinsley owns a ranch, and his background as a business owner should play well. Additionally, Tinsley has shown a willingness to spend his own money to keep the race competitive.

Although Tinsley’s general election campaign experienced some missteps early on and saw its campaign manager depart, it appears the Republican might have regained his footing. But Democrats continue to hit him hard, especially on the fact that he owns a home outside of the district in Santa Fe — and appears to spend a substantial amount of time there.

3rd district
Open seat: Tom Udall (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Democratic

State Public Regulation Commission Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D) will win this seat easily in November over construction contractor Dan East (R), and in doing so he will become the first Hispanic member of his state’s Congressional delegation since then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D) joined President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet in 1997.

Lujan’s father is the state Speaker.



Incumbent: James Inhofe (R)
3rd term (57 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Oklahomans are fond of electing moderate and conservative Democrats to state office — witness well-liked two-term Gov. Brad Henry (D). But for federal office, the Sooner State has a penchant for Republicans, who better reflect the state’s conservative political leanings on visceral cultural and economic issues that factor heavily into House and Senate races.

That’s one big reason Inhofe is in such good shape against state Sen. Andrew Rice (D). Rice, whose brother was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is young and energetic and has a compelling story. He has raised a decent amount of money and is waging an aggressive media campaign that is attempting to paint the incumbent as past his prime and out of touch.

Unfortunately for Rice, it’s he who is generally out of touch with Oklahoma voters — at least on the issues that tend to motivate whom they support for federal office.

Rice’s long-shot hope is that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), a big fan of his, decides to unload some of the DSCC’s vast resources into Oklahoma’s relatively inexpensive media markets. That might be enough to make Rice competitive on Nov. 4. Maybe.


5th district
Incumbent: Mary Fallin (R)
1st term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

The biggest hurdle Fallin will probably ever face is in the past — her victory in the crowded and competitive 5th district GOP primary that first secured her nomination to the seat and an easy victory in the 2006 general election. Look for another easy ride for the freshman Congresswoman this November against attorney Steve Perry (D) in the overwhelmingly conservative, Oklahoma City-area district.



Incumbent: John Cornyn (R)
1st term (55 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

With the 2008 presidential race reverting to the form of the past two White House contests — the strong Republican states in the bag for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and the solidly Democratic states a gimme for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) — Cornyn looks to be in extremely good shape, not that state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) was ever a real threat.

Noriega has an attractive biography and a long record of public service, including his current stint in the National Guard and time spent in combat in Afghanistan. But his positions on major issues are boilerplate liberal, giving him a profile that is politically untenable for most Texans — and far from approaching that of the conservative Texas Democrat that occasionally appeals across party lines.

Additionally, Noriega and his campaign have shown a penchant for gaffes and mistakes that prove the Democrat wasn’t ready for prime time in a state like Texas, where there are 20 distinct media markets. Even without all of these deficiencies, Noriega needed Obama to change up the electoral map to give him some coattails to grab onto, something that clearly isn’t happening, at least not in Texas.


7th district
Incumbent: John Culberson (R)
4th term (59 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Wind energy executive Michael Skelly is trying to position himself as a conservative Democrat, and he is making this a race to watch by the sheer force of his personal bank account and fundraising prowess. For all of this he deserves a lot of credit and earns a race rating of “Likely” rather than “Safe.”

But this suburban Houston district is strong Republican territory, and Culberson hasn’t done anything to sever his solid relationship with grass-roots GOP voters.

Particularly in a presidential year, the partisan nature of the district is unlikely to produce the number of crossover voters that Skelly needs for a victory.

22nd district
Incumbent: Nick Lampson (D)
1st term (52 percent; previously served four terms in a neighboring district)
Outlook: Tossup

The strong Republican lean of the 22nd district and Lampson’s victory over a write-in candidate in 2006 made his seat a top GOP target from Day One.

Since former Senate aide Pete Olson won the GOP primary, Republicans have been bullish on their chances of flipping the seat of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) back into their column. And considering Lampson’s relatively Democratic voting record on key issues, Olson is well-positioned for victory, even before the presidential race is figured in.

But Lampson might have caught a break with Hurricane Ike, which devastated much of greater Houston in mid-September.

The storm and its aftermath forced Olson to suspend his campaign and only subtly re-engage politically toward the end of September. Meanwhile, Lampson was able to show leadership and rise above politics by helping those in need.

In helping his suburban Houston district recover from Ike, Lampson is potentially giving conservatives and partisan Republicans a reason to put aside the fact that they disagree with him on most issues, creating a desire on their part to vote for a Democrat.

23rd district
Incumbent: Ciro Rodriguez (D)
1st term (54 percent; previously served four terms in a neighboring district)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson (R) is a viable candidate capable of making inroads in this competitively drawn district.

But it could be a tall order for Larson, particularly in a year when national Republicans do not have the extra money to spend trying to flip marginally competitive districts and national Democrats have plenty of money to spend defending them. The fact that the district is almost two-thirds Hispanic also works in the incumbent’s favor.

While there remains a possibility that Larson could threaten Rodriguez, those chances appear slim. Quico Canseco, the Hispanic lawyer whom Larson defeated easily in the GOP primary, might have fared better in the general election.