Midwest: Democrats Worried About Downballot Effect

Posted October 1, 2010 at 10:27am



Open seat: Appointee Roland
Burris (D) is not seeking election
Outlook: Tossup

Republican Rep. Mark Kirk and Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias have pulled no punches in the race for President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.

Republicans have taken to referring to Giannoulias as a mob banker because of the loans his family’s bank, Broadway Bank, made to mob leaders and to notorious political fundraiser Tony Rezko. In April, federal regulators took charge of Broadway Bank, which the Senate candidate left in the spring of 2006 when he was running for treasurer.

But Giannoulias’ close ties to the White House have helped. Obama, a personal friend of Giannoulias’, appeared with him in August, and other administration officials, including Vice President Joseph Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, also headlined fundraisers with the Democrat. The Obama fundraiser came after Kirk had significantly outraised Giannoulias at the end of the second quarter.

Kirk, meanwhile, has been in the uncomfortable position of having to defend his record as a Naval Reserve intelligence officer. In June, Giannoulias noted that Kirk had claimed to win a prestigious award as an individual when actually he won a lesser award with his unit. Other revelations of exaggerations neutralized the benefits that military service would be expected to bring a candidate.

But Kirk’s credentials as a pro-
abortion-rights, pro-business North Shore Congressman, as well as the anti-Democratic sentiment, have kept him close or ahead in most polls, despite the state’s typically Democratic lean.


10th district
Open seat: Mark Kirk (R)
is running for Senate
Outlook: Tossup

Democrat Dan Seals will make his third attempt at representing the northern Chicago suburbs, but his odds are somewhat improved since he’s facing Republican businessman Bob Dold instead of Kirk. An early September poll taken for Seals’ campaign showed him well ahead of Dold.

Seals has painted Dold as more conservative than Kirk, accusing him of opposing abortion rights (a charge Dold has denied) and pro-environment legislation. Dold got the endorsement of the Republican Majority for Choice, as well as the recommendation of the Illinois Federation for Right to Life, a distinction that allows that he does not meet their highest standards but is the best candidate in the race. The Club for Growth also endorsed him. A late September story alleging that a Dold staffer asked for a more moderate rating from a tea party group didn’t help his campaign.

This is an expensive media market, and neither candidate is likely to be up on broadcast TV until shortly before the election. Expect this race to be close right up until Election Day.

11th district
Incumbent: Debbie Halvorson (D)

1st term (58 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Halvorson, the former Illinois Senate Majority Leader, won her seat in what was a fantastic year for Illinois Democrats. In a much less favorable year, she faces Republican Adam Kinzinger, an Iraq War veteran and former member of the McLean County Board.

Kinzinger has gotten support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vets for Freedom and tea party groups in the district. He and Halvorson have tangled over Social Security, tax cuts and employment.

An attack on Kinzinger’s military record backfired, and in August Halvorson switched campaign managers. She got the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in late September.

Complicating factors are that this district overlaps with the expensive Chicago media market and other smaller markets, and the House candidates have to make their voices heard over messaging from the Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

As September drew to a close, it was getting increasingly difficult to see a path to victory for Halvorson.

14th district
Incumbent: Bill Foster (D)
1st full term (58 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Republicans haven’t forgotten the special election that Foster first won to succeed former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), and in state Sen. Randy Hultgren he faces his most difficult challenge so far.

Hultgren, who defeated Hastert’s son, Ethan, in the February primary, has differed with Foster’s votes for health care, the bailout and the stimulus. But in ads Foster alleges the investment management firm Hultgren works for profited off the bailout.

Both candidates have criticized the other for campaign contributions. Foster donated funds he got from embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), and Hultgren apologized for illegally moving money from his state election account to the federal one.

While the House seat is Foster’s first elected office, Hultgren previously served in the state House and two county-level boards in DuPage County.

This a race that could be influenced by the drag at the top of the ticket if Democrats end up falling short in both the gubernatorial and Senate races.

17th district
Incumbent: Phil Hare (D)
2nd term (unopposed)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Hare is facing his first tough election against Moline pizzeria owner Bobby Schilling.

Hare was unopposed in 2008, two years after he was elected to succeed his old boss, then-Rep. Lane Evans (D). But Hare’s path to Congress reeked of Chicago-style politics, even though this western downstate district is nowhere near the Windy City. Evans announced his retirement after he won the primary, so party officials chose Hare, Evans’ district director, to replace him on the ballot.

Now, Hare is in for a real race. While he has benefited in the past from his union ties, Schilling neutralizes them with his own experience as a union steward. Both candidates oppose free-trade agreements.

Schilling was promoted to the top tier of the NRCC’s Young Guns program in mid-September and has gotten support from other Republicans and GOP groups, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the National Rifle Association political action committee.

This district is more closely divided than it looked in the past couple of election cycles. Though President Barack Obama won it with 56 percent of the vote in 2008, Sen. John Kerry only got 51 percent of the vote there in 2004.

This race has developed very quickly since Hare was hardly on the radar screen of political handicappers just two months ago. It should only get more interesting in the final month.



Open seat: Evan Bayh (D) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Republican

What originally looked like it could be a heated race has cooled as Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth’s campaign has failed to catch fire. Polls have shown former Sen. Dan Coats (R), who retired in 1998 and was succeeded by Bayh, ahead by double digits, and national Democratic strategists increasingly appear to have written off this race.

Coats, a former aide to then-Rep. Dan Quayle, represented northeastern Indiana in the House from 1981 until he was appointed to fill the Senate vacancy created when Quayle became vice president.

Ellsworth has a much shorter political résumé. After serving as chief deputy in the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office for many years, he was elected sheriff in 1998. In 2006 he defeated Republican Rep. John Hostettler in the southwest Indiana 8th district. The law-and-order Democrat joined the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and cultivated a centrist record.

Ellsworth is the best candidate Democrats could have hoped for, but in a Republican state in a Republican year, Coats is hard to beat.


2nd district
Incumbent: Joe Donnelly (D)
2nd term (67 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Donnelly was the target of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s first independent expenditure ad, and for good reason: Polls have shown the Blue Dog tied with Republican state Rep. Jackie Walorski.

Donnelly made a splash with an early August ad that showed members of Democratic leadership on screen as a narrator condemned “the Washington crowd.” Since then he has continued to portray himself as an independent and has tried to make Walorski out to be a highly partisan Republican. In late August he used the endorsement Walorski got from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a fundraising plea.

Outside groups have enthusiastically pitched in on Walorski’s behalf: In addition to the NRCC, the 60 Plus Association and Americans for Prosperity have aired ads in the South Bend-based district.

Donnelly defeated then-Rep. Chris Chocola in the 2006 wave, and Walorski hopes a similar wave washes her into office this year.

3rd district
Vacancy: Mark Souder (R) resigned
Outlook: Safe Republican

Because Souder resigned after he had already gotten the Republican nomination, state Sen. Marlin Stutzman was selected by GOP precinct officials to replace him in both the special election to finish his term and the general election. Both contests will be held Nov. 2.

Democrats stuck with their nominee, Tom Hayhurst, a doctor and former member of the Fort Wayne City Council, for both elections. But the party is not seriously contesting the race.

4th district
Open seat: Steve Buyer (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

In this conservative district, the only election that really matters came six months before the general election.

Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita dominated a primary field of 13 candidates on May 4, more than doubling the vote total of the second place finisher.

College professor David Sanders is the Democratic nominee in the district west of Indianapolis.

8th district
Open seat: Brad Ellsworth (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Leans Republican

Given the Republican leanings of this district, the national environment and the strength of Republican nominee Larry Bucshon, state Rep. Trent Van Haaften does not appear well-positioned to hold this seat for Democrats.

The National Republican Congressional Committee had named Bucshon to the lowest tier of its Young Guns program prior to his primary win, and the committee has since promoted him to the top tier. A parade of national and state Republican officials have campaigned with the doctor since then, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.).

Van Haaften has tried to distance himself from his political experience, not mentioning his six years in the state House. With Ellsworth’s help he got the endorsement of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Both Bucshon and Van Haaften said they would have opposed the new health care law.

Polling has suggested that Ellsworth isn’t even likely to win his home district in the Senate race, which is another factor that does not bode well for Democrats holding his House seat.

9th district
Incumbent: Baron Hill (D)
2nd term (58 percent; previously served three terms)
Outlook: Tossup

Hill, a former state Representative and basketball standout, is the definition of a seasoned campaigner, but in 2010 he’s facing a different opponent for the first time in almost a decade.

Over the past four cycles Hill has faced Republican businessman Mike Sodrel. Sodrel won in 2004 but lost the other three times. Sodrel’s bid for yet another rematch failed, and Republicans nominated Bloomington lawyer Todd Young instead.

Young, who has the support of the anti-tax Club for Growth, has worked to tie Hill to Democratic leaders and highlighted the Blue Dog Congressman’s votes for cap-and-trade and the new health care law.

Hill took to the district on foot during the August recess. He walked 250 miles across the district, a tactic he also tried when he walked across the state during the Senate race in 1990. That year he lost to Dan Coats, who had been appointed to the seat when Dan Quayle became vice president. For what it’s worth, Young is married to Quayle’s niece.



1st district
Open seat: Bart Stupak (D) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

This race is a top target for both parties. The district is complicated on a number of levels: Spanning 31 counties over the Upper Peninsula and the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, geography is extremely important. And in the mold of Stupak, the district has supported a candidate who is socially conservative but also willing to work with unions and oppose trade deals.

Democrats hope they’ve found that candidate in state Rep. Gary McDowell. McDowell was first elected to the state House in 2004 and is against abortion.

Republicans had a harder time settling on a candidate. Surgeon Dan Benishek finished just one vote ahead of state Sen. Jason Allen on election night and was 15 votes ahead when the state certified results about two weeks later. Allen ultimately decided not to ask for what could have been a costly and time-consuming recount, allowing Benishek to focus on the general election.

Both campaign committees and a number of outside groups have already aired ads in the district.

With one month to go, both parties seem to be pretty dug in here in terms of what they’re willing to spend. This could end up being one of the more expensive races if that continues until the end.

2nd district
Open seat: Pete Hoekstra (R) lost a gubernatorial primary
Outlook: Safe Republican

Former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, a former Hoekstra district director, was the surprise winner in the Republican primary to replace Hoekstra. He defeated former Pittsburgh Steeler Jay Riemersma by fewer than 700 votes.

Huizenga served in the state House from 2003 to 2008, and he touted his conservative record.

Lawsuits over potential Federal Election Commission violations marred the last couple weeks of the primary campaign for Riemersma. Huizenga sued Riemersma for allegedly coordinating with a political action committee run by his campaign consultants, and businessman Bill Cooper filed a suit against Riemersma’s campaign for spreading false information about him while campaigning door to door.

Huizenga faces Democrat Fred Johnson, the 2008 nominee, in the general election. Johnson got 35 percent of the vote in that race and is unlikely to do much better this cycle.

3rd district
Open seat: Vernon Ehlers (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

State Rep. Justin Amash is on target to succeed Ehlers in January, even though the Congressman backed another candidate in the GOP primary.

During the primary, Amash got the support of the Club for Growth, Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R) and FreedomWorks political action committee, which former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) leads.

Amash faces Grand Rapids lawyer Pat Miles (D) in November. In a better year, Democrats might be able to compete in this district that just barely favored Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election.

7th district
Incumbent: Mark Schauer (D)
1st term (49 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

In the August primary, former Rep. Tim Walberg won a ticket to a rematch against Schauer, who beat him by 3 points in 2008. This seat has changed hands every cycle since Republican Rep. Nick Smith decided not to run again in 2004.

National groups dominate this race. The Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have already chimed in on Schauer’s behalf. The American Future Fund and Americans for Prosperity have aired ads attacking Schauer. Both campaign committees have also aired ads in the south-central Michigan district.

The Club for Growth, which helped Walberg defeat Rep. Joe Schwarz in the 2006 Republican primary, has not endorsed him this cycle.

Schauer, who has climbed the political ladder ever since he was elected as a Battle Creek city commissioner in 1994, will need those retail politics skills to win again this November.

9th district
Incumbent: Gary Peters (D)
1st term (52 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

In 2008 Peters benefited from President Barack Obama’s coattails and became the first Democrat to win the suburban Detroit district in decades.

This fall he is favored over former state Rep. Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski, who is hardly the strongest challenger Republicans could have found.

Both candidates have tried to tie their opponent to national party leadership. Peters has had to defend his votes for the new health care law, and though he has portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative, Peters made an exception for the government’s auto industry bailout. The district is home to the headquarters of General Motors Co. and Chrysler.

Raczkowski got 38 percent of the vote in a race against Sen. Carl Levin in 2002 after he was term-limited out of his state House seat.

13th district
Open seat: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D) lost the primary
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The Democratic primary is decisive in this Detroit-based district, where President Barack Obama got 85 percent of the vote in 2008. Kilpatrick narrowly escaped her 2008 primary against divided opposition, but this year she fell to state Sen. Hansen Clarke. Clarke got 49 percent of the vote, and Kilpatrick got 43 percent.

Clarke, the son of an African-American mother and a Bangladeshi immigrant father, is an officer in Michigan’s Legislative Black Caucus. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2002 after serving in the state House. He lost to Kwame Kilpatrick in the 2005 Detroit mayoral race.

Government contractor John Hauler is the Republican nominee, but it won’t matter because Clarke will be the next Member here.



1st district
Incumbent: Tim Walz (D)
2nd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans couldn’t find a strong challenger for Walz in 2008. And while they have a much better candidate in 2010, it appears Walz is headed to winning another term. But a month is still a lot of time for this race to develop further.

Republican Randy Demmer, a state Representative and farmer from Hayfield, is forcing Walz to defend his votes for cap-and-trade, the new health care law and the stimulus. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a fundraiser with Demmer in August, and in September he supported him for a seat on the House Agriculture Committee. Demmer was promoted to the top tier of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program in mid-September.

Walz continues to emphasize his status as a veteran. In the Congressman’s first ad in early September, a Vietnam veteran from Wabasha talked about Walz’s help in getting him treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Walz should win, but this race is still one that bears watching in the next few weeks.

6th district
Incumbent: Michele Bachmann (R)
2nd term (46 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Bachmann has become a champion of the tea party, a national figure who is able to raise millions through a nationwide network of donors. Both Democrats and Republicans drop her name to raise money, but it hasn’t helped her opponent, state Sen. Tarryl Clark.

Democrats cleared the primary for Clark, but in a year that favors Republicans and with Clark’s partisan background in the Senate, she faces a very steep uphill climb.

7th district
Incumbent: Collin Peterson (D)
10th term (72 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Peterson, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a founder of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, is facing heat for his vote in favor of cap-and-trade. His Republican opponent, Willmar businessman Lee Byberg, has noted that if Republicans win the majority, Peterson would lose his chairmanship.

The National Republican Congressional Committee moved Byberg to the third tier of its Young Guns program in late September, and his campaign said it has made its first media buys on radio and cable for October in the expansive rural western district.

Peterson, who was first elected in 1990, hasn’t had a competitive race in this Republican-leaning district since 1994, the year Republicans took control of the House. Peterson should be okay, but we’re watching him just in case since the size of the Republican wave isn’t known yet.



Open seat: George Voinovich (R) is retiring.
Outlook: Leans Republican

One of several open Republican seats, this one went from a top-tier race to a likely lost opportunity for Democrats in a cycle when the party could have really used a win here.

The competitive primary proved costly for Democrats. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher actually emerged in good position in the polls, but former Rep. Rob Portman (R), armed with $9 million, began pulling ahead by the end of June and led by double digits in most polls heading into October.

Portman had aired three TV ads by the end of July, with the third one nailing Fisher for failing in his role to create jobs. Republicans continue to hit Fisher as a “failed jobs czar.”

Fisher went up with his first ad in early September, hitting Portman for supporting free trade and allowing jobs to be shipped to China — an argument being made by Democrats across Ohio.

While the race is likely to tighten closer to the election, Portman is favored to win.


1st district
Incumbent: Steve Driehaus (D)
1st term (52 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Without President Barack Obama’s turnout operation in this Cincinnati-based district, Driehaus will have trouble defeating former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) a second election in a row.

Driehaus’ strategy is to remind voters that Chabot is the longtime incumbent, not him. One ad in late September attempted to compare Chabot’s campaign rhetoric with his voting record during his seven terms in Congress.

Chabot, meanwhile, is hitting Driehaus for supporting the Democratic agenda over the last two years, which is fresh in the minds of voters. His first ad focused on Driehaus’ health care reform vote and propensity to vote the same as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The freshman was not caught off guard by Chabot’s challenge, and the two were running even in the money race through the first half of the year. A GOP poll in mid-August showed the race close, but at this point Chabot appears to have the clear advantage.

After first coming to Congress in 1994, this looks likely to be the second wave election in which Chabot will defeat the Democratic incumbent.

9th district
Incumbent: Marcy Kaptur (D)
14th term (74 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

This district favors Democrats enough that it should not be competitive. And if Kaptur’s opponent wasn’t a self-funder, it would probably be getting even less attention than it is already.

But businessman Rich Iott (R) is funding his own race, and in a big way. He had loaned his campaign more than $800,000 just in the first half of the year. That kind of money in this kind of cycle for Democrats is a recipe for competition.

While this is not a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

13th district
Incumbent: Betty Sutton (D)
2nd term (65 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

This district, which stretches from western Akron to metro Cleveland, leans Democratic and would be difficult for a Republican to win even in this favorable cycle for the party.

While then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) barely survived in the Republican year of 1994, the district was much more Republican then, prior to the 2000 redistricting. Ever since, Brown and Sutton were elected here with ease.

The difference this year is that Sutton’s challenger is wealthy car dealer Tom Ganley, who has been on TV selling cars for decades and has loaned his campaign millions.

Ganley provides enough of a threat that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a TV ad in late September that attacked his business record and referred to him as a “millionaire used-car salesman.” Still, while not out of reach, this is an uphill climb for Ganley,

15th district
Incumbent: Mary Jo Kilroy (D)
1st term (46 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Kilroy is the first Democrat in nearly 30 years to represent a district in this area, but her tenure looks likely to be just a two-year blip in the otherwise dominance of Republicans around Columbus. Challenging Kilroy again this year is former state Sen. Steve Stivers, who lost in 2008 by just 2,300 votes, when it took weeks to confirm Kilroy as the victor.

A negative for the freshman this year is she can’t count on the same surge of young voters that President Barack Obama’s massive organizing unit brought out to the polls last time. Perhaps nowhere in the country will that loss be felt as much as this district, home of Ohio State University, which has the largest enrollment in the country.

Two polls in August had Stivers with a 5-point lead and Kilroy stuck in the low 40s — never a good place for an incumbent.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appears to feel the same way, pushing back its TV reservation in Columbus from the first two weeks of October to the last two weeks of the campaign. That gives it extra time to decide whether to pull out altogether.

In a moderate district such as this one, Kilroy could ultimately pay for her votes in favor of the stimulus, cap-and-trade and health care reform.

16th district
Incumbent: John Boccieri (D)
1st term (55 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

If Republicans want to win back the majority, the party is going to need to win districts like this one.

This Canton-based district was one of the few dozen nationwide that voted for both Sen. John McCain (R) for president and a Democrat for Congress. Boccieri’s 10-point win was impressive, as it followed a 36-year run by Republican Ralph Regula, who retired.

Businessman Jim Renacci is looking to defeat Boccieri and is yet another self-funding Republican challenger in Ohio. He’s tying Boccieri to the Democratic agenda, and one of his TV ads featured cutout, head-shot photos of both Boccieri and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

After initially opposing the health care bill, Boccieri signed on to the final version of the bill.

He defended this vote, as well as his support for the stimulus, in early September when he paid an impromptu visit to a town hall rally set up by Renacci.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hit Renacci with an ad in late September, calling him a “millionaire businessman” and accusing him of supporting a 23 percent national sales tax.

18th district
Incumbent: Zack Space (D)
2nd term (60 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Space wants to make this race all about trade. He’s against free-trade deals that give companies tax breaks for sending jobs overseas, and he says his opponent, state Sen. Bob Gibbs, supports them.

This large, rural district, which is covered by five different media markets, leans Republican. But it has sent Space to Congress twice by wide margins, and Gibbs is challenged by the fact that most of his state Senate district lies outside the 18th.

However, because of the district’s conservative underpinnings, Space could feel a negative downballot effect if Gov. Ted Strickland and Senate nominee Lee Fisher lose by wide margins. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expected to help some, though Space also holds a fundraising advantage.

Space supported cap-and-trade, but opposed health care — a vote that has caused the Service Employees International Union to actively campaign against him. However, Space did win the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, as well as various other labor unions.

At this point, Space is favored. But along with several other Democratic-held districts in the state, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if it flips.



Incumbent: Russ Feingold (D)
3rd term (55 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Feingold has never had an easy race, but political observers thought this cycle might be the first when former Gov. Tommy Thompson and brewing company executive Dick Leinenkugel declined to run against him.

But wealthy Republican businessman Ron Johnson has proved tougher than expected, and polls taken around the time of the primary showed him leading a close race.

Johnson has sought to portray Feingold as a liberal politician who has lost touch with voters after 18 years in Washington, D.C. He railed against Feingold’s votes for budgets, the stimulus and health care reform.

Feingold has tried to depict Johnson as an ambitious businessman with few connections to parts of the state outside his Fox River Valley home.

He questioned Johnson’s stance against the stimulus, as stories about Johnson soliciting stimulus funds for an opera house he was connected with surfaced, and against government subsidies, as stories surfaced that his manufacturing company accepted a government loan at a low interest rate.

Holding this seat is key to Democrats’ efforts to maintain the majority in the Senate. But as of the beginning of October, Feingold’s re-election prospects looked to be in great peril.


3rd district
Incumbent: Ron Kind (D)
7th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Kind faces state Sen. Dan Kapanke in a race that was beginning to emerge as a more competitive contest as October began.

Kapanke, a seed salesman by trade, owns a summer collegiate league baseball team in La Crosse, and in ads, Kind has accused the Republican of using the team’s foundation for financial gain. Both campaigns have been on TV since mid-September, but Kind has a significant fundraising advantage.

This is one of the three House seats Wisconsin Republicans are hoping to pick up. If they win all three, it would flip the majority in the Congressional delegation from Democrats to Republicans.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) narrowly won the district in 2004, but President Barack Obama carried it with 58 percent two years ago. Kind is widely viewed as having statewide ambitions, and if he is re-elected he could be looking toward a 2012 Senate bid, depending on what Sen. Herb Kohl (D) decides to do.

7th district
Open seat: David Obey (D) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

This is the first time this district has been open since Obey was elected in the spring of 1969, and winning this race has been a top priority for both parties.

Former Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy, best known nationally for his stint on the MTV reality show “The Real World,” announced his candidacy in July 2009, and Obey announced he would step aside in May 2010. Democrats scrambled to find a replacement and came up with state Sen. Julie Lassa.

At the end of August, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Duffy’s stance on Social Security with its first independent expenditure ad.

Before long Republicans followed with an ad tying Lassa to the federal debt. A campaign ad touted Lassa’s farming background, asserting that experience would make her able to stretch a dollar and not take any “bull” in Washington. A Duffy ad related his experience cutting wood as a lumberjack to the skills needed to cut the budget.

Lassa’s campaign launched the first opponent-focused ad in September, questioning Duffy’s biography as a dedicated prosecutor.

Because of the environment, Duffy probably has the slight edge, but this is a race that could continue to be a jump ball all the way until Election Day.

8th district
Incumbent: Steve Kagen (D)
2nd term (54 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Roofing contractor Reid Ribble, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s top choice, is facing off against Kagen in a high-priority battle in northeast Wisconsin.

In the historically Republican district, this is Kagen’s first tough race. He continues to portray himself not as a Congressman with four years of experience but as the doctor who runs allergy clinics in the region. He said he’ll tout his work on health care, transportation and agriculture issues.

Ribble emphasizes his experience as a businessman and promises to work toward cutting the budget and creating jobs.

Shortly after Ribble became the Republican nominee, Kagen ran an ad that used video of Ribble talking about Social Security at a campaign event.

There’s little question that Kagen is in trouble here, and he very well may not be back for a third term.