Open seat: Lisa Murkowski was defeated in a primary
1st full term (49 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican
It wasn’t Murkowski’s stunning GOP primary loss that made this once-safe seat more competitive but rather her decision to run as a write-in candidate. While just one person has ever been elected to the Senate as a write-in, Murkowski is aiming to make history after being upset by attorney Joe Miller (R).
At this point, Miller still has the edge in the three-way race against Murkowski and Scott McAdams (D), the Sitka mayor who is unlikely to receive national party assistance and had to start fundraising nearly from scratch after the primary.
If Murkowski takes enough Republican votes from Miller, GOP leaders are concerned about the possibility — albeit an unlikely one — that they could both come up short and allow McAdams to slide into a Senate seat that hasn’t been held by a Democrat in 30 years. But a CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll released last week showed Miller and Murkowski tied, a clear indication that Murkowski is going to pull some Democratic support.
Miller is receiving full support from national party leadership, which has offered financial and organizational assistance to the once-long-shot candidate. Murkowski’s challenge as a write-in candidate is to educate voters on how to go about writing in her name on the ballot. It requires filling in an oval and spelling her three-syllable name mostly right.
Shortly after announcing she would continue her quest for re-election, Murkowski, now the former Republican Conference vice chairwoman, launched a 60-second TV and radio ad titled “Let’s Make History.” Her former leadership colleagues will be helping Miller make sure she doesn’t.
Incumbent: Don Young (R)
18th term (50 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
By early August, Young had a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage over state Rep. Harry Crawford (D), who has a difficult task trying to take down the longtime incumbent, especially when Ethan Berkowitz, former state House Minority Leader, was unable to defeat Young in 2008 — when Young was connected to a federal corruption investigation during a strong cycle for Democrats.
Incumbent: Barbara Boxer (D)
3rd term (58 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
If a Republican can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts, why not California? That was the question many asked in January after Sen. Scott Brown’s (Mass.) special election victory. With Carly Fiorina as the Republican nominee against Boxer, there’s no reason why not.
The first-time candidate and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive partially self-funded her primary campaign and could potentially do the same if needed against the well-funded Boxer.
Fiorina’s first TV ad went up in late September, highlighting Boxer’s highly publicized committee hearing comments when she asked a military officer to refer to her as “Senator” instead of “ma’am.” “So wrong. Too long,” was the tag line.
The San Francisco Chronicle followed up a few days later with an editorial that refused to endorse either candidate, though its snub of Boxer was by far the more surprising. “There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation,” the stinging editorial read.
For most of the year, Boxer was polling well below 50 percent, though by late September she had hit that mark on a few occasions and Democrats began feeling better about her prospects.
Boxer released a cutting ad of her own in mid-September that went after Fiorina’s business experience, which is the main argument for her candidacy. The ad follows a criticism that Democrats have thrown at Fiorina for months: that she accepted a financial windfall at HP while laying off workers and shipping jobs to China.
Incumbent: Dan Lungren (R)
3rd term (49 percent; previously served five terms)
The first clue that Lungren could be vulnerable was when his winning percentage in 2008 dropped 10 points from the previous election, to 49 percent. Lungren, who returned to Congress in 2004 after two terms as state attorney general and an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, outspent his opponent 2-to-1.
This cycle, physician Ami Bera (D) has so far outraised and outspent him. Bera launched his first TV ad on Sept. 14 and plans to be on the air through the election. By late September, Lungren still was not on TV in the Sacramento-based district, but he had plans to go up soon. He was on the radio for most of September.
Still, an automated poll taken just after Bera went on the air found Lungren ahead by 8 points, though below 50 percent. Bera has gone after Lungren for accepting a large pay raise shortly before leaving the attorney general’s office, thereby boosting his pension — a timely issue in the cash-strapped state.
A government watchdog group had also gone on TV attacking Lungren for a lobbyist-hosted fundraiser in Hawaii and for opposing the Fair Elections Now Act.
Incumbent: Jerry McNerney (D)
2nd term (55 percent)
McNerney is running his second re-election race in California’s top swing district, which was the only one to change party hands in the Democratic year of 2006. In fact, that was the only time any California district switched since the redrawing of the districts following the 2000 census.
McNerney’s grass-roots campaign that year, along with a national tide benefiting Democrats, led him to topple then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R). Two years later, President Barack Obama won the district with 54 percent — the same percentage George W. Bush took in 2004.
This cycle, McNerney is the incumbent facing a headwind. His opponent, David Harmer (R), is an attorney who last year fell 10 points short of winning the special election in the neighboring 10th district.
Harmer, whose father served as lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan (R), is running on the theme that “Washington isn’t working” and notes the district’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates as reasons for change.
McNerney’s first ad targeted military veterans, who make up nearly 9 percent of the district’s population. Heading into the final weeks, the incumbent’s strong fundraising will be an advantage, while Harmer’s past tenure at JPMorgan Chase could be raised as a negative issue for him.
Open seat: George Radanovich (R) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican
State Sen. Jeff Denham (R) won the June 8 primary and is expected to have no trouble in the general against physician Loraine Goodwin (D). While Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the district with just 52 percent in 2008, four years earlier the Fresno-based district gave George W. Bush 61 percent — a mark Radanovich never dropped below in seven re-elections.
Open seat: Diane Watson (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Democratic
In one of the most Democratic districts in the country, former state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) will win in November and likely represent central Los Angeles in Congress for many years.
Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack (R)
6th term (58 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican
The argument against Bono Mack’s vulnerability is that she has faced well-funded challengers in far better years nationally for Democrats and come out unscathed. In a strong cycle for Republicans, Bono Mack again faces a credible challenger in Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.
The difference, however, is that Pougnet likely is better known and absolutely better funded than Bono Mack’s last two opponents. The Democrat went on the air with TV and radio ads after the first week in September and had enough money to stay on the air through the election.
Pougnet agrees with the incumbent that things are not on the right track in Washington, D.C., but he argues Bono Mack and Republicans are not the solution. He touts his record of creating jobs and cutting crime as mayor.
Bono Mack, whose first husband, the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.), also served as Palm Springs mayor, has slammed Pougnet’s record and has a strong campaign war chest of her own to count on.
Although President Barack Obama won this district by 5 points in 2008, the area still leans Republican, and Bono Mack has the strong edge with a month left to go.
Incumbent: Loretta Sanchez (D)
7th term (69 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
Things were going relatively smoothly for Sanchez until late September, when she said in a national Spanish-language interview that “the Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, trying to take this seat.” She also called her Republican opponent, Assemblyman Van Tran, who is an immigrant, “anti-immigrant.”
The move instantly brought attention to the race and gave Tran a fundraising tool in an effort to at least be in the same ballpark as the well-funded incumbent. In a twist, the flap could also help Sanchez get voters to the polls — an issue she mentioned during the same interview.
Sanchez is still favored to win, but her comments certainly made the race more interesting. Tran is a National Republican Congressional Committee Young Gun, but in the expensive Los Angeles media market, he’s not expecting any help on the TV airwaves.
Incumbent: Daniel Inouye (D)
8th term (76 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Inouye, the most senior Senator, will be re-elected easily in November. He’s being challenged for a ninth term by Cam Cavasso (R), a former state Representative whom Inouye defeated by 55 points in 2004.
Incumbent: Charles Djou (R)
1st term (40 percent)
The inability of Democrats to clear the May special election field for just one candidate looks increasingly as though it could cost the party in November. Djou will face state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D), one of his two special election opponents.
Hanabusa has the backing of a high-profile, former district resident in President Barack Obama, who sent an e-mail request to Democrats in the Honolulu-based district to help her get out the vote. That will be key in this Democratic-leaning district, where Djou now carries all the advantages of incumbency.
Djou was already on the air with two TV ads before October. The first touted his work in Congress while noting there is far more he wants to get done. The second featured his wife decrying “Hanabusa and her supporters” for “distorting my husband’s record and our family’s good name.”
That was in reaction to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad that highlighted Djou’s voting record as “not independent.” That will be the storyline over the next several weeks, as Djou will need to pick up significant Democratic support to win a full term.
The two candidates were even in cash on hand through the end of August, and come November this has the potential to finish as one of the closer races in the country.
Incumbent: Harry Reid (D)
4th term (61 percent)
As a leader of the party in power, in a down year for Democrats, and in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, Reid is in trouble.
The Majority Leader has to be concerned that a flawed and underfunded Republican candidate can still be running even with him in the polls with just a month to go.
While Reid’s numbers have improved over the last few months, he’s been unable to shake former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
The Reid campaign has been on the air for months with negative ad after negative ad portraying Angle as far too extreme for the state. One even went beyond “extreme” and referred to Angle as “dangerous.”
He’s received countless endorsements from Republicans, and Angle has gotten a treasure trove of unfavorable press coverage. Yet most polling has shown Reid in the mid-40s and Angle within the margin of error. Going into Election Day, that is not a good place for the four-term incumbent to be.
Establishment Republicans, both national and in the state, did not get their candidate of choice in Angle. However, she’s been able to harness not only an anti-incumbent sentiment in the state, but also a sizable portion that is simply anti-Reid.
And while unable to keep up with Reid’s spending, Angle has released a fair number of negative ads of her own.
Tensions are high. Extra security was called for an upcoming Oct. 14 debate after a fistfight broke out between supporters of Reid and Angle at an earlier forum, in which the two candidates appeared separately.
Reid, a former amateur boxer, will surely be looking to bloody Angle in what is expected to be their only joint appearance. But he’ll need some big swings to connect, with both Angle and voters, to make it back for a fifth term.
Incumbent: Dina Titus (D)
1st term (47 percent)
With foreclosure and unemployment rates still high in the Las Vegas suburbs, polls show Titus is in trouble.
After entering Congress amid the best of times for Democrats in 2008, Titus could be on her way out as part of what looks to be one of the worst cycles for the party. Joe Heck (R), a physician and former state Senator, is in position to win back the seat Titus took from then-Rep. Jon Porter (R) two years ago.
Titus has done what’s necessary to hold the seat — raising money and working to define Heck with a barrage of negative TV ads. An ad in late September even tied him to Sharron Angle, the GOP Senate nominee whom Sen. Harry Reid (D) had been hammering for months as too outside the mainstream.
But that may not be enough in this swing district, in which recent polling has put both candidates in the mid-40s. Heck’s first ad was a positive spot, featuring his work as an emergency room doctor.
The National Republican Congressional Committee was on the air in the district by late September, tying Titus to the Democratic agenda in Washington, D.C. National Democrats plan to be on TV there as well in October, while labor groups and EMILY’s List have already been on the air.
Incumbent: Ron Wyden (D)
2nd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Wyden should win re-election by a comfortable margin in this Democratic state. The well-funded incumbent is being challenged by Jim Huffman (R), a law school professor who had loaned his campaign $450,000 through the first half of the year and ran a TV ad attacking Wyden for voting in favor of the stimulus.
While the high-profile gubernatorial race could go either way, Wyden is not expected to wash away with the GOP tide.
Incumbent: David Wu (D)
6th term (72 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
If Republicans pick up Wu’s seat, it will mean the GOP has far surpassed the 39 seats needed to take the majority. The Portland-based district tilts heavily Democratic and has sent only Democrats to Congress since 1974.
However, Wu has been in office for 12 years, and Rob Cornilles (R) says that Wu has lost touch with the district. Cornilles, a business consultant, helps the front offices of professional sports teams run their franchises more efficiently, and he hopes to bring that experience to Congress.
Along with a favorable election cycle for Republicans nationwide, Cornilles may also feel a trickle-down effect from the state’s gubernatorial race, in which Republican Chris Dudley is running strong. The district, which reaches hundreds of miles from downtown Portland, has also felt the effects of a struggling economy.
Still, this is no swing district. President Barack Obama won here by 25 points in 2008, and all of the dominoes will need to fall in Cornilles’ direction for him to win.
Incumbent: Kurt Schrader (D)
1st term (54 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
Schrader’s first re-election couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. He was outspent nearly 2-to-1 in 2008, yet won by 16 points. Two years later polls show him running neck-and-neck with state Rep. Scott Bruun, who ran in a 1996 special election for the neighboring 3rd district.
Schrader, who will not be outspent this time, has spent close to $1 million on TV time in the district. He had released two general election TV ads by the end of September; the first focused on his work on veterans’ issues, and the second targeted senior voters and stated that Bruun wants to privatize Social Security.
Meanwhile, Bruun’s message has focused on creating jobs and ending “reckless spending,” while also hammering Schrader for his vote in favor of health care reform.
Both national campaign committees have reserved time in the district, which is easily the most competitive in the state.
Incumbent: Patty Murray (D)
3rd term (55 percent)
This is no easy state for a Republican, but the GOP got its best opportunity to knock off Murray when Republican Dino Rossi decided to jump in. Against anyone else, Murray may not have been vulnerable this year.
Rossi’s name identification, thanks to two unsuccessful gubernatorial bids, helped him immediately raise money, put him in contention in the polls and attracted the attention of both national party committees.
However, keeping up with Murray’s spending will be difficult. She went up with her first ad in July, highlighting her work on veterans’ issues. Since then, she’s run negative ads against Rossi, highlighting his connections to Wall Street and lack of support for the financial regulatory bill. Murray has also slammed him for siding with corporate interests that ship jobs overseas.
Rossi has targeted Murray’s union ties, saying she put labor needs ahead of Washington agriculture interests. He has also railed against many of the bills Murray helped push through the Senate and her role in “record deficits, high unemployment, massive debt.” Mostly, Rossi argues that after nearly two decades in the other Washington, Murray has been there “long enough” and simply lost touch.
Both party campaign committees committed at least $2 million each to the race. Whether that money gets spent will depend largely on which way the polls go. Murray had a good September, hitting the 50 percent mark in polls several times.
As October dawned, it appeared Murray was in better shape than she has been. Her massive spending over the summer and statewide ad campaign since Labor Day have put her in a position to win, but this is a race that could tighten quickly.
Washington holds an all-vote-by-mail election, so it’s also quite possible that we won’t know the outcome of this race for a while if it is close on election night.
Incumbent: Rick Larsen (D)
5th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
This is one of several late-breaking races on the election map and is the first race in years that Larsen has needed to take seriously.
John Koster (R), a former state Representative, finished ahead of Larsen in the top-two primary in August, despite being outspent by more than $200,000. A subsequent poll found Koster ahead by 4 points, and the moderate district all of a sudden looked winnable for the GOP.
This is the second time the two candidates have met. Larsen beat Koster in his first run for office, notably after Koster finished ahead of him in the all-party primary. Ten years later, Koster has far more money than in the first bid and already has been on TV for weeks.
The top issues Koster is raising are controlling spending and balancing the budget.
In this district, he’ll need to pick up Democratic votes — something he’s already had to do as he’s serving his third term on the Snohomish County Council.
Larsen is on the air as well, slamming Koster for favoring the privatization of Social Security, which Koster denies.
This is likely to be one of the races to really watch down the homestretch for indications of just how large the GOP gains in the House will be.
Open seat: Brian Baird (D) is retiring
Baird’s retirement announcement instantly put this seat up for grabs, as the district has flipped back and forth on the presidential level in recent cycles.
State Rep. Jaime Herrera (R) and former state House Majority Leader Denny Heck (D) are facing off for the district in the southwest corner of the state. The only independent polling on the race, taken in August and September, found Herrera above 50 percent.
Both national party committees see this district as winnable. In late September, the National Republican Congressional Committee went up with its first ad against Heck, slamming him for his support of health care reform.
Heck has focused on his record as a small-business man and used a “Give ’em Heck” tag line. The kicker of the NRCC ad was, of course, “Heck No.”
Herrera is running as the candidate who can “change Congress” and bring back “fiscal sanity.”
Incumbent: Dave Reichert (R)
3rd term (53 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican
This is a top pickup opportunity nearly every cycle for Democrats, but they haven’t been able to knock off Reichert even in two straight cycles with favorable environments for the party.
It’s difficult to see how things will change in such a down year for the party.
Reichert’s challenger this year is Suzan DelBene (D), a wealthy former Microsoft executive who has been attacking Reichert over the TV airwaves. DelBene, who is partially self-funding the race, is painting Reichert as “just another politician only looking out for himself.”
The Seattle Times, once favorable toward Reichert, took the unusual step of endorsing two of his opponents in August’s top-two primary, including DelBene. Reichert finished well ahead anyway.
While this race is a top-10 pickup opportunity for Democrats, defending the neighboring 2nd and 3rd districts is a far bigger priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.