Plains Region Roundup

Missouri, Nebraska Top GOP List of Senate Targets

Posted November 10, 2011 at 5:17pm





Gov. Terry Branstad (R)
2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 54%/McCain 44%


2nd district
Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)

3rd term (51 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

Redistricting weakened Loebsack’s district, as it picked up some of the GOP voters the 1st district shed in the redraw.

Loebsack kept his stronghold of Johnson County, which includes the college town of Iowa City. But national Republicans won’t make this an easy re-election for him. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently hit him with a small ad buy knocking his vote for the 2009 stimulus package.

While this might be a tougher race for Loebsack than in previous cycles, the Congressman still has the upper hand in his new district until a Republican candidate proves to be a tough competitor. In the race so far are real estate developers Dan Dolan and Bob Huppenbauer III, attorney John Archer Jr. and tea party activist Richard Gates.

3rd district | Member vs. Member: Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R)

8th term (51 percent); 9th term (66 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Third-quarter fundraising must have been an unpleasant surprise for Boswell. The cash-on-hand differential between the candidates is stark enough to make any candidate gasp. Boswell had $376,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30 while Latham, close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), had stocked away more than $1.7 million in his war chest. Republicans will tie the Democrat to unpopular national figures, which could make trouble for Boswell with the president at the top of the ticket. Still, Boswell has an advantage in that about half of the new 3rd is part of his current district. The new district includes less than 20 percent of Latham’s current territory, so the Republican has had to introduce himself to a lot of voters.

4th district | Incumbent: Steve King (R)

5th term (66 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

The former first lady of Iowa, Christie Vilsack (D), is planning on running a very local race, which bodes well for her in this mostly rural northwestern district. But her husband, Tom Vilsack, a former governor and now the secretary of Agriculture, has a national profile that could put her on the defensive. King also has an elevated national stature given his social conservatism and outspoken nature. It’s clear that King, courted by GOP presidential candidates looking for a leg up in the January caucuses, is taking Vilsack’s challenge seriously and has the upper hand. Given that almost half of the new district includes portions of the Republican’s current district — territory that has traditionally voted for GOP candidates — the lay of the land works to his advantage. The new 4th is a difficult climb for any Democrat, so Vilsack will have to run a nearly flawless campaign to defeat King.

Gov. Sam Brownback (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 42%


The Legislature will address redistricting when it returns to session in January. No dramatic changes are expected to the map, which means the all-GOP delegation is likely to return to Washington for the 113th Congress.

Freshman Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) in the 3rd district picked up a Democratic-held seat in 2010, but he’s a safe bet for re-election next year since Democrats are not expected to field a serious challenger.

The Kansas City-area district will have to lose some territory when the maps are redrawn. Although Yoder won by a landslide in the GOP wave, President Barack Obama won the district with 51 percent in 2008.


Gov. Jay Nixon (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 10
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 49.4%/Obama 49.3%


Incumbent: Claire McCaskill (D)

1st term (50 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

McCaskill was never going to have an easy time winning re-election. She squeaked out a victory in the Democratic wave year of 2006 by only 48,000 votes, and the state has grown more Republican over the past six years. But six months ago, it looked like she might be in the worst kind of political trouble. Scandal broke: She hadn’t paid taxes on her private plane and, worse, had billed taxpayers for nonofficial travel on that plane. The GOP plans to use “Air Claire” in its campaign against her, even though she has now sold the aircraft.

But things could be looking up for McCaskill, who has been disciplined and gaffe-free and has raised enough money to be very competitive.

The three Republicans vying for the nomination — businessman John Brunner, Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.) and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman — have faltered.

Steelman raised a paltry $96,000 in the third quarter, boosting her fundraising figure with a $400,000 personal loan. Her campaign has struggled for almost a year — she declared her candidacy in December 2010 — and there is no evidence that it’s in the midst of a turnaround.

Akin had to apologize for saying the heart of liberalism “is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God,” and his fundraising has not been where it needs to be. He raised $285,000 in the third quarter.

Brunner, a partial self-funder, won’t be hurting for money. In fact, he put a television ad up the day after he announced his candidacy to introduce himself to voters as a job creator. But his St. Louis-based family company, manufacturer Vi-Jon, began a round of layoffs in late October, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. All told, he’s had a lackluster start to his campaign, unaffiliated Missouri Republicans said.

And that leaves McCaskill in better shape, though still weak. McCaskill was an early and active supporter of President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular here. It’s the one state he targeted in 2008 and lost, and Team Obama is unlikely to invest much time or money here again, so McCaskill is on her own.


2nd district | Open seat: Todd Akin (R) is running for Senate

Outlook: Likely Republican

Democrats only have a chance at taking this seat if Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) decides to run here. Carnahan’s 3rd district was essentially eliminated in redistricting. He’s said he is running for Congress but hasn’t yet said where. There is a pending court case challenging the new lines, but that is unlikely to be fruitful. If Carnahan opts against running here, it will almost certainly be won by one of the GOP candidates.

They are former Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner and attorney Ed Martin, who barely lost to Carnahan in 2010. Wagner is an impressive candidate, and Missouri insiders tip her, a former ambassador to Luxembourg with deep roots in the state and within the national GOP, to win for several reasons. She posted boffo fundraising numbers, raising more than $1 million in six months, and has racked up a series of impressive endorsements. Martin, who has tea party support, could claim an edge by painting Wagner as the establishment candidate. But given the hard-line conservative approach she took in an interview with Roll Call, it appears it will be difficult to outflank her on the right.


Gov. Dave Heineman (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 5
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 42%


Incumbent: Ben Nelson (D)

2nd term (64 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Nelson is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country and the only one whom national Democrats have already begun spending heavily on to defend. State and national Democrats have spent more than $1.2 million on statewide radio and TV ads, even though Nelson still hasn’t made his re-election official and polls suggest the moderate Democrat could be a goner.

Despite his past election success, Nelson, a former two-term governor, is facing his toughest test yet. A trio of Republicans has lined up to take him on, though Democrats argue the top Republican has been weakened in recent months.

Attorney General Jon Bruning remains the frontrunner, though gaffes and a campaign shake-up in late summer brought him down a notch. Still, he far outraised his top primary opponents, state Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer.

Stenberg has received tea party backing from FreedomWorks and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), but he raised just $53,000 in the third quarter. Bruning raised $587,000 and Fischer raised $229,000, while Nelson raised $443,000 and his $3.1 million in cash on hand was twice as much as Bruning’s.

But thanks to the strong GOP lean of the state, and Nelson’s role in passing the Democrats’ health care reform bill, Republicans are confident Nelson will remain among the most endangered incumbents no matter who emerges from the primary. A state Democratic Party ad in October, which Nelson approved and appeared in, attacked all three hopefuls for supporting efforts that would hurt seniors by cutting Medicare benefits or Social Security.


2nd district | Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)

7th term (61 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Terry, the most vulnerable of the state’s three incumbents last cycle, won re-election by 22 points, and this year is unlikely to be much different.

President Barack Obama narrowly carried this Omaha-based district in 2008 — and won a single electoral vote for it since Nebraska splits its electors — and Terry took just 52 percent that year. But the district improved slightly for Terry in redistricting, and national Republicans are not concerned about him. Team Obama is less likely to compete here this time around.

Terry’s top Democratic opponent is Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, who had $48,000 in the bank at the end of September after his first fundraising quarter. Terry had $320,000 in cash on hand after the third quarter.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 53%/Obama 45%


Open seat: Kent Conrad (D) is retiring

Outlook: Likely Republican

National Democrats have high hopes that former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp will make this a competitive contest, but right now freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R) is favored to win this comfortably Republican state that went 53 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. Democrats point to a Democratic poll that shows Berg with low job-approval ratings, but most metrics point conclusively to a Berg victory. After serving for 25 years in the state House, his 2010 House victory made him a proven winner statewide. He’s poised to be one again next November.


At-large | Open seat: Rick Berg (R) is running for Senate

Outlook: Likely Republican

Former state Rep. Pam Gulleson will likely be the Democratic nominee, and she’ll sell herself as a “proven independent voice” for the state. A former aide to then-Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Gulleson has national Democrats hopeful that she can significantly outperform President Barack Obama in a state that won’t vote for him in 2012. She has the advantage of a head start over Republicans who are battling it out for the nomination. Still, Gulleson will be the one driving against a strongly anti-Obama headwind, and the president will be at the top of the ballot. And there are strong candidates hoping to get the GOP nod: The two currently in the race are state Rep. Bette Grande and Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk.

South Dakota

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 53%/Obama 45%


At-large | Incumbent: Kristi Noem (R)

1st term (48 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Noem is expected to breeze to re-election.

Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D), whom Noem defeated by 2 points last year, terminated her federal fundraising account in March, ending any Democratic hopes of a rematch. Noem’s top Democratic opponent is Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth, who had just $4,000 in the bank at the end of September to Noem’s $790,000.

Matt Varilek, a staffer to Sen. Tim Johnson (D), could be eyeing the seat as well, according to local reports.