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Midwest Region Roundup

Much of the Election Day Drama Lies in Senate Races





Gov. Pat Quinn (D)

Electoral Votes: 20
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 62%/McCain 37%


8th district |
Incumbent: Joe Walsh (R)

1st term (48 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Until recently, even Republicans privately conceded Walsh wouldn’t return to Congress. After all, he’s seeking re-election in a Democratic district against one of the opposing party’s rock stars, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth.

But there are some signs this race is on the rise. Republicans have been circulating internal polls that show Walsh within the margin of error (although automated, Democratic polls give Duckworth a big lead). A super PAC poured about $1.5 million into the race to boost Walsh, and the National Republican Congressional Committee recently reserved cable airtime in the district.

To be clear, Walsh maintains his status as one of the most vulnerable Members of Congress. But it’s going to be a more competitive race than Democrats anticipated.

10th district | Incumbent: Robert Dold (R)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Dold has about a 50-50 chance of coming back to Congress, thanks to a redraw of his already Democratic district. Democrats took what was favorable territory for their party and made it even more so, while moving Dold’s Winnetka base out of it.

Really, Dold should be losing this race. But a month before Election Day, he maintains a competitive position to keep his seat. Why? The Democratic nominee, businessman Brad Schneider, endured a primary that drained his bank account. As a result, he’s having a tough time raising his profile in one of the most expensive media markets in the country. He went on the air with his first spot almost a month after Dold.

This northern, suburban Chicago district represents a white whale for Democrats, who have poured millions of dollars into races here for several cycles without
success. This might just be the cycle they pick up the seat. Then again, they’ve been foiled here before.

11th district | Incumbent: Judy Biggert (R)

7th term (64 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Biggert is fending off a challenge from former Rep. Bill Foster (D) in this Democratic-leaning, suburban Chicago district. It’s one of the more low-profile House races in Illinois, but make no mistake, it’s highly competitive.

Biggert and Foster are already on the air, but the Congresswoman is better known in this district. House Democrats started airing cable spots here last week, but the committee plans to move to the Chicago broadcast market in the final weeks.

House Republicans are not up in this district yet, but a Republican super PAC that supports gay rights dropped $435,000 into the district, pounding Foster on cable through Election Day.

Watch for whether either candidate dips into their own deep pockets in the final weeks. It will give a clear sign of which way this race is headed.

12th district | Open seat: Jerry Costello (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Tossup

This district’s makeup leans slightly Democratic, but the party’s path to getting a strong nominee complicated its chances of keeping this seat. The original Democratic nominee dropped out, citing health reasons. In June, local officials picked retired Maj. Gen. William Enyart as their ballot replacement.

The GOP nominee, businessman Jason Plummer, has strong name identification from his 2010 bid for lieutenant governor. But his youth and relative inexperience have played into Democratic attacks against him.

Ads for this race (along with the 13th district) are dominating the expensive St. Louis airwaves. Outside groups descended on this district early, including both House committees and a Democratic super PAC.

Less than a month before Election Day, this race represents a Tossup in the purest sense.

13th district | Open seat: Timothy Johnson (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Leans Republican

Democrats redrew this district to be more competitive in an effort to give Johnson his first tough race in a decade. Then the unexpected happened: Democrats’ preferred candidate lost the primary and, a month later, Johnson dropped off the ballot.

Johnson’s late retirement forced local Republicans to pick a new nominee in May. They settled on Rodney Davis, a former top aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). Democrats were forced to coalesce around emergency room physician David Gill, running his fourth campaign for Congress.

Both parties are bullish about this seat, and the House campaign committees have followed with early ad buys in the district. Outside groups descended on this race early, too.

Gill released an internal poll in October showing a tied race. His lead had shrunk considerably from a similar internal poll taken in August. Even though this is an internal poll, the trend is indicative that this race gets more competitive each day.

17th district | Incumbent: Bobby Schilling (R)

1st term (53 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Democrats did a number to this seat in their redraw of the Congressional map. They shifted what had been known as the “rabbit on a skateboard” district into the northwestern corner of the state, folding in Democratic territory in Peoria and Rockford.

As a result, Schilling seeks re-election in a tougher district than his current one. His opponent is former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos (D), a favorite of EMILY’s List.

Public polling on this district is sparse, and internal surveys from either campaign show wildly different results. A recent Schilling poll gave the Congressman a 10-point lead, while a Bustos survey showed her trailing by 2 points.

While this is Illinois, this district (along with the 12th and 13th) is a long way from the liberal bastion of Chicago. These parts vote more like Iowa than the Windy City. This should remain a very competitive race through Election Day.


Gov. Mitch Daniels (R)

Electoral Votes: 11
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 50%/McCain 49%


Open Seat: Dick Lugar (R) was defeated in the primary.

Outlook: Tossup

State Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated Lugar in a bruising May primary, setting up a general election contest against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D). Through all of this, Republicans insisted they would hold the Indiana seat.

Smartly, Democrats sensed an opportunity given Mourdock’s problems among moderate Republicans in the collar counties around Indianapolis (a former Lugar stronghold). They released tied internal polls immediately after the primary and continued hammering Mourdock through the summer.

Democratic outside groups focused on the state, spending money to further boost Donnelly. Republicans followed, jumping onto state TV airwaves by mid-September.

Finally, in late September, a rare bipartisan poll showed Donnelly with a 2-point lead, signaling a truly competitive race. Today, the airwaves are crowded with spots from the candidates, Senate campaign committees, Majority PAC (a Democratic super PAC), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Club for Growth.

Looking ahead, the big question is whether Donnelly has hit a ceiling. Mourdock is now fighting back with help and could regain the ground he lost earlier this year with enough resources.

Republicans feel confident they will ultimately prevail here. But it will cost them valuable resources that they hadn’t initially intended to spend.


2nd district | Open seat: Joe Donnelly (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Likely Republican

This race is all but over. Republicans intended to make this a solid GOP seat after redistricting. It worked.

State Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) had the benefit of strong name identification from her failed 2010 bid against Donnelly. It was a head start that’s proved nearly impossible for Iraq War veteran Brendan Mullen to overcome.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started moving its TV reservation from this district a couple of weeks ago. It shows the committee has given up on the race because its resources are better spent elsewhere.

5th district | Open seat: Dan Burton (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Republican

Former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks won a crowded GOP primary in May. She came from behind to defeat a former Member in this district north of Indianapolis.

In all likelihood, Brooks will be coming to Congress in January. Her imminent victory, along with a win by Jackie Walorski in the 2nd district, would mark the first Republican Hoosier women headed to Congress in half a century.

6th district | Open seat: Mike Pence (R) is running for governor.

Outlook: Safe Republican

Former state Rep. Luke Messer (R) won the primary in this eastern Indiana district. The territory includes the southeastern corner of the state, including much of the shoreline along the southern border on the Ohio River.

It’s a solid GOP seat, and Republicans expect to see Messer in the Capitol in January.

8th district | Incumbent: Larry Bucshon (R)

1st term (57 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Democrats are more optimistic about this southwestern Indiana House seat than any other in the state. Their nominee, Dave Crooks, is a former state Representative and radio host.

Republicans redrew this district to be slightly more competitive than its current makeup. But that alone is not enough to defeat Bucshon, who Republicans are confident will return to Congress.

Democrats were scheduled to start airing TV advertisements here this week. They follow a buy from the GOP-aligned American Action Network hitting Crooks.

Still, it will be difficult for Democrats to put Crooks in a competitive position without a national candidate to help carry him at top of the ballot. The Obama campaign put Indiana in play four years ago but has given no indication that it is trying to win the Hoosier State this cycle.


Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Electoral Votes: 16
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 57%/McCain 41%


Incumbent: Debbie Stabenow (D)

2nd term (57 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

This is a tale of two campaigns in what could have been a competitive race.

Stabenow has run one of the most underrated races of the cycle. From the start, she’s attached her name to voter-friendly legislation, such as the elimination of cumbersome 1099 requirements for small businesses under the health care law. She tended to more conservative, agricultural parts of the state by shepherding the farm bill through the Senate (although it stalled in the House).

On the other hand, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra stumbled from the start. He initially eschewed a bid, then reversed course months later by jumping into the race. More memorable for voters was his widely panned Super Bowl spot, which featured an Asian woman, biking through rice paddy fields, speaking in broken English about “Debbie Spend-it-Now.”

Despite this baggage, Hoekstra won the GOP primary in August. But almost every poll since has showed him out of Stabenow’s striking distance.


1st district | Incumbent: Dan Benishek (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

In this 2010 rematch, Democrats are painting Benishek as an out-of-touch, tea party candidate who slashed Medicare during his short time in office. Republicans have hit Gary McDowell (D) for his votes in the state Legislature, denting the former postman’s preferred image as a parochial hay farmer.

So far, it’s clear Republicans have the tougher challenge, and there’s increasing concern Benishek will lose. Internal polls on both sides show this as a single-digit race with Benishek headed south.

No doubt, McDowell is helped by the president’s performance statewide in Michigan. But conservative Democrats here are accustomed to picking a Democrat for Congress. Rep. Bart Stupak (D) held the seat for nine terms before retiring in 2010.

3rd district | Incumbent: Justin Amash (R)

1st term (60 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Initially, Democrats put Amash on their target list after Republicans made this district more Democratic during redistricting in order to shore up nearby GOP-held seats.

But a bruising Democratic primary inhibited former state Rep. Steve Pestka (D) from giving Amash a real challenge. This race is no longer on either party’s radar.

5th district | Open Seat: Dale Kildee (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

The Democratic nominee is Dan Kildee, a former Genesee County treasurer and the retiring Congressman’s nephew. Earlier this year, he cleared out a competitive primary field and then coasted to his party’s nod.

This is a solid Democratic district, and it’s a sure bet that a Kildee will continue to represent this seat in the next Congress.

11th district | Vacancy: Thaddeus McCotter (R) resigned.

Outlook: Likely Republican

What a long, strange trip it’s been. McCotter kicked off the summer as a lock for re-election in this GOP district northwest of Detroit. But election officials booted him from the ballot after his staff turned in error-ridden signature petitions. McCotter later resigned, and four of his staffers could face serious charges and jail time for the incident.

After McCotter’s withdrawal, only one Republican remained on the ballot: Reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio, a libertarian-leaning gadfly. With about six weeks before the primary, local GOP officials coalesced behind former state Sen. Nancy Cassis (R) as their write-in candidate. Cassis lost, forcing local Republicans to get behind Bentivolio as the nominee.

After the primary, Democrats believed they could compete here against the little-known Bentivolio. But more recently, it’s clear the Democratic nominee, internist Syed Taj (D), won’t give him much of a challenge.


Gov. Mark Dayton (D)

Electoral Votes: 10
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 54%/McCain 44%


Incumbent: Amy Klobuchar (D)

1st term (58 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Klobuchar will win re-election. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Senate aide outside the National Republican Senatorial Committee who can name her opponent —state Rep. Kurt Bills (R) — let alone admit he has a chance.


2nd district | Incumbent: John Kline (R)

5th term (63 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

After courts issued the new Minnesota Congressional map this year, Democrats salivated over the redrawn 2nd district. It’s more competitive under the new lines, and the party saw an opportunity to defeat Kline.

But former state Rep. Mike Obermueller, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee, entered too late for him to give Kline ­— and his large war chest — a tough race. Maybe next cycle.

6th district | Incumbent: Michele Bachmann (R)

3rd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

The court-ordered redraw gave Bachmann a safer GOP district to seek re-
election. Republicans claim she’s safe, and Democrats see this race as a stretch. Still, Democrats can’t resist an opportunity to defeat this conservative icon.

The Democratic nominee is businessman Jim Graves, a deep-pocketed hotelier. Even if he self-funds millions, it’s hard to see how Bachmann topples.

8th district | Incumbent: Chip Cravaack (R)

1st term (48 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

There is no question this is the Gopher State’s most competitive race. The district’s makeup favors Democrats slightly. Plus, many political operatives view Cravaack’s 2010 victory as a fluke.

Former Rep. Rick Nolan, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee, is attempting to come back to Congress after a three-decade hiatus. But Nolan is a problematic candidate. That’s in part because of his long time off but also because he’s an unreliable fundraiser. In early October, Nolan relied on Democratic outside groups to air ads on his behalf.

Republicans argue Cravaack is running a strong campaign for a virtual political novice. But this will be a tough seat for Republicans to hold, especially without Mitt Romney campaigning in the state to boost turnout.


Gov. John Kasich (R)

Electoral Votes: 18
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 52%/McCain 47%


Incumbent: Sherrod Brown (D)

1st term (56 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

For most of the cycle, this Senate race served as the test case for super PACs playing down the ballot. American Crossroads and other conservative groups bombarded Brown early, pumping millions into the state.

It appears Brown has withstood the deluge, and now he’s favored to defeat state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R). Recent polls give Brown a lead approaching 10 points.

Whereas Brown ran an aggressive campaign, Mandel stumbled from the start. His poor local headlines during the first year of his campaign were unparalleled across the Senate map.

If Mitt Romney were on track to perform well in Ohio, Mandel would have a good shot. Instead, polls show Brown running ahead of President Barack Obama.


2nd district | Open seat: Jean Schmidt (R) was defeated in a primary.

Outlook: Safe Republican

Schmidt should have seen this primary coming. She’s endured similar challenges before. But she didn’t, and now podiatrist Brad Wenstrup (R) is on track to easily win next month and come to Congress in January.

3rd district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Republicans redrew this district as a Democratic vote-sink in Columbus. Former state House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D) will reap the benefits of that.

Beatty prevailed in a competitive primary against former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in March. She will represent a solidly Democratic district in Congress.

6th district | Incumbent: Bill Johnson (R)

1st term (50 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) is back for a rematch with Johnson. This socially conservative, coal country district spans southeast Ohio to Youngstown.

But this district isn’t the same one Wilson represented for two terms. Republicans made it more GOP-friendly in their redraw of the Congressional map.

Still, this is one of two House districts that Democrats are targeting in the state with TV ads. House Republicans are also on the air here — a sign they’re at least somewhat worried they will lose the seat.

Wilson released a poll showing the race in a dead heat. Republicans dispute this survey, citing their own internal numbers that show Johnson with an 8-point lead.

Johnson maintains an advantage in this race, but all signs point to a close contest on Election Day.

14th district | Open Seat: Steven LaTourette (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Republican

LaTourette’s eleventh-hour retirement months after the primary forced local GOP officials to name a replacement for the November ballot. They nominated Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce. Democrats do not plan to target this district because they are stuck with a poor candidate. Democratic nominee Dale Virgil Blanchard, an accountant who has reportedly run for Congress 10 times, refused to get off the ballot. But this district could be competitive given its political composition. Watch for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to recruit a candidate here next cycle.

16th district | Member Vs. Member: Jim Renacci (R) and Betty Sutton (D)

1st term (52 percent); 3rd term (56 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

This is the Buckeye State’s most competitive House race, pitting two Members against each other in the redrawn district south of Cleveland. The district’s composition leans Republican, but this race is a pure Tossup.

The local airwaves have been flooded with political ads, including those from national parties and super PACs. Republicans attack Sutton as a liberal who “helped [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi pass Obamacare.” Democrats paint Renacci as a callous, wealthy businessman who cut Medicare in Congress.

Early voting will be key here, especially in populous, southern Cuyahoga County. That’s not good news for Sutton, who wasn’t on the air before early voting began.

The presidential race looms large in this contest. Recent polls show President Barack Obama breaking out with a lead in Ohio. That could be enough to boost Sutton to victory, even in this GOP district.


Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Electoral Votes: 10
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 56%/McCain 42%


Open seat: Herb Kohl (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Tossup

As it stands, the race between former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) is a Tossup, but the trajectory of the race has been moving in Baldwin’s favor since September.

Thompson emerged from a competitive three-way Republican primary financially exhausted. It’s debatable whether he is the GOP’s strongest candidate, despite his statewide brand, given the political baggage he carries.

Then he spent most of September fundraising rather than campaigning, and Baldwin seized on the opportunity. She ran ads defining herself and redefining Thompson, who did not to respond until the end of the month.

The presidential race is also likely to be a factor in the final outcome of this Senate race. President Barack Obama has opened up a lead over GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in most recent polls of the state. Baldwin is likely to be a beneficiary of this trend as well.


2nd district | Open seat: Tammy Baldwin (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

State Rep. Mark Pocan (D) faced his toughest competition during his primary. This seat is safely in the Democratic column, and Pocan is likely coming to Congress.

7th district | Incumbent: Sean Duffy (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Duffy was among the biggest winners in Badger State redistricting, but there is no doubt the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants this one badly.

Their candidate, former state Senate President Pro Tem Pat Kreitlow, has run a series of television ads that are catchy, making fun of Duffy’s lumberjack persona.

But on a serious front, this is the race to watch in the state. It slightly favors Duffy, but he had some missteps and misstatements early in his Congressional tenure. Also, Rep. Tammy Baldwin has benefited from President Barack Obama’s coattails. They might well lift Kreitlow over the finish line as well.

8th district | Incumbent: Reid Ribble (R)

1st term (55 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Ribble is less endangered than fellow freshman Rep. Sean Duffy. Democrats say they remain bullish on their recruit, businessman Jamie Wall. But at this point, this race has not yet moved into the realm of really competitive contests.

The key here will be if national Democrats end up running any TV ads. The House Majority PAC has already pulled its reservation, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee still had time reserved as of press time. Wall has done well in fundraising and is able to be on the air to a point, especially given that the Green Bay television market is relatively inexpensive. But make no mistake, the path for Democrats is more difficult here than in the 7th district.

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