List of House Goners Not What We Expected

Posted October 15, 2012 at 3:54pm

It is three weeks before Election Day and a handful of incumbents are already seeing the writing on the wall. They won’t be coming back to Congress. It’s time to look for other gainful employment or merely enjoy the quiet pleasures of forced retirement.

North Carolina Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell hasn’t been able to overcome strong Republican challenger Richard Hudson in a dramatically redrawn district that now favors the GOP. He is a sure bet to lose Nov. 6. The same fate awaits Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who remains a heavy underdog against John Delaney (D) in a district that doesn’t resemble his old one.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. John Tierney recently started running a good ad with him talking to the camera about his family’s legal problems, but it looks to be too little too late. Because of that, former state legislator Richard Tisei probably will be the first Republican to win a U.S. House election in the Bay State since 1996, when Republicans Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen lost their House seats.

Other incumbents face more uncertainty.

In New Hampshire, Republican Reps. Charles Bass and Frank Guinta are in difficult re-election contests. Bass won an open seat (that he previously had held for six terms) only very narrowly in 2010 and started as an underdog this time against the Democrat he beat two years ago, Ann  McLane Kuster. Guinta, whose district is more conservative and Republican than Bass’, has been unable to pull away from former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), who is trying to regain the seat she lost two years ago.

Democrats now believe they will win both contests, and even they are shocked that Shea-Porter, who has never been regarded as a political heavyweight, is in a position to take back her seat. Republicans expect Guinta to win (and I see him as having an ever-so-slight edge), and while they agree that Bass is an underdog, they praise his TV ads and believe that he has a fighting chance.

In New York, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) faces a difficult rematch against the Democrat she beat in 2010, Dan Maffei. Polling shows the race about even, with voters having unfavorable opinions of both candidates. Democrats are already counting this seat as a takeover, while Republicans have become hopeful recently, noting that Maffei’s high negatives actually give the Congresswoman a chance.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans redrew the state to throw two Democrats together, and when Rep. Mark Critz defeated Rep. Jason Altmire for the Democratic nomination, GOP strategists smiled, figuring voters selected the weaker nominee. Each party has polling that shows its nominee leading, making this one of many races where party strategists have very different views. 

Two of the most fascinating races this year involve Blue Dog Democrats who face seemingly impossible situations but appear to be holding their own. While their political fates remain very much in doubt, Georgia Rep. John Barrow and North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre no longer deserve to be written off. (That could change in even a few days, of course.)

Barrow seemed like a lost cause for his party after Georgia Republicans redrew his district, making a competitive seat look quite Republican. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the redrawn district with more than 55 percent of the vote, while President George W. Bush carried it with more than 60 percent when he won his second term.

State Rep. Lee Anderson won the GOP nomination by a whisker, beating businessman Rick Allen in the runoff by about half of a point.

While I haven’t met Anderson, those who have and whose opinions I respect are not impressed. 

The farmer turned state legislator, who attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Brewton-Parker College, isn’t regarded as a strong speaker or debater.

In fact, Anderson, who finished first in the July primary, refused to debate Allen before the runoff, and while the businessman used his financial advantage on TV to offset Anderson’s political experience, name identification and endorsements, Allen fell just short. Observers believe Allen would have had a much easier time winning the general election against Barrow.

First elected in 2004, Barrow is an attorney who attended the University of Georgia and Harvard Law School. He knocked off GOP incumbent Max Burns to win the seat.

Barrow was one of a relative handful of Democrats to vote against the House’s Affordable Health Care for America Act (and the final bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) and the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill. He has strong candidate skills, which might be why Anderson is coming up with excuses for not debating him.

Polling suggests the race is close, and Republican strategists are hoping that the district’s fundamentals can carry Anderson to victory. But at least one unreleased survey shows Barrow with strong personal ratings and opinion of Anderson sliding as voters get more information about him. 

When Republicans redrew North Carolina’s Congressional districts, it was clear that Kissell and Rep. Heath Shuler (D) were gone. But McIntyre looked to have a fighting chance to survive — though not much more than that.

In fact, McIntyre has looked strong in polling so far, and the only question is whether the reported GOP bump in the state following the first Obama-Romney debate has changed the dynamics in a district that McCain carried with more than 57 percent and Bush won with more than 61 percent in 2004.

Republican challenger David Rouzer served as an aide to North Carolina GOP Sens. Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole. A former staffer at the Agriculture Department with a laid-back Southern style, he appears to be a pragmatic mainstream conservative rather than a tea partyer.

McIntyre voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and for repeal of the health care reform law. He also voted for the GOP’s Cut, Cap, and Balance bill, and he has been a reliable vote for conservatives on most controversial social issues. 

Republicans are hoping district voters ignore McIntyre’s moderate votes and focus on his party label. That is more likely to happen in the campaign’s final weeks, but so far the Congressman has run a very good race and can’t be counted out.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.