Sunday, December 03, 2006

2006 Damage Assessment

As any observer of politics knows, the 2006 midterms elections contained much good news for Democrats and disappointing results for Republicans.

Democrats picked up several Governorships and took over control of both the U.S. Senate and House. It is worth nothing that the gains Democrats did make, especially in the House, were somewhat below average for what the party out of power has tended to historically win in sixth year midterm elections. This year’s results also continued the historical tendency of the Senate to switch parties every time the House does as well. In what appears to be unprecedented though, Republicans were unable to win any Governorship, Senate, or House seat currently held by the opposition.

Democrats certainly made strong gains that greatly pleased their supporters. However, several races that the party hoped to win, Republicans actually managed to survive, often in very politically tough districts that would have seemed likely to fall away if there was truly a large national wave for the Democrats. Thus, it is clear that the damage for Republicans could have been much worse, and since several vulnerable Republicans were able to wage strong races and still win, the GOP ought to have reason for some optimism regarding 2008 and future elections as they will go ahead and try to win what was lost.

For the purposes of wrapping up the 2006 campaign before, (save two runoffs that will not hold too much suspense, at least as far as which party will control the seat) we look ahead to the Gubernatorial, Senate, and House races of 2007 and 2008, as well as the seemingly wide open race for the White House, I am going to list every single gain in the three categories that the Democrats were able to accomplish this year. It is my intent to provide some very quick observations off the top of my head why the Republicans lost these races, in order to determine if they can be considered part of a national anti-Republican sentiment, or perhaps if the losses have absolutely nothing to do with actual issues or ideological matters whatsoever. I will also venture to give some thoughts as to which of the House seats I will list, should be considered fertile territory to be flipped back in 2008.

Let me be clear, I am approaching all these descriptions from a partisan Republican standpoint. I do however think that everything I suggest is valid from a realistic political standpoint. Consider it my post-election therapy. I certainly heard much of that (and even got some emails) from Democrats after they lost the higher-stakes race for the White House in 2004. I am not focusing on grammar or proofreading. I basically am going to type in a stream of consciousness sort of way-

First, the Governorships:

Arkansas- Republican Mike Huckabee is leaving office after close to 12 years in power with a good deal of popularity, and national ambitions, but the state has historically trended Democrat at the state level. Democrat Mike Bebee was a strong contender and voters felt it was time for a change. Perhaps, the late Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller, a more moderate Republican who has won statewide could have fared better than Asa Hutchinson, but that will obviously not be known. Arkansas will look very blue at the state level and in its Congressional delegation, but its former First Lady (and other Democrats as well) could still have difficulty capturing the state’s electoral votes.

Colorado- Republican Bill Owens is another Governor ending a multi-term tenure as a pretty popular incumbent, but the campaign of Congressman Bob Beauprez to succeed him never got off the ground and due to the candidates’ bumbling, was a virtual comedy of errors. The Democrat winner Bill Ritter was able to take advantage of Republican divisions and his own moderate to somewhat conservative leanings to make inroads with GOP voters. Considering that the two big statewide winners in Colorado in the last two cycles are seen as pretty moderate, it remains to be seen if Colorado is truly trending towards the Democrats. Without Ken Salazar and Bill Ritter running again, whom does the party have to fit the profile? This year though, the candidate who ran the better campaign won.

Maryland- This race, alone among all Gubernatorial contests, is probably an example of the trickle down effect of a good year for Democrats in this midterm election. Republican Bob Ehrlich, the first GOP Governor in many years, had a contentious four year term, but one that still saw him with some good favorables and job performance ratings. He also ran a strong campaign, but in the end, the Democrat nature of the state was too much for him to overcome. It appeared at the end of the campaign that the incumbent had momentum, but the Democrat vote turned out. In many ways, this race resembles the 1994 Gubernatorial contest in Texas. 2010 is a long way off, but Ehrlich is young enough to perhaps be interested in a comeback attempt against Martin O’Malley, perhaps even with Michael Steele as his running mate again.

Massachusetts- In this bluest of all blue states, Democrats finally captured the Corner Office for the first time in 20 years, and by a considerable margin. After being elected in 2002, Mitt Romney started to amass a strong record, but as the time for a decision about reelection approached, Romney, who had begun to move to the right, and setting himself up for a White House run, decided the smartest course of action would be to take a pass on a tough reelection battle. His Lt. Governor was clearly behind the 8 ball in this very liberal state, and had to contend with a wealthy fellow Republican running as an Independent, from the start of her campaign.

New York- In this other example of a very pro-Democrat state, with a departing Governor more focused on his own Presidential ambitions, Republicans were out of the contest months and months ago and the landslide victory by Eliot Spitzer did not surprise a sole. Just as the state decided it was time for a change in 1994 after three terms of Mario Cuomo, New Yorkers decided this year that some change was in order after three terms of George Pataki.

Ohio- In what was certainly a very joyful pickup for Democrats, Republican nominee Ken Blackwell, who was no friend of the current GOP Governor, was basically done in because of both the “time for a change” factor and the astonishing unpopularity of Governor Bob Taft, who faced serious ethical problems and problems with the GOP base over issues such as taxes. Adding the Bob Ney corruption problem to the mix certainly did not help Ohio Republicans one bit either. Had Taft resigned some time ago, Ohio could have been saved for Republicans, just like Connecticut had been after the Rowland resignation, but the winner, Ted Strickland, was able to present himself as a non-ideological consensus builder, and Blackwell, a staunch conservative, ran a very disappointing campaign in which he was never able to sell himself as an agent of reform, and some of his attacks in the latter stages of the campaign, turned off even his supporters.

Now, the U.S. Senate, where a few thousand votes here and there in just three states, could have saved the GOP majority. However, unlike the Democrats who talk about close margins in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, it didn’t happen, and thus my side lost and we have to deal with it.

Missouri- A bellwether state sees another bellwether race. Democrat Claire McCaskill was able to narrowly defeat conservative Republican freshman Jim Talent in a state that has seen a plethora of razor thin statewide contests in recent years. McCaskill may very well own her victory to the issue of embryonic stem cell research that she supported, and Talent opposed. That is an easy issue for Democrats to play to peoples’ emotions on, and it is not exactly smart politics for Republicans to oppose. For a time, it looked like Talent was prepared to flip-flop on the issue, in order to avoid the problem in the general election, but then he flipped back. He really should have stood pat on the first change of position, and the issue might not have been able to be used against him and he probably would have won. Rush Limbaugh, deciding on the spur of the moment to challenge Michael J. Fox’s ad on the issue on behalf of McCaskill, caused such a firestorm, that many more people were aware of the wedge issue than would have otherwise been the case and that probably hurt as much as anything else. Still, we probably have not seen the last of Jim Talent as a Missouri candidate.

Montana- For a while, it looked like incumbent Conrad Burns was going to lose to Jon Tester by a wide margin, but with some late momentum, he managed to make a real race out of it. If he had another week, he may very well have won, but of course, election dates are basically set in stone. Burns had serious perception problems due to ethics because of his association with Jack Abramoff and that clearly was the factor in the race. Nonetheless, had Burns been able to keep his mouth shut one or two times more, and not gone about insulting firefighters, and comparing cab drivers to terrorists, he probably could have withstood all that Abramoff stuff and kept the seat, and the Senate for the Republicans. But, Burns basically talked himself out of office, and now will have a lot of time to hunt big bucks, and deal with any potential action taken by the Justice Department as a private citizen.

Ohio- In what would have been considered a huge upset a year ago, the perfect anti-Republican storm in Ohio particularly, doomed Mike DeWine to defeat at the hands of Sherwood Brown. Through much of his two terms in the Senate, DeWine was respected and popular, but somewhere in the last few years, he started to lose favor with his party’s conservative base, perhaps became a little overconfident about his political operation, and with the Taft and Ney and Noe problems for Buckeye State Republicans, which had nothing at all to do with DeWine, he went down to defeat. Perhaps if the incumbent had been more aware of potential political storm clouds far earlier than he was and had been more prepared for battle, things would have been different, but it just seems that 2006 was a year in which Ohio Republicans were destined to take a beating. Sometime over the next year years, the state may wonder why they dumped DeWine for Brown.

Pennsylvania- Rick Santorum beat the odds to be elected to the House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1994. He barely broke a sweat in a 2000 reelection victory, but his high-profile and unyielding conservatism caught up with him in 2006, and sent him to a hefty defeat at the hands of stealth candidate Bob Casey Jr., who shared Santorum’s conservative social views on issues such as abortion, in a result that had been anticipated for some time. Santorum ran a strong, if not somewhat desperate campaign, but he was really hurt by controversies regarding statements he made in a book he authored, and his residency. Give Santorum credit for sticking to his guns and telling voters what he felt they needed to hear, instead of what they may have wanted to hear, but it was a very uphill climb in a sixth year midterm in a blue state, against an opponent who completely went out of his way to put himself on the line regarding some major issues. While his defeat was undeniable, Santorum probably has the moxie and the fire in the belly to believe he can make a comeback one day down the road.

Rhode Island- Liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee was defeated by liberal Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse for a variety of reasons in a race that may not change the ideological perspective of the Senate at all, but does change which party holds control. Had Chafee never faced such a tough primary challenge from the right, backed by groups such as the Club for Growth, he may have been able to conserve his money and avoid being so associated as the President’s and the NRSC’s preferred candidate. They party did what it needed to do to give him the nomination (and may very well have saved Tennessee in the process by forcing the Democrats to have to spend heavily in Rhode Island) but in the general election, it was hard to finesse. Rhode Island is incredibly Democrat leaning and while Chafee is still popular with the states’ voters, they clearly wanted to shift control of the U.S. Senate by their votes. Winning was even tougher for Chafee considering the serious dislike that conservative voters held for the Republican incumbent who can probably indeed by called a Republican in Name Only. Interestingly enough, Chafee is an example of one of the three out of five Congressional Republicans who originally voted against the Iraq War, and lost this year, where the war is on so many minds.

Even after defeat, Chafee is showing his true colors by refusing to support John Bolton for U.N. Ambassador, even though without the Bush Adminstration’s support, Chafee would have been a lame duck back in September. He may very well now officially leave the Republican Party, which he describes as being very uncomfortable in nationally, but he claims to feel at home in the State Republican Party, and he may be able to make a 2010 comeback as a Republican (or not as a Republican) for the less ideological office as Governor. Rhode Island voters may feel some guilt about voting him out of office this year after all.

Virginia- In looking back on this race, the first thought that most Republicans will have are along the lines of “wtf?” There is absolutely no way that George Allen should have lost this race, but narrowly lose it he did, far more than seeing his opponent, who was also a bit of a stealth candidate, actually win it. Allen had all the advantages of money and leads in polls, but several months ago, he expressed boredom with life in the Senate, and to an extent he may have been bored with a Senate campaign, because instead of tending to Virginia, he had already begun establishing a national political network in preparation for a Presidential bid. By the time he realized he had been caught napping, the word macaca became part of the national political consciousness and there were all the other issues regarding race, religion, and ethnicity. Simply put, had the word macaca never crossed Allen’s lips, and had You Tube not been invented, he would be in the Senate today , in a GOP majority, and potentially in the White House in two years. But he proved himself to be an incredibly gaffe-prone politician and instead of it occurring as a Presidential nominee, at least it only cost us the Senate.

For a time, it looked like Allen had weathered the storm and would manage to win after all, but after weeks of expressing a desire to get back to issues instead of perceived character flaws (and Allen may have been extremely harmed by some of the incredibly vicious and totally unfounded allegations made against him), his campaign, perhaps feeling a little too cocky, lashed out at Jim Webb over disturbing passages in fiction and non-fiction books that Webb had written. To my surprise, the tactic backfired, probably not because people felt like Webb was totally normal in writing those things, but because Allen looked like a hypocritical attacking politician.

After the results came in, there was talk of a recount, that could have dragged well into December, but after a day of consideration, Allen gracefully conceded the race in a move that will probably help rehabilitate his image, at least a little, as the Republican will hope that he can began laying the groundwork for a comeback, perhaps running again for the job he truly enjoyed; Virginia Governor.

Now, the 29 House districts:

AZ 5- J.D. Hayworth defeated. This one was a pretty big surprise to many. Hayworth had survived tough races before and looked entrenched in the district, but he had at least a little bit of an Abramoff perception problem. However, I believe the reason he likely lost was because of his over the top, bordering on demagogic approach to the immigration issue. Hayworth (back when he was fat) used to be a very partisan, but still gregarious and good-natured seeming. In recent months though, something seemed to change though, perhaps after his Gubernatorial ambitions never came to fruition, and he just seemed pretty mean as an ultra-hardliner on illegal immigration, and he took potshots at the President from time to time. If he would have spent more time tending to his constituents and less on cable television programs, Hayworth might have pulled it out, but this is one of many examples of a poor campaign leading to a loss. The winner, Harry Mitchell, is not exactly a liberal, but he will have to work hard in 2008 to keep his GOP support in what is still a fairly Republican district. Hayworth may want to make a comeback, and perhaps he can be successful at that, but the district probably has a good deal of ambitious, fresh-faced Republicans, who would come into a 2008 contest without Hayworth’s baggage, and maybe take the seat back.

AZ 8- This district, in a politically competitive district, was lost when Republicans, in a multi-candidate field, nominated immigration hardliner Randy Graf, who had previously been defeated by moderate incumbent Jim Kolbe, in a GOP primary. Graf, though probably a decent all around guy, was endorsed on the website of David Duke, which certainly was not a sign of good things to come in the campaign. Had another more moderate Republican won that primary, this race could have turned out differently, but Democrat Gabrielle Giffords is a politically gifted figure, who has shown an ability to win Republican voters, and probably will be around for a while. In a way, the defeats of Hayworth and Graf may actually turn out to be good news for President Bush, as it could signify an easier task of getting comprehensive immigration reform through a Democrat-controlled Congress, and thus save the GOP from itself in future elections.

CA 11- In a fairly Republican district, veteran incumbent Richard Pombo was defeated probably due once again to questions about a relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Had that elephant not been in the room, Pombo probably would have won pretty easily. He even felt he had a break when the DCCC supported candidate lost back in the March primary to the same guy that Pombo had easily beaten two years earlier. Thus, the incumbent probably felt he could put things on cruise control, but is an example of an overconfident Republican being caught napping and finding themselves on the ropes in the final days of the campaign.

Pombo is already talking about a 2008 comeback, and perhaps if he is cleared of the Abramoff matter, or if Jerry McNerney turns out to be a bust, he could maybe get his seat back, but this is another district where a fresh-faced Republican, who does not have to answer questions about corruption, could make this one of the most likely seats to go Republican in the country two years from now.

CO 7- This turnover occurred in an open seat in a district that was won by John Kerry and thus should definitely have been expected to switch to the Democrats in a midterm election setting. The GOP nominee Rick O’Donnell did not run a terrible campaign by any means but was hampered by things he wrote about Social Security in his college days. The Gubernatorial campaign of Bob Beauprez, who had seen success in this competitive district, went absolutely nowhere, and thus, it was just very tough for the GOP to defend this seat. It may take a national Republican wave to unlodge Ed Perlmutter one day.

5. CT 2- In the closest House race in the nation, in a district that has seen several very close contests over the years, incumbent Rob Simmons was unseated by Democrat Joe Courtney in a district that is pretty heavily Democrat. It is ironic that both Simmons and colleague Nancy Johnson lost their seats, while Chris Shays, who was considered the most likely of the three to lose, held on and won. This district was so close, that the loss can definitely be chalked up to national factors such as Iraq. Still though, Simmons kept himself in the game by saving the district’s sub base from closure, and if he wants to run again in 2008, will stand as good of a chance as anyone else in the district of hoping for at least a little bit of a better national environment that could put him back in Congress.

6- CT 5- On paper, this district is supposed to contain the most Republicans in Connecticut and Nancy Johnson was the longest serving woman in Congress. Therefore, her solid defeat was a bit of a surprise, as she was considered the CT Republican most likely to hold on. She ran a well-prepared and aggressive campaign but this does look to be a district where the national environment did in a GOP incumbent in a New England district. Not enough of the Democrats and Independents who stuck with Lieberman came through for Johnson and Chris Murphy won an impressive victory over a tough opponent. While the district is competitive between the two parties, Murphy is likely to be around for a while.

FL 16- This district is a perfect example of a “fluke” win for Democrats. In this Republican leaning district, the race was off everybody’s radar until Mark Foley ran into his troubles, which of course doomed this seat to fall and took the GOP off message nationwide for close to two weeks. The winner, Tim Mahoney, is a former Republican, and he may need to act like it, at least on some issues, if he has any hope of keeping this seat in 2008. It will be an uphill fight though. The only reason he won this year was because Foley’s name remained on the ballot and many found it distasteful to vote for him. As it was, Mahoney won by a very narrow margin, in spite of the Republican replacement opponent only having about a month to campaign and needing to convince people to “punch Foley.” Joe Negron did indeed come closer than most expected at the beginning of this saga and now he has two years to organize a campaign where he will surely be on the ballot in a race that might indeed be the most likely to change parties in the country.

FL 22- This district voted for John Kerry and without a doubt, the defeat of veteran Republican Clay Shaw was due to national factors. In a more favorable cycle for Republicans, Shaw would have won the kind of tough race he had faced before, but it was too much to overcome. It would seem like Democrat Ron Klein would have a good chance of holding onto this seat, but the Jewish Republican Mayor of Boca Raton could be a top tier challenger if he decides to make the race in 2008.

IN 2- This district is pretty Republican leaning and the victory of Joe Donnelly over two term incumbent Chris Chocola should be considered one of the byproducts of a strong year for Democrats nationwide. Chocola had won a tough first race in 2002 and in 2004 defeated Donnelly somewhat comfortably. He might have been overconfident about a 2006 rematch and did not adequately prepare. Incumbency should now be expected to help Donnelly’s future ambitions, but he will have to be careful to not be seen as too close to Nancy Pelosi or the national Democrat leadership or he could be at risk in 2008 to a GOP incumbent, be they Chocola taking another shot at it, or somebody else.

IN 8- This Indiana district is even more Republican than the others in the state where incumbents were defeated and John Hostettler’s unique and frankly amateurish way of running campaigns finally caught up with him, and he lost soundly. For several elections, the incumbent had underperformed what a Republican should have received in the district because he basically did not raise money for his campaigns or have a professional staff. It is almost like Hostettler had wanted to lose for some time. He had the image of being a staunch conservative, and was one of the biggest hardliners on the immigration issue, but he actually was one of the Republicans in Congress most likely to oppose the President, such as having voted against the Iraq War (a bit of a theme for those Republicans who lost seats this year). He refused to campaign with the President this year and certainly did not gain himself any votes for doing so. If anything, Republicans abandoned him, maybe because the Democrat, Brad Ellsworth, is so conservative on some issues, he might as well be a Republican. There is no way that this district should have gone blue, but Hostettler’s way of running for reelection caused it to happen and Ellsworth may indeed have been the only Democrat capable of taking advantage. That may also be why Ellsworth could be tough to beat as an incumbent, but a new Republican, will certainly give it a shot in 2008, when Ellsworth will be forced to share the ballot with what is likely to be a liberal Presidential nominee of the party he runs under.

IN 9- While the district is Republican leaning, the victory of Republican Mike Sodrel over incumbent Democrat Baron Hill was in 2004 one of the bigger surprises of the evening. This year, Hill took the seat back and now leads the overall series 2-1. Hill has a moderate profile and beyond the national environment, an unpopular Republican Governor in Indiana, as well as unpopular Republican Governors with ethical concerns across the river and in the media market of this district, in both Kentucky and Ohio caused Sodrel to lose a close one. Two Congressman and his successor/predecessor may give it a fourth go around in 2008, in what could eventually wind up resembling a best of 7 playoff series. Whether the GOP nominee is Sodrel or someone new, this will be a closely watched district in 2008.

IA 1- This has been a Democrat leaning district, held by a Republican who left to run for Governor, and thus was not at all surprising when the open seat flipped to the Democrats. The new Congressman Bruce Braley will likely be considered a favorite to hold on to the seat, but if outgoing Congressman Jim Nussle decides he would like to try for a return engagement to the House, the race would be very competitive. There is no indication that Nussle has any such intentions though at this point.

IA 2- While moderate to liberal Republican Jim Leach (who voted against the Iraq War) represented one of the most Democrat districts in the country to have a Republican in Congress, his defeat was one of the bigger surprises in 2006. It appears he was just caught completely off guard and owes his loss to a very token campaign effort and overconfidence. Leach had been in Congress since 1976 and definitely should have had the race in hand, had he anticipated a tough battle. As it is, the new Congressman, David Loebsack, was not considered a strong opponent, and he barely even made it onto the ballot this year. Now, Loebsack has the seat and may need to watch out in a Democrat primary against some ambitious politicians who had been waiting for the seat to open up one day. It is hard to see how the GOP would get this district back any time soon.

KS 2- Another one of the big surprises of the night was this Republican district where veteran incumbent Jim Ryun was an unexpected loser to Democrat Nancy Boyda. Kansas has seen some internal divisions in the state GOP before and Ryun, a conservative, had underperformed the Republican strength of the area in previous elections, but it appears that this is another example of a race where the incumbent thought that they did not need to really exert themselves. There is no way that this race should have been lost considering the district’s political makeup. Boyda will really need to avoid not being too closely identified with the Democrat Party nationally. With a stronger campaign and at least a little bit more of a favorable cycle for Republicans, Boyda will be a top target, if not to Ryun, then more likely to a new Republican that the party would be able to unite behind.

KY 3- When early returns on Election Night showed Ann Northup losing her seat, it was clear that the Democrats would have a good night. While this Louisville based district is by far the most favorable for Democrats in Kentucky, Northup has won many tough races before and had scared off some potentially formidable opponents. Democrat John Yarmuth was a bit of a surprise winner of his party’s primary and was considered somewhat unlikely to win because of some very liberal things he had written as part of his alternative newsletter. Republicans were frustrated that Northup refused to go after Yarmuth as much as she might have, and the Democrat won a close race. Without the national and state factors in play in 2008, Yarmuth, and his ideological profile, may find himself at great risk for reelection. Considering that Northup has done so well in this most Democrat part of the state for so long and at least only barely lost in the bad Republican year of 2006, she may decide to run statewide instead one day, even as early as 2007 for Governor, or she could take a few months off and prepare for a 2008 rematch. There are said to be a handful of other potentially strong Republicans waiting in the wings as well if Northup declines a rematch.

MN 1- Another one of the bigger surprises saw veteran Republican Gil Gutknecht lose to military veteran Tim Walz in this Republican leaning district. While the incumbent’s loss certainly had much to do with national factors, a stronger campaign could have certainly held the seat, as Republicans, considered far more vulnerable held on elsewhere under tougher circumstances. Gutknecht, who had taken steps to distance himself from the Bush Administration in recent months, was perhaps hurt by a lack of enthusiasm from rank and file Republicans or just a generally lackluster campaign effort in general. Consider this another district where the former Congressman can try to make amends with his constituents over the next two years and try again, or for another Republican to bring some new passion in the fray for 2008.

NH 1- Yet another of the big surprises of the evening. New Hampshire Democrats had a huge night and nowhere was it more evident than the 1st CD, the slightly more Republican of the states’ pair, where incumbent Jeb Bradley was caught flat flooted by anti-war activist Carol Shea-Porter, who was a surprise primary winner over a DCCC backed candidate as well. The victory by Shea-Porter can clearly be attributed to the strength of anti-war sentiments in New Hampshire, but Bradley was believed to have a solid lead in the polls and may have just run an overconfident campaign, especially when the candidate he was probably expecting to face lost in the Democrat primary. Shea-Porter is supposedly quite liberal and may face a primary opponent in 2008, and will certainly have to contend with a spirited Republican challenge that year as well, whether it comes from Bradley or someone new. This district will be the easier one for Republicans to potentially take back in New Hampshire, but there may be more fertile ground elsewhere than New England to begin with.

NH 2- Another somewhat surprising result, although not as much as the state’s 1st CD, veteran Republican Charlie Bass, who had soundly defeated Democrat Paul Hodes two years ago, lost a rematch in 2006, in a strong year for New Hampshire Democrats in a district that was won by John Kerry in 2004. Bass’s campaign likely did not realize the danger they were in until the closing days of the campaign, as some earlier polls had shown him with a large lead. A more prepared campaign from months ahead of time could have probably saved the seat, such as how Chris Shays was able to hold on as the only Republican winner in all of New England. The district may have enough Democrats in it to makes Hodes a favorite for 2008, but Bass may be interested in a rematch and could find the terrain more favorable.

NY 19- Here is another example of a district which was a surprise Democrat pickup, considering how several of the top tier hopes the party had were retained by Republicans. Democrat John Hall, was another candidate who was a bit of a surprise primary winner and moderate Republican Sue Kelly believed she was in good shape in a Republican leaning district. However, it was a strong statewide ticket for the Democrats in New York, and without Kelly being as aggressively focused on keeping her job as she might have been, national and state factors helped bring about the seat flipping. This will be the district in NY that Republicans focus the most on trying to take back in 2008.

NY 20- Had John Sweeney not been going through a midlife crisis in the past couple of years, this seat would still be in Republican control. Besides the fact that Sweeney had been feuding with some other New York Republicans, he had a lead in the polls and had been expected to win. A few months back, there were photos published of a seemingly intoxicated Congressman partying with some kids at a frat party, but that brouhaha did not appear to be politically fatal. Then, in the final few days of the campaign, a story leaked that involved a domestic dispute a few years back that had Mrs. Sweeney calling 911. The facts of that case were never fully ascertained, but once the story broke, Kirsten Gillibrand practically had the race sewn up and any sort of wave for Democrats in both the country as a whole and in New York helped seal the deal. The district still has many Republicans and the 2008 nominee is very likely to be someone without any sort of drinking or domestic abuse problem, but it still may be hard for the GOP to get this seat back without a national trend in their favor.

NY 24- This was the least surprising of the three New York turnovers (some other races which were supposed to be very competitive stayed Republican). Moderate Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert had a very strong grasp on the seat but when he announced his retirement, it certainly made things much more difficult for Republicans. They had a strong candidate, who while being more conservative than Boehlert, had both the Republican and Conservative parties united behind him, which is something that Boehlert had to do without. Still though, the year was strong enough for Democrats in New York for Mike Arcuri to pick up this seat. The GOP also might have gone overboard in trying to make a mountain out of a molehill over an accidental phone call to a sex line. In 2008, Arcuri can expect a strong challenge, and if the GOP and Conservative parties can united behind someone who is viewed as a moderate, a real race is possible, but Arcuri as an incumbent will have the edge.

NC 11- Representing a very Republican leaning district, Charles Taylor had been skating on thin ice for over a decade. He had even been considered somewhat vulnerable back in the Republican landslide year of 1994. Nonetheless, Taylor had survived some tough elections, despite a history of underperforming in his district and a series of ethical clouds hanging over him. In 2006, he finally met an opponent with the recognition and political image to fit the district. Heath Shuler had been a former NFL Quarterback (although not a very good one), and ran on a platform that was downright conservative, at least on social issues. While in the past, the incumbent Taylor had avoided debating opponents who were in need of a boost in their campaigns, this year saw Taylor as the underdog who had to hope that Shuler would grant a forum. Shuler is likely to be one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress over the next two years, and that may help him at home, but at least in 2008, a new, fresh conservative Republican will be expected to seriously blitz the freshman.

OH 18- To the surprise of many, this district in Ohio was the only in the state to switch from Republican to Democrat. In spite of being a fairly conservative voting district, this seat had been on the radar for months as one of the most likely to switch parties, and it had absolutely everything to do with the fact that it had been represented by Republican Bob Ney, who was closely associated with the Jack Abramoff scandal. For months, Ney insisted that he had done nothing wrong and be would exonerated and he won a primary on those pretenses. Then, just a few months before the election, Ney plead guilty to corruption charges, withdrew from the race, and promised to vacate his seat. That resignation from Congress, which was expected to come, dragged out for quite some time, and his handpicked replacement, Joy Padgett, turned out to be a far worse candidate than expected because of the Ney association, and the fact that she had been an appointee of the very unpopular Governor Bob Taft, who had faced his own ethical problems. Furthermore, Padgett had her own personal financial woes. A stronger candidate without baggage, and the Ney/Taft association might have had a much better shot of keeping this district. Instead, the fairly easy winner was Zack Space, who had defeated a DCCC backed more moderate Democrat opponent in the primary, and will be looked at as a fluke by many over the next two years. Space’s liberalism may make him extremely vulnerable as Ney and Taft start to fade from the public mind and this should be considered one of the most likely Republican pickup opportunities for 2008.

PA 4- Out of all the pickups made by Democrats in Pennsylvania this year, this was the most surprising. Melissa Hart’s seat was not considered to be in great danger until the final days of the campaign and this race looks like another example of Republican overconfidence and an inadequate campaign effort in a marginal district that without a vigorous defense, was prone to an upset. Hart had been viewed as a rising star in the GOP for some time, and she could possibly mount a serious effort to make Jason Altmire a one-term Congressman.

PA 7- Longtime Congressman Curt Weldon was unseated due in part to two factors. Had both of them not been on the table, he would have likely won. For starters, the Philadelphia area district is Democrat leaning and was won by John Kerry in 2004. In spite of that, Weldon may have been able to win if not for some serious ethical concerns that had been raised about him, especially in the closing days of the campaign, which included a Justice Department investigation. While Weldon’s loss may be mostly attributable to those ethical concerns in a specific district, the makeup of the area is such, and Democrat Joe Sestak, who is believed to be the highest ranking military official to ever serve in the House of Representatives, may be too much for the GOP to have high hopes of getting this seat back.

PA 8- This is the one Democrat pickup in Pennsylvania that may have just been unavoidable considering the national political environment. Freshman Republican Mike Fitzpatrick ran a strong campaign and was believed to have a bit of an edge over Democrat Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War vet, entering the election, but when the votes were counted, Murphy pulled out a close one. Perhaps Fitzpatrick was seen as being a little too conservative in a swing district that had been represented by a more moderate Republican for several years. In 2008, Fitzpatrick could attempt a comeback with the hope of a more favorable national and state environment in which to run or perhaps a more moderate Republican could attempt to take out Murphy.

PA- This district is such a Republican stronghold that it really has to irk the GOP that the seat was lost. It is clear that the pickup for the Democrats had absolutely nothing to do with issues, either national or state, but had everything to do with the personal behavior of Congressman Don Sherwood. A much younger woman, who was having an extra-marital affair with the conservative Republican, had claimed that he had tried to choke her. While that allegation of abuse never panned out, and may very well have been a fabrication, the fact that Sherwood had the affair to begin with doomed his political chances as many religious and social conservative voters could not find themselves willing to vote for Sherwood. His vulnerability had clearly been demonstrated when he struggled to beat a political nobody in a GOP primary. Simply put, Sherwood had no business running for reelection and hurting his party. His opponent, Chris Carney made Sherwood’s extra-marital affair and the unfounded abuse allegations of the key center points of his campaign and Sherwood’s apology was only enough to make it a six point race. In 2008, Carney will face a new opponent, most likely one with an honorable family life, and will be among the most vulnerable of all House incumbents.

TX 22- Here is another example of an extremely strong Republican seat being lost because of a very specific local factor related to the last Republican to hold the seat. In 2004, Democrat Congressman Nick Lampson was unseated in a landslide after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay engineered a Texas redistricting map that produced several Republican pickups. So, as 2006 approached, Lampson embarked on a “what the heck” campaign against DeLay who was increasingly under fire for ethical difficulties, both in Congress, relating to a close association with Jack Abramoff, and back home in Texas. DeLay was eventually indicted in Travis County on some questionable charges and was forced to step down from the House leadership. When it became clear that the there would be no speedy trial in Texas and that DeLay was in danger of losing to Lampson, he decided he would resign from Congress all together. What was not counted on was the fact that Texas Republicans would be unable to replace DeLay on the ballot and legal proceedings dragged on for some time. The fact that a Republican was not listed on the ballot made it more than extremely difficult for the GOP to hold this seat. Perhaps things might have been different if DeLay had never left the race in the first place, or had jumped back in the contest, in order to have a GOP name on the ballot, even if he promised to resign right after the election to set up a special election, or perhaps if the Republicans had decided to support the Libertarian candidate, who had promised to caucus with the GOP, or perhaps if the party had united behind a write in candidate with an easier name to remember than Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, but none of that was meant to be. Sekula-Gibbs actually did win a special election this year for the seat vacated by DeLay but already had a controversial first day in office which leads some to believe she may not be the long-term solution to taking out Lampson in 2008. But whomever the GOP puts up in two years, Lampson is extremely at risk of meeting the same fate he saw in 2004.

WI 8- Alphabetically speaking, the final Democrat pickup occurred in an open seat race in this politically competitive but still usually Republican Congressional district. It was a closely contested race, but when all was said and done, the Democrat lean of 2006 manifested itself in the Green Bay area with Democrat physician Steve Kagen winning the election. It is worth remembering that the last time this district faced an open seat was 1996, when a Democrat picked it up as well. Two years later, the freshman Congressman went down to defeat. So, in 2008, Kagen should expect to face a very vigorous Republican challenge, especially if his opponent is former Congressman Mark Green, who had vacated the seat this year to run for Governor.

So, as I conclude this lengthy post, I ask any potential reader just how many of these 29 seats could be won back by the GOP in 2008…

Perhaps all the Republicans who survived the brutal year of 2006 should be respected for their durability. Defeating an incumbent Congressman is never easy,
but if things fall into place, the GOP has a chance at taking back 15 of them (not to mention seats that Democrats held prior to this year’s election), and without control of the House.

It will be a very interesting two years.

Before the end of the year, I intend to have a post with a very preliminary look ahead to all 2007 and 2008 contests for Governor and U.S. Senate

And then, as 2007 begins, I will announce my support for the candidate of my choice on January 1, and then begin weekly Presidential Power rankings of all the contenders in both parties.

Happy Holidays to all!