After two straight elections with big Republican losses in Congress followed
by two years of worsening economy under President Obama, Republicans should rebound in 2010. Since the party still controlled Congress as recently as 2006, merely winning back the districts that elected Republicans just four years ago would be enough to take back control and take the speaker’s gavel away from Nancy Pelosi.
Unfortunately, some of those seats realistically aren’t coming home to the GOP because of demographic changes. When these districts elected Republicans, they didn’t have many of the minority voters who migrated into them since then and who vote mostly Democrat.
Therefore, Republicans need to turn over some other Democrat-held districts in order to take back the House. Fortunately, there are enough possibilities out there to do so. The ideal target would be a rural district that voted for John McCain for president last year but continues to elect a complacent Democrat congressman who hasn’t been seriously challenged in a while. The congressman, while using a conservative reputation to keep winning the seat, has recently voted the liberal line of the Pelosi leadership and the Obama presidency, including a high-profile vote for the cap-and-trade bill that is highly unpopular in rural America.
Based on recent election returns and Congressional Quarterly’s presidential support and party unity ratings, the following three Democratic incumbents (who aren’t on anybody’s radar screen because of their past electoral success) should be considered for targeting by the Republican Party. They all used to question their Democratic House leadership, but now when Pelosi says “Jump,” their only question is “How high?” Collectively, these three provided the decisive votes for cap-and-trade in the House. But their conservative supporters don’t know about their shifts, and won’t until they face qualified, well-financed challengers.
Ike Skelton (MO-4)
Skelton has served continuously since being swept into an open seat on Jimmy Carter’s coattails in 1976. His only serious re-election challenges were in 1982, when redistricting pitted him against fellow Congressman Wendell Bailey, and in 1996 when he held off former Lieutenant Governor Bill Phelps. Long regarded as a conservative pro-military Democrat, Skelton soured on the Iraq war and has been a loyal Pelosi foot soldier since the Democrats took power that year. Congressional Quarterly reports that during the first half of this year, Skelton supported President Obama’s position 96% of the time, just as much as Missouri’s urban congressmen Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver. The CQ party unity test showed that he toed Pelosi’s party line 97% of the time, including his decisive vote for the controversial cap-and-trade bill. This record can’t be popular in a district that gave Obama only 38% of its votes. The district has an above average over-65 population, and 61% of adults are married, both excellent demographics for Republicans. If the GOP can nationalize the 2010 elections the way Newt Gingrich did in 1994, Skelton, who will be 79 in 2010, could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenge from an experienced, well-known candidate. Four Republican state senators live in the district, including three who are term-limited, so talent is available for the Missouri Republican Party to recruit.
Bart Gordon (TN-6)
Gordon first won his seat against the tide in 2004, when Republican Ronald Reagan was sweeping to reelection. Gordon has now held the office for 25 years, and Republicans fielded no opponent last year. But his district, which gave Obama only 37% of the vote, is trending strongly Republican. After Bush and Tennessean Al Gore virtually tied in the district in 2000, Bush soared to 60% in his 2004 reelection, and McCain ran 2 points better than that in 2008. Gordon, though, hasn’t changed with his district, backing Obama’s policies 92% of the time and scoring a CQ party unity rating of 94%. He voted for cap-and-trade. Tennessee Republicans bucked 2008 trends and enjoyed great success. The party should build on that strength by recruiting and supporting a serious challenger to Gordon in 2010.
Vic Snyder (AR-2)
Snyder first won the seat on the coattails of home state President Bill Clinton in 1996. Republicans fielded no challenger in 2008, leaving that job to the fledgling Green Party. This Little Rock based district is the least rural of the three mentioned here, but Obama won just 44% of the vote, and the district’s political trend is as Republican as Gordon’s. Bush beat Gore there by just a point, improved in 2004, and McCain opened up a 10-point margin in 2008. For his part, Snyder supported Obama’s policies 96% of the time during the first half of this year, and his CQ party unity rating with Pelosi’s Democrats was 95%, including his decisive vote for cap-and-trade. This district should be the Arkansas GOP’s second 2010 priority, after recruiting a viable Republican challenger to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (like, say, Mike Huckabee).
Not every district whose voters are rebelling against their Democratic congressman’s vote for cap-and-trade should be targeted. It would be a mistake to target some because of the impact on statewide contests, especially a U.S. Senate race. Whenever Republican activity steps up, Democrats always react by rallying their supporters with protective GOTV efforts. The Republican nature of the three districts mentioned above means that GOTV efforts among known supporters of these Democrats might actually yield Republican votes in other contests. But in truly Democratic districts, riling up Democrats opposed to cap-and-trade could increase the turnout of Democratic votes in other contests, even if those voters cross over in the congressional contest.
An example of a district to leave alone is Missouri’s 3rd District. Hostile reaction to Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan’s vote for cap-and-trade has gained national attention. But the district backed Obama 60-39, and Democratic margins have steadily improved over recent years. Even when running for an open seat (vacated by former House Democrat leader Dick Gephardt) in 2004 against a well-financed Republican and after having won a divisive Democratic primary with less than 23% of the vote, Carnahan still carried the district by nearly 8 points. His reelections since then have topped 2-to-1. More important to Missouri and the nation is a tough U.S. Senate race where Republicans have to fight to hold onto the seat of retiring Sen. Kit Bond. The likely Democrat for that seat is Carnahan’s sister Robin. Creating a contest that increased turnout in this district could result in the loss of the senate seat. Missouri Republicans should play it smart and target Skelton and leave Carnahan alone.