- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Strikingly, 28 House Republican incumbents have chosen to retire during or after the present cycle. The most recent to announce, Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, leaves a Democratic-trending Northern Virginia district — a familiar story as Republicans look up 1996 Democratic retirement numbers to prepare mentally for this year of defense. Open seats are the primary battlefield any year in the House, and the “terrain” of more than two dozen is the chief reason that the 2008 House battlefield looks so poor for Republicans. But it is not the only reason.

There are anywhere from 14 to 33 potentially endangered Republican incumbents this cycle depending which election-watchers one consults. These endangered seats would normally be unremarkable. They are balanced by roughly as many potentially competitive Democratic incumbent-held seats. At least 90 percent of incumbents typically win re-election. But in a context of more than two dozen open seats, they compound a serious problem for Republicans. The two factors combine to raise doubt that Republicans can hold ground in the House in 2008. It is not too early to reach this judgment. The “terrain” slopes steeply when it comes to the House.

Rep.Davis would not be among these endangered incumbents if he were running, but only thanks to his talents, since his district shows clear Democratic trends. Mr. Davis beat Democratic challenger Andrew Hurst with 55 percent of the vote in 2006. Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine carried it in 2005, as did Democratic Sen. James Webb in 2006. No Republican successor has emerged, while Democrats Gerald Connolly, Leslie Byrne and Doug Denneny are possible contenders.

Here are 14 seats held by Republican incumbents worth watching.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio 1st Congressional District: This competitive Cincinnati district sent the eight-term incumbent back to Washington over Democratic challenger John Cranley by a relatively slim 53-47 margin. This district leans only slightly Republican, if at all.

Rep. Vito Fossella, New York 13th: Mr. Fossella successfully defended this Staten Island and Brooklyn district — New York City’s only Republican-held seat — through the 2006 wave by a 57-43 margin. But a Hillary Clinton Democratic nomination could yield a problematic turnout disadvantage.

Rep. Jim Gerlach, Pennsylvania 6th: For the second straight cycle, the three-term incumbent survived by a narrow 50-49 percent margin over Democrat Lois Murphy in this suburban Philadelphia district. Democrats have attempted to draft Christopher Casey, brother of Sen. Bob Casey, to challenge.

Rep. Mark Kirk, Illinois 10th: This suburban Chicago district came within a few percentage points of turning out the moderate Mr. Kirk in 2006. It is considered the second-most Democratic-leaning House seat in Republican hands this cycle, behind Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut.

Rep. Randy Kuhl, New York 29th: Amid domestic-dispute accusations, Mr. Kuhl edged Democratic challenger Eric Massa by 6,000 votes of 206,000 cast last cycle. Mr. Massa leads in fund-raising for 2008.

Rep. Robin Hayes, North Carolina 8th: Mr. Hayes won re-election by 329 votes over Democrat Larry Kissel in 2006. Mr. Kissel is challenging again.

Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania 18th: The three-term incumbent Mr. Murphy won with 57 percent of the vote in 2006 but represents a competitive district in a state of substantial recent Democratic inroads.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado 4th: Mrs. Musgrave garnered less than 46 percent of the vote in 2006 in a three-way election over Democrat Angie Paccione, despite the district’s Republican leanings.

Rep. Jon Porter, Nevada 3rd: Mr. Porter squeaked a 48-47 percent victory over Democrat Tessa Hafen in 2006 in this Democratic-leaning district.

Rep. Dave Reichert, Washington 8th: This onetime solidly Republican district has changed, voting for John Kerry in 2004. In 2006, Mr. Reichert won re-election by 7,000 votes of 250,000 cast. Democratic challenger Darcy Burner is running again this year.

Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio 2nd: Mrs. Schmidt faces another serious primary challenge in this solidly Republican district.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut 4th: Mr. Shays, the last of New England’s House Republicans, occupies the most heavily Democratic competitive House district not already represented by a Democrat.

Rep. Tim Walberg, Minnesota 7th: Democrats have targeted this seat, which state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer will contest. Mr. Walberg won with just under 50 percent of the vote in 2006.

Rep. Don Young, Alaska at-large: News that the FBI is investigating the scandalized Mr. Young has put the only House seat of a solidly Republican state in play.

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