A handful of Midwest races for House seats in Republican-leaning districts remains too close to call and, as the clock ticks down to Nov. 4, will help determine whether Democrats nationally have just a good - or fantastic - night.
“There are races that have been brewing all cycle that are just now coming to a head,” said David Wasserman, House of Representatives editor at the Cook Political Report. “I would guess at this point that Republicans will lose 20-25 seats. About half of those losses will come from open seats.”
Those up for grabs in America’s Heartland include:
• Ohio’s 1st District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot of Westwood is facing Democrat Steve Driehaus, the Ohio state House minority whip.
• The heavily Republican 11th District in Illinois, where the retirement of Rep. Jerry Weller has pitted state Sen. Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat, against challenger Marty Ozinga, a businesswoman who has never held political office.
• Minnesota’s 3rd District, where Republican Erik Paulsen, a state representative, faces Democratic challenger Ashwin Madia, a lawyer and an Iraq war veteran. They hope to take over the seat left by retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Republican.
In Ohio, Mr. Chabot, who survived the 2006 election, has been forced to fend off attacks by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, which has pumped considerable money into this contest.
Mr. Chabot “knows he’s been a target [of Democrats], and he’s run a tough race,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report who calls this race “a pure tossup.”
“If he loses, it says more about Republican problems nationally than it does about something specific that the congressman has done wrong.”
Mr. Chabot’s team expect to survive because of his votes are reflective of the concerns of his district’s voters.
“He tends to stay close to the district, and I don’t think there are a lot of surprises with his votes, Chabot spokeswoman Katie Fox said.
But Ohio Democrats are hoping the increasing popularity of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama will buoy black turnout in the district, where blacks make up 27 percent of voters.
In Illinois, the race was thought to be a sure thing for Democrats but has since turned into a real battle.
Republicans had to change gears quickly after their initial primary winner dropped out of the race, paving the way for Mr. Ozinga. Mr. Ozinga’s camp says that though he is a political novice, he has the insight of a businessman who worked his way up from laborer to running a company that employees 1,200 people.
But state Sen. Debbie Halvorson, a one-time Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman, is touting her long record of reaching across the aisle in the legislature and focusing on issues such as health care.
“She knows how to get this job done,” said her spokesman Brian Doory. “This district has been underserved for some time. … She’s a business-minded, fairly conservative Democrat who is endorsed by the National Rifle Association.”
Just as Mrs. Halvorson has touted her political clout as the state’s Senate majority leader, Mr. Ozinga has pushed back, labeling her as a career politician with ties to a failed government.
“Republicans still like their chances because they feel she has an incredible amount of baggage,” said Mr. Gonzales, who calls this race a tossup but tilting slightly Democrat.
In Minnesota’s 3rd District, it has been an expensive battle between Republican Paulsen and his Democratic challenger Madia with polls showing a dead heat. Republicans have held this seat for 50 years.
The contest has grown contentious in recent months with a spate of negative ads.
Paulsen spokeswoman Stacey Johnson describes it as “Minnesota mean.” The Democrats are better funded, but she said Mr. Paulsen has received a lot of support within his party.
Madia spokesman Dan Pollock said that as a former Marine and war veteran, his candidate can take political attacks and is buoyed, as a political newcomer, by the grass-roots support.
“The Paulsen campaign ads are tough stuff, but he’s a Marine Corps officer so he’s used to taking some punches, and I think he’s handled it just fine,” Mr. Pollock said.