High-profile House members typically cruise toward re-election with little worry. But Democrats and their allies this year have vowed to make a few of the chamber’s top Republicans sweat at least a bit during the campaign season.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week amped up its efforts to unseat Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite who sought the 2012 Republican presidential nod — elevating her race with DemocratJim Graves to its “Red-to-Blue program” for contests it considers highly competitive.
Democratic House candidate Rob Zerban has out raised his well-known opponent, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — the House Budget chairman and Republican vice presidential nominee — by more than $200,000 for the year’s all-important third quarter. He also has received significant financial and grass-roots backing from outside liberal groups.
And a strategist for DemocratWayne Powell, a long-shot against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has promised to politically batter the Virginia Republican so much that he’ll be unfit to ever challenge House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio for his party’s top spot in the chamber.
While most independent political experts say the incumbents will win — and probably easily — Nov. 6, the challengers and their allies deny their endeavors are quixotic. Rather, they say it’s important no one in a thriving democracy have a free pass toward re-election.
And in taking on the seemingly invincible incumbents, the challengers add they hope to shine a strong light on their opponents’ failed policy positions and disagreeable personal traits.
With the DCCC giving the Bachmann-Graves race increased attention, the Graves campaign is now eligible for extra financial, communications, grass-roots and strategic support. The status means the committee will work with outside Democrat-friendly groups to help shepherd money and support on behalf of the candidate.
The DCCC, the fundraising arm of House Democrats, said Mr. Graves has surpassed fundraising, organizing and infrastructure goals. But it wouldn’t say how much money, if any, the Graves campaign will benefit with its new race rating.
“During Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s career in Washington, she has been more focused on being a national right-wing celebrity than on delivering for the Minnesota families she represents,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the DCCC’s chairman. “Voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse with Congresswoman Bachmann and her relentless desire to put ideology over solutions.”
Mrs. Bachmann has a significant lead in most polls, including an 11-point advantage in a SurveyUSA poll taken last week. But a September survey commissioned by Mr. Graves showed him trailing 48 percent to 46 percent.
Republicans have dismissed the DCCC’s efforts as much ado about nothing.
“Minnesotans already know that Jim Graves had no problem trying to deceive voters with a phony resume or trying to cover up the fact that he is a dishonest businessman,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In the Ryan-Zerban contest, the DCCC has pegged it as an “emerging race,” a category it reserves for Democratic candidates “making themselves competitive by running smart campaigns which are becoming increasingly competitive.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee dedicated to electing liberal Democrats to Congress, made 42,000 calls in one day last week to district voters on behalf of Mr. Zerban. The group also has raised more than $122,000 for campaign.
“This congressional race should not be a consolation prize,” Mr. Zerban said last week. “Winning this race and representing the people of southeast Wisconsin would be the greatest honor of my life.”
Mr. Ryan still enjoys a $4.8 million to $1.9 million fundraising advantage over his challenger for his House seat. But Mr. Zerban and his supporters say the race also is about showcasing what they call egregious problems with the incumbent’s 2013 budget proposal, which calls for significant changes to Medicare.
“Not only is Rob Zerban getting attention just because he’s running against a vice presidential nominee, but even before that he was getting a lot of attention in the district because he was bringing the focus back to what Paul Ryan actually was doing in Washington,” said PCCC spokesman T. Neil Sroka.
“We’re the underdog, and we relish that role,” Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime Democratic strategist advising Mr. Powell’s campaign, said last month. “After this campaign’s over, if we’ve done our job, Eric Cantor can forget about taking John Boehner’s job because the true Eric Cantor will be exposed, not just in the 7th District but in America.”
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at email@example.com.
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