- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fewer than 100 days after Rep. Jerry McNerney, California Democrat, knocked off a Republican incumbent and captured the seat in a historically conservative district last year, the attack began.

On Feb. 8, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) denounced Mr. McNerney as a liberal tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It’s almost unbelievable, some have said it’s unprecedented,” Mr. McNerney replied in a campaign fundraising e-mail that lamented the early start to an election more than 600 days away.

“They will stop at nothing to take this important seat back from us, even before they actually have a candidate.”

Republicans scrambling to regain control in the House are targeting freshman Democrats, such as Mr. McNerney, who won seats in conservative districts carried by President Bush in 2004. Mr. McNerney defeated Rep. Richard W. Pombo in one of the 61 “Bush” districts that Republicans will vigorously contest in 2008.

Democrats, meanwhile, are working to shore up their fragile majority in the Senate.

With all members of the House up for re-election every two years, lawmakers are in constant campaign mode. But this year, many members say the fight has started even earlier.

Freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas Democrat, is an example. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running radio ads criticizing Mrs. Boyda for her vote on a bill to make it easier for workers to join unions.

“I would have preferred to have more time focused on governing, but this will be a hotly contested seat,” she said. In 2004, Mr. Bush carried her district by 20 points, and Mrs. Boyda anticipates more such ads.

It’s not just Republican campaigns getting an early start.

One week after Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, was sworn in after his re-election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent its own missive to prepare for 2008, a bulletin to reporters titled “With Virginia Workers Struggling, Tom Davis Voted Against Minimum Wage Increase.”

Mr. Davis, who once led the NRCC, isn’t surprised at the quickened pace.

Campaign staffers for both parties study district statistics as part of “Politics 101” and can easily label certain members as vulnerable in the next cycle, he said. “You know right away where the soft districts are.”

Freshmen from “Bush” districts will get a boost from the DCCC’s Frontline program, which will help them with aggressive fundraising and outreach in 2008.

On the Senate side, campaign staffers eager to build on the new Democratic majority waste no time identifying their top targets, including Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican. Comedian and radio host Al Franken has said he will run for the seat.

“It’s much too soon,” said Mr. Coleman. “The general public, my sense is they are still recovering from the last campaign. It just ended. People would like us to take a breath.”

Mr. Coleman said the “quiet” parts of campaigning such as fundraising will go on for a while, but in the meantime, “I’m not going to be getting in the midst of some political crossfire.”

Still, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and liberal bloggers focused on 2008 have him in their sights. The DSCC also is targeting Republican Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, who will face challenges in 2008, when one-third of the Senate is up for re-election.

In the House, Republicans know it will not be so easy, but they are examining voting records for each potentially vulnerable lawmaker.

“There are a lot of newly elected Democrats that masked themselves on the campaign trail as reform-minded, fiscally responsible, pro-troop candidates,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.

Since November, those members “are taking vote after vote that undermine the pledges they made to their voters,” he said.

Freshman Rep. Zack Space, Ohio Democrat, disagreed, and declined to classify voters in his district — which Mr. Bush won by 14 points — as “conservative.”

“Moderation is important to them. I’m pro-gun, tough on immigration and strong on fair trade. I expect this to be a tough race, but I’m not preoccupied with that. If I use my vote in a way that’s consistent with their interests, I think the re-election will take care of itself.”

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