Hayworth is a Republican from New York. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Republican Nan Hayworth isn’t the only former member of Congress looking to come back to the Hill. But she spent much of the cycle looking like such a long shot that she didn’t get the same attention as former Reps. Bob Dold of Illinois, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, or even Doug Ose of California.
Up until recently, multiple GOP observers were less than enthusiastic about Hayworth’s chances of defeating Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., in the 18th District. They lacked confidence in her campaign infrastructure and doubted that the former congresswoman could keep pace in fundraising. Full story
If running in the 11th District, would you rather be Grimm or from Brooklyn? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
In the game “Would You Rather?” one is usually faced with a choice between two difficult and undesirable options.
“If you had a machete, would you rather amputate the feet of two friends or amputate one of your own feet?” asks the site YouRather.com. Or, “Would you rather spend a day with Justin Bieber or spend a day with Miley Cyrus?”
It’s some of the same anxiety facing voters at the polls in the next election. But the contrast in a trio of House races stand out as particularly difficult choices for voters this year. Remember, your first reaction may not be the best choice.
Question 1: Would you rather be an indicted congressman from Staten Island or a candidate from Brooklyn in New York’s 11th District?
Don’t laugh. The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.
When a 20-count indictment came out against GOP Rep. Michael G. Grimm in April, there was a widespread assumption the congressman could not win his re-election bid in New York’s competitive 11th District.
But the charges against Grimm may not be as toxic as being from Brooklyn in a district dominated by Staten Island. That’s one of the biggest challenges facing former Democratic New York City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr., who is challenging Grimm.
There is qualitative and quantitative data that suggest this race is far from over. Grimm has withstood the barrage of negative headlines and is still standing. But the question is whether the congressman can withstand paid Democratic attacks headed his way later this year, particularly when is fundraising has been poor.
Question 2: In a congressional race in West Virginia, would you rather be a former state senator from Maryland or a former Obama advocate?
Being a former state legislator and former chairman of the state party are common credentials for office, except when they are from a different state. Democrats, and even some Republicans, aren’t happy with Alex Mooney’s move from Maryland to West Virginia, where he is the GOP nominee in the 2nd District.
But even though most of Mooney’s résumé comes from across the state line, he is a Republican running in a district where President Barack Obama’s job approval rating can’t be higher than the mid-30s.
Democrat Nick Casey is trying to position himself as a bipartisan accountant, but he is a former state party chairman and top party fundraiser who endorsed Obama in the past presidential elections.
Question 3: In a congressional race in Michigan’s 11th District, would you rather be a Santa Claus-impersonating incumbent or someone whose law firm sent a foreclosure notice on Christmas Eve?
Republican Kerry Bentivolio has been ridiculed for his reindeer farm and hobby of impersonating Santa Claus. He became an accidental congressman when former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter was dropped from the 2012 primary ballot because of a lack of valid signatures.
But Bentivolio is a sitting member of Congress at a time when 99 percent of incumbents (273 out of 275 through July 8, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Kyle Kondik) have won their primaries thus far this cycle. And the congressman’s primary challenger, attorney Dave Trott, is not perfect.
But Rozier, like tens of thousands of other Michiganders, lost his home to foreclosure during the housing crisis. After a three-year legal battle with Trott’s law firm and the bank, the notice arrived last Christmas Eve. He was evicted in January and moved his wife, who is on kidney dialysis, his bedridden mother, and his uncle, who has Down syndrome and is in a wheelchair, into a neighbor’s empty duplex across the street.
But Trott is far outpacing Bentivolio in fundraising and is controlling the debate on the television airwaves. Most GOP insiders believe the congressman is at least a slight underdog in the Aug. 5 primary.
First lady Michelle Obama has been the subject of several stories about an Illinois Senate race. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The Michelle Obama for Senate in 2016 stories are classic examples of an out-of-control media narrative that is based on little hard evidence.
But it may also end up being a lesson on why it’s best not to dismiss rampant speculation.
The rumor that the first lady could run for the Senate in Illinois next cycle appears to have started with a blog item by Keith Koffler at Reuters. And even though it doesn’t appear to be based on any sources, the story spread like a Justin Bieber mugshot across the Internet. Full story
On Nov. 29, 2006, I wrote what I thought was a long, compelling and analytical story for The Rothenberg Political Report about how Jefferson would lose in the runoff. The congressman received a paltry 30 percent in the initial November primary. The state party endorsed his Democratic opponent, as did with former Sens. J. Bennett Johnston and John Breaux. Did I mention that the FBI found $90,000 in cash in his freezer? Surely voters would show Jefferson the door.
Maloney is a Democrat from New York. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
By the numbers, New York’s 18th District isn’t solid-blue Democratic territory. But at this stage of the cycle, GOP optimism about defeating Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is very low. And that lack of enthusiasm could indicate that former Rep. Nan Hayworth, a Republican, won’t get much financial support from outside groups for the stretch run this fall.
President Barack Obama won the district twice, but with just 52 percent in 2008 and 51 percent in 2012. Last cycle, Maloney defeated Hayworth by a narrow margin, 52 percent to 48 percent. Full story
For congressional candidate Lee Zeldin, trips to Washington, D.C., are more than fundraisers and media interviews. They are a reminder of life and death.
In the fall of 2006, Zeldin was deployed in Iraq with the Army when his battalion commander received a Red Cross message: Zeldin’s wife, Diana, had gone into labor at 22 weeks, and the couple’s twin girls were not likely to survive. The commander immediately sent Zeldin to Washington, D.C., where his wife was living with her father while he served overseas.
But Zeldin didn’t arrive for a funeral.
The doctors and nurses delayed the birth and Mikayla and Arianna were born at 25 weeks, weighing a pound and a half each.
Recchia is running in New York’s 11th District. He cut his first congressional bid short in 2008 after his wife was the victim of an attack. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
I hate candidate recruitment stories.
More specifically, I hate stories that seem to blame the party campaign committees for their inability to coerce candidates to run.
In reality, there are so many factors that the committees cannot control that it’s simply unfair to hold them responsible for every alleged recruiting “failure.” Until party strategists obtain the abilities to heal the sick and cause children to age more rapidly, there is no amount of polling or promises that will get some potential recruits to run for Congress.
Florida state Rep. Kathleen Peters came up short in last week’s Republican primary in Florida’s 13th District, but most people are probably unaware of what she was going through personally during her bid. Full story
Rep. Bill Owens’ retirement announcement brought back a flood of special-election memories. But one thing in particular stood out to me. For all the national attention that competitive special elections receive, winning candidates’ time in Washington is often relatively short.
Owens’ tenure, when he completes his term, is long compared to some of his special-election contemporaries. He was elected in a November 2009 special election and will leave office in January 2015. And even though Owens was facing a competitive race this year, he chose to go out on his own terms.
Others weren’t so lucky in their electoral fate or their time in office: Full story
New York Rep. Bill Owens’ retirement gives Republicans another good opportunity to take over a Democratic seat, if they don’t get in their own way. Some GOP strategists may still have nightmares about the special election in this region more than four years ago, but the 21st District might be coming open at just the right time for Republicans to take it back.
Owens was elected in a competitive special election in 2009 (in what was then the 23rd District) when President Barack Obama appointed then-Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., to be secretary of the Army. Full story
McIntyre is retiring, giving Republicans a strong opportunity to pick up his House seat in North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
I wrote my first Dangerous Dozen open House seats column in this space 14 years ago, so I figured I might as well keep the streak going, though it isn’t nearly as impressive as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
As in my Jan. 17, 2000, column, the districts are listed in order of vulnerability. “All of the races on the list currently are worth watching, but I’ve concluded that the races at the top of the list are more likely to change party control than those at the bottom,” I wrote back then. The same applies now.
Utah’s 4th District (Jim Matheson, a Democrat, is retiring.)
Barack Obama received 41 percent of the vote in this district in 2008, but only 30 percent in his bid for re-election. No Democrat will begin with Matheson’s goodwill or moderate record, making the district impossible to hold for his party. After November, Republicans will control all four of the state’s House districts and both Senate seats. Full story
McCarthy is retiring. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Citing her battle with lung cancer, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., announced her retirement on Wednesday. The congresswoman leaves behind a 4th District that Barack Obama won with 56 percent in 2012 and 2008, and John Kerry won in 2004, 53 percent to 46 percent. Full story
Most of those Democrats either had no record or seemed prepared to run as pragmatists. And while Robertson also offered platitudes about bipartisanship, it was not hard to see that she was the most progressive of the Democrats I met that week.
Robertson’s liberal views aren’t all that surprising considering the district’s partisan and ideological polarization. The single largest bloc of Democratic votes comes from Tompkins County, a Democratic bastion that includes the city of Ithaca and both Cornell University and Ithaca College. Full story
In 2007, William Petit survived a brutal home invasion in which his wife and two daughters were killed. Last year, Amar Kaleka’s father was killed in the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Now, both men are seriously considering running for office.
But the road from family tragedy to Congress is not easy. Just ask Patty Wetterling.
“I’m the last person you want [anyone] to talk to,” said Wetterling, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice as a Democrat after her son was kidnapped in 1989. “It’s very difficult to recommend someone go through this.”
Wetterling’s tragic experience drew her into a journey of child safety advocacy, which raised her profile locally and nationally. In 2004, she decided to run for Congress in Minnesota’s 6th District and started the race with 90 percent name recognition.
Then things turned sour. Many voters immediately recategorized her from a sympathetic victim of a violent crime to a partisan politician.
“Once I became a candidate, 50 percent automatically didn’t like me,” Wetterling recalled. “I was surprised. I was naive. But I was also altruistic in my reasons for doing it.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat who was elected to Congress in the wake of her own family tragedy, had warned Wetterling of the impending political onslaught.
And so it came to pass. Over the course of the campaign, Wetterling’s image shifted, in part thanks to incumbent Rep. Mark Kennedy’s tough campaign against her.
“The more we learn about Patty Wetterling, the more surprised we are,” intoned the narrator of one of the GOP congressman’s ads as a photo of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed rolled across the screen. “Patty Wetterling took $80,000 from a group that opposed fighting terrorists in Afghanistan after 9/11.”
“If I looked at those ads, I wouldn’t have voted for me,” Wetterling said in an interview. She was also frustrated by the advice from her Democratic strategists to avoid her son Jacob’s story. She didn’t even like the ads run by her own campaign.
“Everyone was so afraid of it appearing like I was a single-issue candidate that they steered me into everything except for that,” Wetterling remembered. “I didn’t get to tell my story.”
Wetterling lost the 2004 race to Kennedy, 54 percent to 46 percent. Two years later, she entered the U.S. Senate race. But she eventually deferred to Amy Klobuchar and switched back to the 6th District race, which was then open because Kennedy was running for Senate.
Wetterling lost 50 percent to 42 percent to then-state Sen. Michele Bachmann, despite the Democratic wave of 2006.
“I’m not sure I ever could have won,” Wetterling said, looking back. She ran in a conservative district that President George W. Bush carried, 57 percent to 42 percent in 2004.
That’s part of the challenge facing Kaleka in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Not only would he be taking on well-funded GOP Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Barack Obama’s 51 percent victory in the district in 2008 likely masks the difficulty any Democrat would have in winning the seat. Bush won it by 9 points in 2004 and Mitt Romney carried it by 5 points in 2012.
There’s also no guarantee Kaleka will be the Democratic nominee. Last cycle’s nominee, Rob Zerban, hasn’t officially announced his intentions, but his operation sends frequent fundraising solicitations and he continues to boast about holding Ryan to his lowest ever re-election percentage (55 percent).
Petit would likely face similar challenges as a Republican in a blue state. He told the Hartford Courant recently that he’s “50-50” on whether to challenge to Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty in the 5th District.
Two-time GOP candidate Mark Greenberg is running again and he is already collecting endorsements. And at least one other candidate is considering a run as well.
Like Wetterling and Kaleka, Petit would start the general election at a partisan disadvantage. Even though Esty was elected with just 51 percent, Obama carried the district twice with 54 percent (2012) and 56 percent (2008), and John Kerry won it narrowly in 2004.
Other candidates who have experienced personal tragedies have also faced mixed electoral records.
Democrat Ron Barber was injured in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that also wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He won the subsequent special election with 52 percent in Arizona’s 2nd District to replace his former boss.
Tammy Duckworth had a tough transition from war hero to candidate. She lost both of her legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. Two years later, Duckworth was one of the most high-profile House candidates ever. But she barely made it out of the Democratic primary in Illinois’ 6th District and lost a very competitive general election to Republican Peter Roskam, even though there was a Democratic wave that year. Duckworth was finally elected in 2012 after Democrats redrew the 8th District to be more Democratic.
Going even further back, Democratic aide Jackie Speier was wounded in the 1978 shooting that took the life of California Rep. Leo Ryan. She ran and lost in the subsequent special election, but went on to a long career in the California Legislature before she was elected to Congress in 2008.