Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Port Security Frenzy: Real Concern or Real Grandstanding?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While Democrats and Republicans vent their anger over the Bush Administration’s decision to allow a United Arab Emirates-based company from taking “control” of America’s east coast ports (from a British company), I have a question: Exactly what responsibility and authority does this UAE company have? Specifically, how is U.S. security weakened?

I don’t know, and I bet 99.5% of the people discussing the “threat” don’t know. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet most of us have no idea what managing a port entails.

But that hasn’t stopped people from ranting about the Administration’s decision to approve the British-UAE deal.

CNN political commentators Donna Brazile (on the left) and Bill Bennett (on the right) agreed that it is a terrible thing. Pennsylvania Representative Bill Shuster (R) wrote a letter to the President expressing concern about the deal. Representative Max Burns (R-Ga.) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are worried. Both House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King (R-NY) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are demanding the President reverse his decision. I guess this is the bipartisanship we’ve all been longing for, huh?

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D), who just coincidentally happens to be running for governor, went absolutely bonkers over the deal.

"I am calling upon President Bush to reverse the outrageous, the reckless, and the irresponsible decision to turn over American ports to foreign governments," said the Mayor, who didn’t exactly sound like a model of thoughtfulness and reason.

Talking of “turning over” American ports to a foreign company that apparently is controlled by a foreign (Middle Eastern) government raises the specter of terrorists flowing through the ports of New York, Baltimore and Miami. But with the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Immigration and Naturalization still firmly in U.S. control, it’s far from clear how that sale threatens U.S. security or enables terrorists to gain access to the U.S.

What we have here is a small dose of real concern and a huge amount of grandstanding by legislators, Republican and Democratic alike.

Democrats smell an opportunity to appear tougher than the President on national defense and homeland security, enhancing their generally weaker credentials on fighting the war against terror.

Republican legislators realize that they cannot allow Democrats to seize the one issue that the GOP has had an advantage on since September 11, 2001. And GOP members of the House and Senate even get an issue on which they can “stand up to” Bush, a hard-to-pass-up opportunity since the President’s job ratings remain weak.

The White House probably does deserve blame – blame for not seeing that his decision could easily be demagogued and turned into a political issue. Now, fairly or unfairly, the President is on the defensive and some in the media have started to pile on, as did CNN’s Jack Cafferty, who never allows reason or logic to interfere with his analysis.

The President does not have to change his decision if he believes it to be correct. But he needs to make the case that the new company will not be in a position to aid terrorists, and that it will continue policies and procedures (both involving personnel and operations) to keep America’s ports safe, and to enhance that safety and security.

Still, the President is taking a political hit, and given his current standing, it’s a hit that he cannot afford.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on February 23, 2006.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Dumb Mistake May Cost Democrats

By Stuart Rothenberg

For months, Democratic insiders have been touting their candidate in Ohio’s 6th District, state Senator Charlie Wilson. They’ve been arguing that the socially conservative Democrat fits the district perfectly, and that he will easily hold retiring Congressman Ted Strickland’s open House seat in Southeastern Ohio.

But Wilson and his campaign team apparently have trouble with both arithmetic and geography, and the campaign’s surprising ineptness suddenly puts Democratic chances of retaining the district in doubt.

Wilson submitted just 46 valid signatures, four short of the 50 he needed to get his name on the May 2 primary ballot, in part because his campaign submitted signatures from people who don’t live within the 6th Congressional District. (In an obvious irony, Wilson himself lives in the neighboring 18th C.D., not in the 6th District.)

Wilson took much of the blame, admitting that he didn’t realize that his home county, where he got most of the signatures, is split between two Congressional districts.

Most campaigns use the signature-gathering process as an opportunity to build a list for fundraising and future voter contact. Wilson, apparently, didn’t pay any attention to the signatures or plan to use them to his advantage.

This is a conservative Democratic district, and without Wilson on the November ballot -- either by winning a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination, through a successful Independent bid during the general election or by selecting him to fill a vacancy if the eventual primary winner drops out of the contest -- Democrats will likely lose the seat. The GOP nominee is Ohio House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Blasdel, a credible candidate who was seen as a formidable Republican nominee even before Wilson’s ballot access problem developed.

The problem for Democrats is that a write-in campaign would be extremely costly, while an Independent bid would mean two Democrats and only one Republican on the November ballot.

This is one of the dumber mistakes in recent memory, rivaling a blunder by then-state Auditor Anne DeVore (R) of Indiana in 1994. DeVore, the clear favorite for the GOP nomination in a Democratic open House seat that year, missed the deadline by a couple of hours for turning in her signatures. That year, the Republican nomination -- and the seat in Congress -- was eventually won by David McIntosh (R).

No matter what happens in Ohio 6 from now on, it will be hard for Democratic operatives and strategists to sing Wilson’s praises as a candidate. He looks like a fool.

This piece first appeared on Political Wire on February 23, 2006.

Friday, February 24, 2006

New Print Edition: WV Senate & TX 22

The new February 24, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

West Virginia Senate: Generations
By Nathan L. Gonzales

It was almost smooth sailing to a record ninth term for the longest-serving member of the U.S Senate, West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd (D). After nearly a year of speculation, Cong. Shelley Moore Capito (R) announced in October that she would not challenge Byrd and instead seek reelection.

But late last year, Republicans were successful in recruiting wealthy businessman John Raese into the race. He has run twice statewide before and is willing to invest his own personal money into his upset bid.

Making the case for West Virginians to fire Byrd after half a century will be difficult for the GOP nominee. But Republicans have successfully ensured that the 88-year old senator will have to work to get reelected.

For the rest of the story including the lay of the land, candidate bios, anaylsis of the GOP primary and general election, as well as the Bottom Line..subscribe now.

Texas 22: The Big One

If you weren’t paying attention, you might think former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was running for Congress in all of the 232 Republican-held districts across the country.

Democrats are relentless in their attempts to couple the indicted congressman with any and all members of the But while Democrats hope voters have DeLay on their minds as they enter voting booths nationwide on November 7, the Republican congressman will only be on the ballot in Texas’s 22nd Congressional District.

DeLay is a fighter who hasn’t won a round in a while. From his indictments thanks to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D) to having to step down from his leadership post, the road ahead is only going to get tougher.

Rumors of more judicial trouble continue to swirl around the GOP congressman and his aides regarding their relationships with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to tax evasion, fraud, and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

But before he can fend off any more charges, DeLay must get renominated and reelected to Congress.

A January 10-12 Houston Chronicle poll, conducted by Rice University and the University of Houston, showed former Cong. Nick Lampson (D) leading in a general election with 30%, to 22% for DeLay and 11% for former GOP Cong. Steve Stockman (who is running as an Independent).

No one can foresee with certainty what will happen with the current charges leveled against DeLay or what may be down the line with potentially new charges. But obviously, new charges would simply throw gasoline on an already volatile race.

For the rest of the story, including information on DeLay's primary challengers, how the GOP primary plays out, the general election battle, and the Bottom Line... subscribe now.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

2006: The Year of Changing Your Mind in Politics

By Stuart Rothenberg

OK, so I really don’t expect a lot of consistency from politicians. They change their positions and their arguments from cycle to cycle. But this cycle, change has become the rule in more ways than one.

At least two candidates have turned down pleas to run for Congress, only to change their minds after others got in races to fill the apparent vacuums. Two other candidates entered races only to jump back out less than 48 hours later. And one of them jumped back into the race a few months later.

The best known case is in Ohio, where Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) turned down repeated appeals to get into the Senate race, only to jump into the contest after Democratic strategists and party insiders, desperate for a potentially strong challenger for Sen. Mike DeWine (R), succeeded in wooing Paul Hackett into the contest.

Hackett, quite rightly, was incensed. After trying to compete, he threw in the towel last week and, even more surprising, passed up a House bid as well. He was bitter. And he certainly deserved to be.

Ironically, Hackett’s exit may marginally improve DeWine’s chances of holding his seat, since he will now face a liberal Democrat with a lengthy legislative record.

In Minnesota’s 6th district, Democrats waited to see whether Patty Wetterling would run for the open U.S. House seat or for the U.S. Senate. Since she ran well against Mark Kennedy (R) in his 2004 House race, party insiders rightly figured that she had first claim on his ’06 open House seat.

After hemming and hawing for a while, Wetterling ruled out the House race. After more delay, she jumped into the Senate race. That opened the way for former state Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg to enter the House contest. He did, and party strategists and activists almost immediately coalesced behind his effort, giving Democrats a chance to win a Republican-leaning seat.

But then Wetterling dropped out of the Senate race and jumped into the House race. When Tinklenberg challenged Wetterling to explain why she would go back on her word, she uttered “things change, the world moves on.” How profound. That’s the kind of insight we’ve been missing in government.

Corey Day, a spokesperson, explained Wetterling’s decision by telling Roll Call, “Folks in the district came to Patty to do this, (sic) there was an overwhelming display of support for her.”

Give me a break. I’m sure some people encouraged Wetterling to run. There are more than half a million people in the district. Wetterling probably could find a few hundred loyalists to encourage her to run for the House. So what? It would have been nice if she had kept her word.

A St. Paul Pioneer Press story also quoted an EMILY’s List spokesperson as “very excited” that Wetterling had entered the race. Well, since Tinklenberg is a pro-life guy, EMILY’s List obviously prefers Wetterling. But can’t somebody finally stand up and scream that candidates should keep their word when they decide not to run and another candidate takes that as a cue to proceed?

Wetterling’s race switch enhances Democrats’ chances of holding Minnesota’s open Senate seat but damages her party’s chances of winning Kennedy’s open House seat.

Wetterling’s and Brown’s initial decisions caused others to enter races to which they otherwise would not have committed. That didn’t happen in the Michigan Senate race or in New York’s 29th district, two cases where candidate flip-flops didn’t involve questions of character or trust.

In Michigan, Republican Mike Bouchard entered the Senate race very briefly before announcing that medical issues forced him to drop out of the contest. But now Bouchard, believing that he has those issues under control, has re-entered the race, and he’s probably the favorite to win the GOP nomination.

But Bouchard’s exit from the race didn’t bring other hopefuls into the contest. Keith Butler and Jerry Zandstra were already in the race, so Bouchard’s flip-flop-flip was nothing more than a weird sequence of events.

Similarly, in New York’s 29th, Democrat David Nachbar announced a week ago that he would seek the Democratic nomination, pitting him against retired Navy officer Eric Massa, who has been running for months. But two days later, Nachbar left the race. While his flip-flop was bizarre, Nachbar had never promised Massa that he would not run.

I’m certainly not saying that politicians don’t have a right to change their minds. But in the Ohio and Minnesota cases, Brown and Wetterling showed that their promises were hollow. Is that really the way to start a bid for public office? Going back on one’s word, without even trying to clear the air first with the person harmed, isn’t a great character recommendation.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 21, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Hillary's Hurdles

By Nathan L. Gonzales

There is no question Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is running for president in 2008. Senators don’t normally raise $33 million to run for reelection against a nominal opponent. But there are a number of large hurdles Clinton must jump before she can be elected. Too often the focus is on just one of her challenges, instead of a coalition of all of them.

While Sen. Clinton must be viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, there is still plenty of time for other candidates from within her party to emerge as viable alternatives. Whether it’s former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Evan Bayh (IN), or others, a handful of other 2008 contenders will likely make the general election electability case against Clinton.

The Clinton Name. The first, and most obvious, vulnerability for Sen. Clinton is her name. President Bush’s job approval numbers continue to sag, and voters could very well be looking for a change after eight years of a Republican White House. But if there is one candidate who can unify a fractured Republican Party, it’s probably Hillary Clinton. From her own failed health care proposal in the early 1990s to being married to one of the most polarizing political figures of the day, Clinton may have the ability to draw Republicans to the polls in November 2008 that no GOP nominee could effectively have himself.

Being a Senator. Americans haven’t elected a U.S. Senator to the presidency in almost half a century, with John F. Kennedy (D) being the last one in 1960. Like Kennedy, Clinton will have eight years of Senate experience under her belt by the time 2008 rolls around, but her task is significant. As John Kerry knows, having a voting record for opponents to exploit is a formidable task.

Geography. Clinton also has the geography factor working against her. Kennedy was the last president elected from the Northeast, and the region has lost population since 1960 (108 House seats then, compared to 83 now). Over the last 45 years, the country has chosen leaders from Texas (George W. Bush & George H.W. Bush), Arkansas (Bill Clinton), California (Ronald Reagan & Richard Nixon), and Georgia (Jimmy Carter). The Northeast’s reputation for liberal views is a problem for any presidential hopeful from the region. In some ways, Sen. Clinton’s reputation transcends geography, and she will do well in a more liberal state like California, but that reputation cuts both ways.

She’s a woman. Lest anyone forget, the United States has never elected a woman for president. Neither of the major political parties has even nominated a woman for president. And only once (Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984) has a party even nominated a woman for vice-president. So, is the country ready for a woman president? That’s a topic for columns, theses, and dissertations far longer than this. But one thing is for sure: it would be a huge and historic step.

Keep in mind that polls showing that Americans are “ready” or “willing” to vote for a woman for president may not be that accurate. There are likely a group of respondents who won’t answer in the negative to those questions, because it’s not the politically correct thing to say (similar to polling involving a minority candidate). And also, Clinton, or any other woman candidate, will not be running in a vacuum. She will have an opponent with his own strengths and weaknesses. In a time of international conflict and a war on terrorism, Clinton will have to show extreme competence on foreign affairs and military issues to gain credibility with a majority of voters.

Overall, clearing just a couple of these hurdles would be a significant challenge for any candidate. But pulling off all four simultaneously in 2008, as Clinton is attempting, would have to be regarded as one of the most significant political feats in history. And that would make the loss even more difficult for Republicans to swallow.

But for the country to jump from not even nominating a woman for president to electing one, especially if we are still at war, Clinton has serious obstacles to face. Many Americans already distrust the Democratic Party on issues of national security, let alone a female Democrat.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on February 17, 2006.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

When Events Matter

By Stuart Rothenberg

While journalists and political junkies watch each day's news with an eye to see who is winning and who is losing -- who is moving up and who is moving down -- the reality is that most days come and go without any real movement.

Americans don't dissect the news the way a compulsive blogger or a political reporter does. They tend to fit news reports and political developments into their existing assumptions and biases. And, again unlike most bloggers and political reporters, real people have more important things to do than chew on the latest political bone.

But sometimes events do matter.

The recent decisions by Patty Wetterling to exit the Minnesota Senate race and by attorney Mike Ciresi not to get into it have left Hennepin County Prosecutor Amy Klobuchar all by herself in the quest for the DFL nomination. That means she won't have to spend money in a costly primary against the well-heeled Ciresi or move left to try to cut Wetterling off at an endorsing convention.

And that puts her in good shape to win Minnesota's open Senate seat against Republican Mark Kennedy, a congressman who would be even money to win the seat in a neutral year but who is an underdog in the current climate.

Wetterling's exit from that race and into the Minnesota 6th District House race undermines her party's chances of winning that open seat, since it is likely to create bitterness and division no matter whether she or former Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, a more moderate Democrat, wins the Democratic nomination in the district.

In West Virginia, the entry of wealthy businessman John Raese into the GOP Senate race surely makes that contest more interesting and raises at least some doubts about Senator Robert Byrd's reelection, which had been considered a certainty. Raese drew 47% against Jay Rockefeller (D) in 1984, and he gives voters a serious alternative to Byrd, who doesn't quite look like Strom Thurmond did in his final years in the Senate but obviously isn't the man he was three or four decades ago.

Raese has plenty of personal money, so he won't have trouble delivering his case against Byrd. This is now a race worth watching.

This piece originally appeared on Political Wire on February 15, 2006.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rothenberg’s 10 Most Endangered House Incumbents

By Stuart Rothenberg

This is one of the more difficult lists that I have tried to create over the years. Many of the incumbents on this list have proven their political mettle before, and in normal circumstances, they wouldn’t be in all that much trouble. Others find themselves in the sort of hot water that should automatically sink them, but because of unique circumstances, they might somehow survive. Anyway, here is my current list (including only districts likely to change partisan hands), with the more vulnerable incumbents coming first and the less vulnerable Members coming toward the end.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). I’ll be surprised if Ney hasn’t been indicted by the time Election Day rolls around, and if he has any chance of surviving it’s only because the Democrats may nominate Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, who is a walking political time bomb with his own political and personal baggage. With Ney on the ballot in November, the Republicans will probably lose this district, even though it was redrawn after the 2000 Census to make it reliably Republican. If Ney retires — and he has already filed to run again — the GOP would have a much better chance of holding the seat. Any normal Democrat (attorney Zack Space might meet that test) should beat Ney.

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Former House Majority Leader DeLay faces a potentially competitive primary against former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration general counsel Tom Campbell, as well as a difficult general election challenge by former Rep. Nick Lampson (D). Lampson’s record gives DeLay plenty to shoot at, but the Congressman’s history of being admonished by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and his current vulnerabilities certainly give his opponents ammunition.

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.). Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D) has plenty of assets, while Hostettler has barely squeaked by against lesser opponents. And the national political environment stinks for Republicans, if you hadn’t noticed. Once again, the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to pour money into this race to try to save Hostettler.

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.). Democrat Lois Murphy drew 48 percent last time. She is back for a rematch, and while Gerlach seems more aggressive in defending himself and attacking her, the environment is much worse for the GOP. Plus, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) will be trying to squeeze every possible Democratic vote out of Southeast Pennsylvania to win a tough re-election bid.

Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.). Simmons has done everything he could to be re-elected, including playing a role in “saving” the New London Naval Submarine Base from closure. But his district will be difficult to hold in this political environment. Democrat Joe Courtney, who lost to Simmons in 2002 by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin, had $450,000 in the bank at the end of December, guaranteeing that he will run a well-funded race. If Simmons survives in this political climate, Democrats may finally conclude that they will never beat him.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.). Wilson faces her toughest opponent yet, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a visible statewide officeholder. The Congresswoman has turned back spirited challenges before, but the district is so competitive that national dynamics put the Republican at considerable risk. Wilson’s 55 percent win in 2002 and 54 percent victory in 2004 show that she has been solidifying herself in the district.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). Shays fits his district very well, except in one way: He shares a party with President Bush. Democrat Diane Farrell drew 48 percent in 2004 and ran the kind of well-funded and credible campaign that Shays hasn’t faced recently. Farrell is back again, and she figures to give Shays fits, in part because he refuses to go on the attack.

Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.). Sodrel beat then-Rep. Baron Hill very narrowly in 2004, by just 1,425 votes out of 283,000 cast. Now Hill, a three-term Congressman, is back, making this the third time in a row that the two men will face off. (Each has won one.) The district leans Republican, but Sodrel is a freshman Republican in a bad GOP environment.

Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.). Democrats regularly underestimate Shaw, a strong fundraiser and a tough campaigner. The former Fort Lauderdale mayor recently had lung cancer surgery, but he seems to have bounced back well. He already has begun to attack his opponent, state Sen. Ron Klein (D), for being a lobbyist. But the district leans Democratic on the presidential level, and Klein ended 2005 with $1.1 million in the bank, to Shaw’s $1.4 million. That assures a major Democratic challenge — and another major test for Shaw.

Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.). Only one Democrat makes this list: freshman Rep. Bean, who knocked off Rep. Phil Crane (R) in a re-match from 2002. Bean was an energetic candidate, but her victory was due primarily to Crane’s weakness. She now represents a solidly Republican district, making her a top GOP target. Bean, who ended 2005 with almost $1.4 million in the bank, is prepared to defend her seat.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 16, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Red-State Reid Sounds Like a Blue-State Leader

By Stuart Rothenberg

When Senate Democrats selected Nevada Sen. Harry Reid to be their leader, journalists and political insiders noted his red-state credentials, opposition to abortion and soft-spoken style as perfect qualities for a party seeking to broaden its appeal.

Almost immediately, a front-page New York Times story suggested that “Reid’s amiability might make it harder for the White House to demonize him.” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) compared him to TV’s Mister Rogers.

Another Senator said the new Leader would likely give voice to the party’s moderates — not a surprising conclusion given Reid’s willingness over the years to work with Republicans on everything from water issues and welfare reform to late-term abortion and flag desecration.

“He was the guy Republicans and Democrats used to praise on the floor,” one longtime Capitol Hill Democrat told me recently. “He was polite and soft-spoken.”

But now, with the Senate deeply divided along partisan lines and Reid charged with leading the fight against President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) — with whom Reid has had “a complete falling out,” according to one knowledgeable Democrat — the Nevada Senator sounds more and more like a boilerplate, blue-state Democrat.

The language of the new Reid is less measured and far nastier than that of his predecessor, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and the new Minority Leader is far more combative and confrontational than his recent Senate Minority Leader predecessors.

Reid has always been known for being what his friends call “tough and direct,” and what Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston has called “ruthless” and “Machiavellian.”

Reid has called Bush a “liar” and a “loser,” signed fundraising letters (for himself and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) that compared Republicans to “the mafia” and “the mob,” and established a “war room” in the Senate that even he has acknowledged crossed the line with personal attacks on his colleagues.

That aggressiveness inevitably raises questions about his relationship with GOP colleagues, his own electoral prospects should he seek a fifth term in 2010 and his effectiveness for his party.

Republicans generally see Reid’s aggressive style as an effort to satisfy his more liberal Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

“He’s the leader of a very left-wing caucus. He’s surrounded by [Sens. Edward] Kennedy [Mass., Charles] Schumer [N.Y.] and Dick Durbin [Ill.]. He has to get re-elected, so he’s got to be the spokesman for his constituents — his constituents in the Senate,” one Republican told me.

While that is true, Reid — who has been in the Leader’s job for just more than a year and lacks the close relationship that Daschle had with some senior Members — is no mere tool of his party’s left. Instead, he appears to be adapting to his role of Minority Leader at a time when Democrats are both frustrated after repeated election defeats and emboldened at the sight of the president’s political weakness.

Supporters of the Senator strongly dispute any idea that Reid has had a style makeover. They insist that he hasn’t changed from his years growing up in the tiny mining town he regularly references, Searchlight, Nev.

“He has never shied away from a fight. He has always had a give ’em hell Harry style,” argued one Capitol Hill operative. “He has been a street-fighter since he was a little kid,” said another Democrat.

One Democratic Capitol Hill insider may not be far off in arguing that Reid’s recent habit of being particularly combative stems from a desire to compensate for qualities that he lacks.

“Sen. Reid has a tendency to make the rhetoric hotter because he isn’t naturally an effective speaker,” the Democrat argued. “Of course, the base and the grass roots are demanding a much more in-your-face style.”

Has Reid paid a price on Capitol Hill for his aggressiveness? While some veteran Republicans insist that he has, or will, it is hard to find instances in which Republicans have punished him for his aggressiveness. Given the way the Senate conducts business, they are forced to deal with him.

Reid’s close relationship with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) remains intact, according to a Republican Senate operative familiar with the two Senators. Ensign was “quite concerned” when he heard about a Reid memo criticizing Republican colleagues by name, but the Minority Leader apologized publicly (saying that he had not seen it before it was distributed and that he rejected its characterizations) as well as personally to Ensign. The Nevada Republican readily accepted.

If the Minority Leader does pay a price for his new confrontational approach, it could be at home. While allies of the Senator insist that he continues to tend to state interests, unreleased Republican polling shows Reid’s “unfavorables” are up significantly, particularly among Republicans, who not surprisingly see him as more partisan. Of course, Reid, 66, isn’t up for re-election until 2010, so his electoral prospects are not of immediate concern.

Reid has always been direct to the point of bluntness. He has always been partisan, even though he sometimes worked with and voted with Republicans. He’s always been tough. But over the past year, Reid has sounded nasty, even mean. That is likely to both undercut his usefulness to his own party and to lead Republicans down the same nasty, intemperate path over the next few years.

Is that what Harry Reid really wants?

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 13, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It Won’t be a Bi-partisan Wave

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With a potential political wave developing, Republicans should face the reality that it likely will only break one way – toward the Democrats.

GOP leaders in Washington are trying to point out the “hypocrisy” of the Democratic attacks on ethics and corruption, but recent history shows that if a wave develops, it will disproportionately hurt one party over the other.

Not only are Republicans likely to lose seats this November, but their chances of defeating a Democratic incumbent or taking over a Democratic open seat are minimal. Sure, the GOP has opportunities against newly-appointed Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in New Jersey and a handful of other Democratic incumbents, as well as in open seats in Minnesota and Maryland, but in “wave” elections, competitive seats tend to break heavily toward one party.

Back in 1980, a whopping twelve seats changed hands in the Senate, with Democrats losing all of them. Nine incumbents went down to defeat, including heavyweights like Birch Bayh (IN), Frank Church (ID), and George McGovern (SD). Republicans also won Democratic open seats in Alabama, Alaska, and Florida.

Six years later, ten Senate seats changed hands, nine of which were Republican losses. In that 1986 election, seven GOP incumbents lost, along with 2 open seats. Kit Bond’s win in an open-seat race in Missouri was the lone bright spot for Republicans that night.

And in 1994, eight Senate seats switched parties, with all eight being Republican takeovers. Only two Democratic incumbents were defeated (Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and James Sasser of Tennessee) but six open seat losses were the Democrats undoing. (Along with the net loss of 52 seats in the House).

This cycle, four Republican incumbents are in serious trouble: Rick Santorum (PA), Mike DeWine (OH), Conrad Burns (MT), and Lincoln Chafee (RI) -- although his seat’s vulnerability hinges on his inability to survive the GOP primary. In addition, incumbent Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri is only running even with his Democratic opponent.

Even if all five of those Republicans lose, Democrats would still be one seat short of a majority. Then it comes down Democrats either defeating Sen. Jon Kyl in Arizona or Cong. Harold Ford (D) winning the open seat vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in Tennessee. Both races are very uphill for the Democrats right now.

But the bottom line is that Republicans should not depend on off-setting losses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Montana with wins elsewhere. Over the last 25 years, when the wave hits, only one party drowns.

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on February 9, 2006.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Indiana’s 8th: For the Democrats, It’s Now or Never

By Stuart Rothenberg

Democrats are poised to defeat Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) in November. And they better succeed — because if they don’t, they might as well forget about ever defeating him.

Hostettler, a six-term conservative from southwest Indiana, has been a Democratic target since he was first elected in 1994. But Democratic hype about beating him has never proved reliable, and the combination of Hostettler’s committed base and money from the National Republican Congressional Committee has kept the seat in GOP hands.

This year, the Democrats have a challenger who looks like the real deal. And with the national landscape strongly favoring change and Democrats, Hostettler should be a dead duck. But can Democrats finally finish him off?

The Democrats’ challenger, Brad Ellsworth, 47, started working as a law enforcement officer in the Vanderburgh County sheriff’s office in 1982, right out of college. In 1998, he was elected sheriff, and four years later he won a second term. Neither race was close.

Tall and with the sort of macho good looks that are likely to turn more than a few female heads, Ellsworth is well-spoken and comes off as surprisingly poised for a local law enforcement official who doesn’t have extensive political experience.

The Democrat lacks a legislative record, which is a problem for Republicans who will undoubtedly try to demonize him as a liberal. Even more of a problem for national GOP strategists is that on the issues, Ellsworth appears to be a very moderate Democrat.

He opposes legal abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and he would support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. He also strongly opposes the quick exit from Iraq at a certain date, proposed by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), even shaking his head to emphasize how wrong the Pennsylvanian’s approach is.

On trade, however, Ellsworth adopts a more traditional Democratic “fair trade” stance, opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement as “taking jobs from our workers.”

The challenger has hired a strong campaign team and has raised almost $450,000 for his race, ending December with $370,706 in the bank.

An early June poll for Ellsworth of voters in Vanderburgh County, which includes Evansville, by the firm Garin-Hart-Yang found that the sheriff was extremely popular in his home county and had the kind of support there that would make him Hostettler’s toughest opponent ever.

Hostettler put together his biggest victory in 2004, but even then he drew just 53.4 percent of the vote. His closest race came in 1996, his first bid for re-election, when he won by just 50 percent to 48.3 percent.

Hostettler’s support isn’t wide, but it is extremely deep. He has a core of socially conservative, often evangelical followers who are fervently committed to his re-election. They turn out every two years, no matter who he’s running against or what the national political environment looks like.

The Congressman is consistently conservative, whether on abortion, gun control or government spending. Sometimes his loyalty to conservative principles is so strong that he breaks with President Bush. He opposed the Bush administration’s prescription drug benefit, and he often votes against spending bills. He was one of a handful of Republican Representatives who opposed giving the president the authority to attack Iraq.

Hostettler has not avoided criticism or controversy. He treats the local and national media alike — as if he doesn’t care what they think. He tends not to be diplomatic in his language, most notably when he offended breast cancer survivors in a Capitol Hill meeting. A one-time Hostettler supporter complained to me recently that the Congressman “is impervious to logic, to reason.”

Hostettler’s fundraising reputation is almost unmatched: He is among the worst fundraisers of House Members in competitive districts. Every two years, the NRCC is forced to pour money into television ads to defend the Congressman and attack his opponent.

Challengers have outraised Hostettler in three of the past four cycles, and that is likely to happen again this time. In the previous cycle, Democrat Jon Jennings raised, despite glaring weaknesses, $1.5 million, compared to the Congressman’s $480,210.

This cycle, Hostettler is showing his usual fundraising zeal. At the end of December, he had $36,587 in the bank, about one-tenth of what Ellsworth showed at year’s end.

Hostettler runs a very insular political operation, surrounding himself with friends and relatives and generally rejecting professional advice. Given his repeated success, it’s silly to underestimate him or to predict that he will not, once again, survive.

But in many ways, Ellsworth is a stunningly attractive challenger, and this is by far the Democrats’ best opportunity to regain this evenly divided Congressional district. If they don’t win in November, they will never beat Hostettler.

It’s now or never. And it certainly looks like it is now.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 9, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nevada Senate: Don't Believe the Hype

By Nathan L. Gonzales

A potential challenge to Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (D) is receiving increased attention in the media. Don't take it too seriously.

While, DSCC Chairman Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Barack Obama (IL), and Minority Leader Harry Reid (Ensign's colleague) reportedly have spoken with Goodman about a run -- Reid has even referred to the mayor as a potentially "very, very strong candidate" -- Goodman is a powder keg ready to explode.

Nicknamed the "Lawyer to the Mob," Goodman made a living as a defense attorney for members of the mafia including Meyer Lansky, Tony "The Ant" Spilatro, and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal." Goodman even played himself in the movie Casino.

More recently, in January 2005, Goodman presented the keys of the city to three Playboy playmates, also telling the Review Journal that the ceremony honored Playboy's "wonderful relationship with the city of Las Vegas."

That budding relationship led to an invitation from Playboy for Goodman to be a Celebrity Guest Photographer. "I have always been a fan of Playboy and the way they celebrate and honor the beauty of women," Goodman said, whose photos of Irina Voronina went online in May 2005.

In the Las Vegas Sun, Goodman described his critics as "haters and those who need to get a life," and said he would do it again if given the opportunity.

The mayor has a base in Las Vegas, but voters in booming suburban Clark County, as well as in rural Nevada, are more conservative and will likely find Goodman unacceptable. In 2004, John Kerry lost the state 50% to 48% to President Bush, who favors storing tons of nuclear waste in Nevada. And the most popular Democrat in the state is a pro-life Mormon.

And the idea that the same Democratic Party running as the anti-corruption party nationwide would promote the Senate candidacy of a former lawyer for the mob is extremely ironic.

This piece first appeared on Political Wire on February 8, 2006.

Friday, February 10, 2006

New Print Edition: 2006 Senate Outlook

The new February 10, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

Senate Overview- The Lay of the Land

Democrats will gain Senate seats in November, but a net gain of six seats, which they would need to get to 51, continues to be a stretch. National atmospherics strongly favor Democrats (President Bush’s ratings are poor, Congress is unpopular, and a majority of Americans believe the country is “off on the wrong track”), and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had a strong fundraising year.

The GOP’s danger next year is that, because of the national environment, Democrats could win most or all of the close races. That often happens (as it did in 1980, 1986 and 1994), and if it happens in November, Democrats could add at least four or five senators. This issue, we are moving three seats, all of them currently held by Democrats. We see two of the seats, West Virginia and New Jersey, as better opportunities for the GOP than they were three months ago, while Minnesota looks better for the Democrats than in our October overview.

Right now, Democrats must hold all of their seats and win their five top opportunities to have any chance of winning a Senate majority. Even then, they would also need to win in Arizona or Tennessee. About the only good news for Republicans is that expectations are very, very low for them, and Democrats have a number of primaries (in Ohio, Rhode Island, Montana and Maryland), some of which could turn nasty.

For rankings and analysis for all 33 races and a listing of current polling as well as our overall prediction for control of the Senate... subscribe now.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

It’s Not DiMaggio for Williams, But It’s Time for a Trade

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s true that I’m not, and have never been, a general manager of a Major League Baseball team. Those guys make much more money than I do, and these days you have to be under 35 to be hired for one of those jobs.

But I have a trade that is just screaming to be made, and I’d like to put it on the table right now.

I propose that the Republicans send Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee to the Democrats in return for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. No Members to be named later. No future draft picks exchanged. Just an old-fashioned one-for-one deal. Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn.

Let’s get totally real about what’s going on here. Chafee is a Democrat, and Nelson is a Republican. They just find themselves trapped in the wrong parties. It’s like one of those “Freaky Friday” movies.

If you check the stats, you’ll find the two Senators have remarkably similar Congressional Quarterly party unity and presidential support ratings, as well as similar numbers from major liberal, conservative, business and labor interest groups. In 2003 and 2004, with Republican President Bush in the White House, Democrat Nelson had higher presidential support ratings than did Republican Chafee.

Put Nelson in the GOP and his pro-business and conservative ratings will rise. Chafee as a Democrat would see his labor and liberal ratings increase.

Chafee, of course, was the only Republican Senator to vote against confirming Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for Alito. So did Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and everyone else. For Republicans, this was a litmus test vote.

Nelson was one of only four Democrats to vote to approve Alito, but he was the first to do so, and he did so more enthusiastically than the others. Face it, Nelson was going to vote for Alito if he had been the only Democrat to do so. Of course, that wouldn’t bother him. He is Bush’s favorite Democrat.

A quick check of some other high-profile votes also shows Nelson and Chafee are in the wrong parties.

Chafee voted for extending the assault weapons ban for 10 years, against a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, against criminalizing harm to a fetus in an attack on its mother, and against extending middle-class tax breaks. Nelson was on the opposite side on each vote.

Politically, the trade might well be in Chafee’s interest. His vote against Alito will be another nightmare for his political strategists and a gift for his primary opponent, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey (R).

Given the symbolism of the vote and the hot-button issue (at least for rank-and-file Republicans) of judges, Chafee’s vote against confirmation is an engraved invitation for GOP primary voters to cast their ballots for the mayor.

And if you are at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Chafee’s Alito vote has to give you indigestion, since you are in the awkward position of having to spend substantial funds to save Chafee even though you have plenty of other races that need your cash. The committee has already run two TV spots attacking Laffey, and it will probably have to do more in its effort to save Chafee in the primary.

For Nelson, his chance to vote for Alito was a gift. While he is a clear favorite for re-election in November, his vote for confirmation is another high-profile example of his political “independence,” of his assertion that he isn’t a knee-jerk Democrat.

Three Republicans are vying to take on Nelson. Pete Ricketts, a wealthy businessman, probably is the strongest potential challenger. He has already put almost $1 million into the race, is articulate and energetic, and has hired a strong campaign team.

But Ricketts’ biggest advantage is his party label, and that advantage is diluted dramatically by Nelson’s ability to portray himself as an ally of the president. And his vote for Alito is further evidence that he will support Bush when he is right.

While a one-for-one trade is reasonable, Democrats might demand something more. After all, while both Nelson and Chafee are up for re-election this year, and both have competitive races, Nelson is in far better shape.

Getting Nelson would solidify the GOP’s control of the Senate in November. That might mean the NRSC would need to offer the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee cash to even out the deal. Or Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R).

Thirty years ago, Chafee and Nelson wouldn’t stand out nearly as much as they do today. There were plenty of GOP moderates and a slew of moderate and conservative Democrats. But now, Chafee and Nelson stick out like sore thumbs in the Senate. I say trade ’em.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 6, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Candidates Battle for Cash in House Open Seats

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Some of the biggest battles in the fight for the House this year will be in open seats, vacated by members running for higher office or retiring. With the power of incumbency, open seats often provide better opportunities for takeover. And now that year-end Federal Election Commission reports are past due, we can get a glimpse at how the candidates are faring financially in these extremely competitive seats.

Colorado 7. GOP Cong. Bob Beauprez was first elected in 2002 in this newly-drawn, suburban Denver district, in the closest race of that cycle. Now, Beauprez is running for governor, leaving Republicans with a difficult seat to hold. John Kerry defeated President Bush 51%-48% in the 7th District in 2004.

Rick O’Donnell (R), the likely GOP nominee, raised $652,000 last year and finished December with $517,068 in the bank. He will face either former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter or former state representative Peggy Lamm (D) in the general election. Perlmutter showed $401,061 on hand at the end of the year compared to Lamm’s $139,370.

Iowa 1. Republicans are defending this seat, because Cong. Jim Nussle (R) is also running for governor. The seat itself leans Democratic (Kerry won 53%-46% in 2004), but Nussle always proved to be a difficult target.

The Democratic nominee will likely be either former Iowa Trial Lawyers Association president Bruce Braley ($289,324 in the bank through the end of the year) or Greater Dubuque Development Corporation director Rick Dickinson ($118,451 on hand through December 31). 2004 nominee Bill Gluba is also in the race, but he only had $28,046 through the fourth quarter.

State Rep. Bill Dix is setting the pace on the Republican side, raising almost $380,000 and finished the year with $256,901. Businessman Mike Whalen raised about $270,000 and chipped in $66,000 of his own money, but his spending left him with $84,304 in the bank. And former state party chairman Brian Kennedy finished December with $164,105 on hand after raising $285,091.

Ohio 6. Cong. Ted Strickland (D) is running for governor, leaving the Democrats with a seat of their own to hold. President Bush won the district narrowly 50%-49% in 2004, but because of Gov. Bob Taft’s (R) abysmal job ratings, the Ohio landscape favors the Democrats.

State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) raised over $200,000 last year, dumped in another $257,000 of his own money and finished December with a considerable $436,674 in the bank. His likely opponent, state House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Blasdel (R) showed $296,614 on hand after raising over $370,327. A January 11-12 Cooper & Secrest Associates poll for the Wilson campaign showed the Democrat leading 42%-24%.

Arizona 8. Cong. Jim Kolbe (R) is retiring leaving a headache for Republicans. Kolbe announced in November that he was leaving at the end of his term, so the candidate field is still very fluid. President Bush won the 8th District 53%-46% in 2004, but the seat is very competitive.

State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (D) raised almost a quarter million dollars and had $242,123 in the bank at the end of the fourth quarter. Her Democratic opponent, former television news anchor Patty Weiss, just announced her candidacy. On the GOP side, former state Rep. Randy Graf (who lost in a primary to Kolbe in 2004) is in the race, but showed only $25,861 on hand on December 31. State Rep. Steve Huffman (R) just announced his candidacy, still more candidates are possibilities, and some Republicans are still hoping U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona will get in.

Illinois 6. Long-time Cong. Henry Hyde (R) is retiring in a suburban Chicago district that President Bush carried only 53%-46% in 2004. State Sen. Peter Roskam will be the GOP nominee and he is off to a strong start, raising over $1 million and finishing the year with $835,113 in the bank.

But neighboring Cong. Rahm Emanuel (D), who is also chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) are putting all their chips behind Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth (D). Duckworth only started raising money late in the year ($105,073 in the bank on December 31), but should have a very strong first quarter. Duckworth faces 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis ($39,363 on hand on 12/31) and Wheaton College professor Lindy Scott ($79,033 on hand on 12/31) in the Democratic primary.

Overall, Democrats have at least an even shot at winning four out of these five races, with Republicans currently holding a clear advantage in Illinois.

This piece first appeared on Town Hall on February 2, 2006.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Jindal Aims to Make Blanco Another Katrina Casualty

By Stuart Rothenberg

As political junkies across the country focus on November’s increasingly important midterm elections, friends and political allies of Louisiana 1st district Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) have something else on their mind: the Bayou State’s 2007 race for governor.

Incumbent Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) has already announced that she will run for re-election for the state’s top job, and Republicans are acting like sharks that smell blood in the water.

Blanco received mediocre reviews at best for her (and the state’s) response before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, with critics complaining that she didn’t show strength or leadership skills during the crisis.

Jindal isn’t talking publicly about 2007 just yet. “Now’s not the time for politics. Bobby’s 100 percent focused on rebuilding our state,” says Jindal’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell.

But the Congressman’s friends are already talking about a statewide run, and they are signaling to other Republicans who might be interested in running for governor that Jindal will be a candidate.

Jindal, whose parents came to the United States from India, finished first in the 2003 open primary for governor and was widely viewed as the frontrunner for the runoff. But in the campaign’s final days, Blanco, a two-term lieutenant governor with conservative views on abortion and gun control, overtook him, winning by 4 points, 52 percent to 48 percent.

A year later, at the age of 33, Jindal was elected to Congress in a New Orleans-area district vacated by Republican Rep. David Vitter, who now serves in the Senate.

Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar with degrees from Brown University and Oxford University, previously served as secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, president of the University of Louisiana System and assistant secretary for planning and evaluation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In person, Jindal is as impressive as his résumé. In more than a dozen years interviewing candidates for Congress, he ranks with a handful of the most impressive challengers and open-seat candidates whom I have interviewed. That list also includes now-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and unsuccessful Senate hopeful Jack Ryan (R-Ill.).

Blanco apparently got a break recently when Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D) — the son of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu (D) and the brother of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) — announced that he would challenge New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin later this year. While that does not completely remove Landrieu from the 2007 governor’s race, it makes his entry into that contest unlikely.

Still, Blanco at this point is badly damaged goods, and everyone knows it. And that could bring Democratic hopefuls into next year’s race, particularly since Louisiana holds an open primary, in which all candidates, regardless of party, run in a single contest. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, the top two votegetters, regardless of party, meet in a runoff.

Jindal looks like the logical GOP choice to run again, given his narrow loss in 2003 and his preference for serving in an executive capacity rather than in a legislative office. His service in Congress adds to his already ample credentials for higher political office, and it gives him a political base from which to launch a statewide bid.

Supporters of the Congressman note that Vitter won the 2004 Senate race in part because the party rallied behind him early and helped keep other GOP hopefuls out of that race. But with the governorship so clearly up for grabs, other Republicans may jump in as well.

For Democrats, the question is whether they will stick with an incumbent governor who is now much weaker than she was a year ago, or find a more appealing alternative. Many Republicans would rather see Blanco as the Democrats’ choice.

Demographics explain part of why the Republicans are so optimistic. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the state, many of them from Democratic Orleans Parish. While estimates of population change are incomplete and should be treated gingerly — and polls in the state should be regarded with great skepticism given the obvious difficulty of drawing a reliable sample that accurately reflects the state’s electorate next November — few doubt that the exodus from the state has hurt the Democratic Party.

Unlike most of its neighbors in the South, Louisiana has resisted a full-scale move into the Republican column. The combination of working-class whites and African Americans have kept Democrats competitive in the state. But the population shifts following Katrina may well lead to a fundamental partisan shift, and the 2007 governor’s race could be the first test of whether that is happening.

It could also put Jindal on the national stage at a time when Republicans are looking for new — and very different — faces.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on February 2, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Will Mood for Change Benefit Primary Challengers?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Despite of the difficulty of knocking off incumbent Members of Congress in primaries, a handful of potentially serious Congressional primaries are taking shape this cycle. Will the overall political environment, which favors change over the status quo, benefit these insurgents?

The two high-profile primary challenges to Senators are on tap in Rhode Island and Hawaii.

Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey’s challenge to Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) has received plenty of publicity so far, and TV ads supporting each man already have aired. In Hawaii, Rep. Ed Case’s announcement earlier this month that he will take on Sen. Daniel Akaka, 81, in the Democratic primary raised more than a few eyebrows in the nation’s capital. Despite some similarities, the two races are based on different assumptions.

Laffey’s challenge to Chafee is based partly on ideology, partly on style. The mayor is attempting to play the role of the conservative, populist outsider to Chafee’s establishment insider. Given Congress’ standing in national polls and the negative press that many Members have been receiving, Laffey’s style could resonate with voters.

Case’s primary challenge, on the other hand, is generational. He has talked about the need to “phase in” new representation so Hawaii doesn’t lose all of its seniority in the Senate all at once.

“I think it is a matter of transition, and it’s a matter of how Hawaii can best be represented throughout the next generation,” said the 53-year-old Democratic House Member.

While versions of the age argument have been tried before — by Democrats against then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in 1996 and by Republicans against Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) this cycle — the argument doesn’t have a long history of success. Still, if voters truly want change, the argument might have particular resonance this year.

In the meantime, at least three House incumbents face potentially difficult races for renomination: Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) and Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.). And that number could grow if other developing races take shape.

Schwarz’s opponent, Tim Walberg, ran in the 2004 open-seat primary and finished third. Walberg is mounting an ideological primary against Schwarz, a relatively moderate Republican who won a crowded primary two years ago when multiple conservative candidates divided the conservative vote.

Cuellar’s primary opponent, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, is trying to win the Democratic nomination from the man who took away his seat two years ago. Democratic supporters of Rodriguez’s challenge, including former Rep. Martin Frost, a one-time chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, complain that Cuellar votes too much like a Republican.

Schmidt’s primary challenger is former Rep. Bob McEwen, a former six-term Member from Ohio. Redistricting following the 1990 Census forced McEwen to run against another Republican Congressman, and while McEwen won that primary, he was defeated by Ted Strickland (D) in the general election. More recently, McEwen sought the GOP’s 2nd district nomination in the special election triggered when then-Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was named U.S. trade representative. McEwen finished second, right behind Schmidt, in that special primary.

Why is McEwen challenging Schmidt, who has served in Congress since only last August?

“Bob wants to return to Congress. He wants the district to have the conservative representation in Washington that it once had. And he can put his six terms of seniority in the House to good use,” McEwen communications director Michael Harlow told me recently.

But few insiders believe McEwen’s challenge is really about ideology. Nor is it even about Schmidt’s electability, even though the former Congressman’s campaign packet contains information that questions her ability to retain the seat. McEwen appears to be running mainly because he enjoyed being in Congress.

The list does not end there. Other troublesome primaries are possible for incumbents.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) faces a developing primary challenge from state Rep. Chuck Espy, nephew of former Rep. Mike Espy (D-Miss.). Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D) is taking on Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) in a district that, according to the Congressman’s Web site, is “53 percent Latino.” And in Georgia, DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson is taking on Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D).

Texas Rep. Tom DeLay (R), currently under indictment, also faces primary challengers, though his vulnerability in a primary is uncertain. And former Rep. Pete McCloskey (R) hopes his primary challenge to Rep. Richard Pombo (Calif.) develops into a credible one.

Upstate New York Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert often faces a challenge for renomination from the right, and with New York’s late primary, in September, a troublesome contest is still possible.

What does history tell us about primary challenges when voters are in a “time for a change” mood? In 1994, the last time a huge wave swept through Congress, not a single sitting U.S. Senator was denied renomination. In the House, four incumbents were defeated — Democratic Reps. Craig Washington (Texas), Lucien Blackwell (Pa.) and Mike Synar (Okla.) and Republican Rep. David Levy (N.Y.).

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 30, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.