Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Gubernatorial Ratings

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings. Democrats currently hold 28 governorships compared to 22 for the Republicans.

TOSS-UP (1 R, 0 D)
  • MO Open (Blunt, R)
  • Daniels (R-IN)
  • Gregoire (D-WA)
  • NC Open (Easley, D)
  • Douglas (R-VT)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Huntsman (R-UT)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • Schweitzer (D-MT)
  • DE Open (Minner, D)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Forget Expectations — Now Delegates Are What Really Matters

By Stuart Rothenberg

So, the Democratic race continues.

Despite of all of the truly silly spin about how much ground Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) made up in the Keystone State and all of the bashing of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for remaining in the race (especially by one rather loud TV host on one of the cable channels), Clinton scored a solid but not decisive victory Tuesday.

No, her victory by slightly more than 200,000 votes, combined with only a low double-digit net gain of delegates, doesn’t fundamentally alter the race. That’s why the results weren’t decisive. They didn’t alter the dynamics of the contest.

But her victory should not be easily dismissed by Democratic observers or those in the media, especially because she was seriously out-spent in the state and Obama had six weeks to sell his message of change to Pennsylvania voters.

Obama, delivering his message of change with his usual great oratory and charisma, won seven counties in the state — five stretching from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and only two west of the Susquehanna River, each dominated by a major university (Penn State in Centre County and Bucknell in Union County).

He narrowly lost upscale, suburban Montgomery County (51 percent to 49 percent) and was defeated decisively in Bucks County (63 percent to 37 percent). Supposedly “swing” Lehigh County (Allentown) went for Clinton 60 percent to 40 percent.

The New Yorker crushed Obama in Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton) and Lackawanna County (Scranton), both by about 3 to 1, in the northeast part of the state, and she won many counties in the western part of the state by 70 percent (including Beaver, Lawrence and Armstrong).

Clinton cannot overcome Obama’s lead in delegates or “beat” him in the popular vote, certainly not without Florida and Michigan voters playing their parts. But that’s not the only way for her to win the Democratic nomination. Superdelegates will hold the balance, and while there is every indication that they are flowing relentlessly to the Illinois Senator, Obama simply has not sewn up the nomination yet.

The Pennsylvania results give Clinton another arrow in her quiver as she makes the case why the Democratic Party must nominate her for president: Obama simply cannot win half of the Democratic Party, and without older voters, white Catholics, labor union members and the working class, Democrats will lose to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November.

We don’t know whether she is correct about that, but at the very least, it is a reasonable argument that superdelegates will have to consider.

More than a year ago, everyone agreed that “electability” was a major concern for Democrats. While the Pennsylvania exit poll found only 9 percent of Democratic respondents saying that it was the top quality they were looking for in a nominee, electability certainly is (and ought to be) a consideration for many Democrats.

Clinton’s victory once again raises doubts about Obama’s ability to win key voters in key states. That doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, but it provides Clinton, her supporters and her contributors with a rationale for staying in the race.

What the New York Senator really needs, of course, is national survey data and key state polling showing she can beat McCain but Obama can’t. At this point, those numbers don’t exist, and that is a problem for Clinton.

We can only hope that Clinton’s win in Pennsylvania puts an end to all of the blather about expectations.

Yes, of course, there is a difference in winning Pennsylvania by 2 points or 10 points or 30 points. But after months of primaries and caucuses and with more than 80 percent of all pledged delegates now selected, it’s time to focus far, far less on expectations and more on where the race stands and what other than primary results might change the current dynamic.

Clinton clearly has no incentive to exit the race, and as long as she has enough money to fight on (and advertising in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia is relatively cheap), it probably doesn’t matter whether she wins Kentucky and West Virginia by more than 15 points each or whether she breaks 40 percent in North Carolina.

I only wish we could drop some of the spin, particularly about expectations, now coming from the campaigns, their surrogates and too many in the media. You’d think serious people would be embarrassed by some of the drivel coming from their mouths these days.

It’s one thing to talk about expectations very early in the process, when candidates are trying to establish themselves as serious contenders, and something very different when only two candidates are left and the math is all that really matters.

Clearly, the math still favors Obama. But Clinton’s strong statewide showing in Pennsylvania ought to start making undecided delegates very nervous.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 24, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Print Edition: Gubernatorial Outlook

The April 25, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

2008 Gubernatorial Outlook

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republican prospects in the races for governor have actually improved over the last three months, in contrast to the party’s expected losses in the House and the Senate in 2008.

First, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) announced he would not seek a second term. He was at serious risk of losing his race, and his decision to retire boosted the Republicans’ chances of holding seat. Second, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has improved his standing slightly, and he is now a narrow favorite for reelection.

Democrats hold 28 governorships to the Republicans’ 22, with only four of the eleven gubernatorial races this cycle at risk at this point.

Instead of a Democratic gain of a governorship or two (our winter 2007 forecast), the most likely outcome is either no net change or a Democratic gain of a single seat.

For the entire issue, including the state-by-state analysis and latest polls, you must subscribe to the print edition.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

For McCain, This Could Be as Good As It’s Going to Get

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republicans are feeling their oats these days.

Democratic Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are battling it out for their party’s nomination, arguing about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the meaning of Clinton’s inaccurate recollections about her trip to Bosnia many years ago, and whether Obama was condescending toward gun owners and the religious in explaining how rural voters deal with what he termed their bitterness.

And then there are the polls, which show Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) very competitive in the presidential race against either Democrat and able to take advantage of a potentially damaging crack in the Democratic coalition.

Some surveys show McCain ahead of the two Democrats, while others show him trailing by a couple of points. But it doesn’t matter which ones are correct. For Republicans, many of whom thought that 2008 could be a presidential blowout of cosmic proportions for the Democrats, a close race for the White House is more than they even expected.

Yes, more and more Republicans (and, remarkably, even some Democrats) agree, McCain might very well win in November by attracting downscale, white Democrats against Obama and by taking advantage of the Illinois Democrat’s inexperience and liberalism.

But those same Republicans who suddenly feel optimistic about their chances of retaining the White House ought to remember that McCain has a long campaign ahead, and Democrats will eventually be united and aiming their fire at the Arizonan.

Right now, the presidential election resembles a three-way political contest where two of the hopefuls are attacking each other daily, while the third candidate benefits. We’ve all seen it before in House and Senate races.

Clinton must attack to try to damage Obama, and Obama cannot merely ignore the attacks. Ignoring Clinton might allow her criticisms to stick and to define him. Even worse, ignoring the attacks would make it easier for Clinton to argue that the Illinois Senator is too passive to stand up to general election attacks by Republicans. So Obama has to respond, even if he’d rather not.

Because Clinton and Obama spend most of their time criticizing each other, or responding to criticism, they both often look small and petty, and like typical politicians. Voters don’t like that.

While Clinton and Obama fight it out, McCain stays above the fray looking like a leader, even a president. He can follow a script that he’s created rather than one dictated by his opponent. He can give big, serious speeches and avoid journalists’ questions about polls and process.

McCain’s recent improvement in the polls all but destroys the argument, made by some immediately after he locked up the Republican nomination, that he would be hurt by the lack of media attention. He is polling better because he isn’t part of the daily Democratic squabble.

But this dynamic is likely to change when Democrats finally have a nominee, whether it is in May or June, or even July. And at that point, the going will get tougher for the de facto GOP nominee.

McCain almost certainly is the best candidate the GOP could nominate this year, but he has more than enough vulnerabilities and liabilities for Democrats to exploit. And exploit them they will, whether at the conventions, during the inevitable debates or in the crucial post-Labor Day period.

McCain’s greatest strength is his image, and that’s likely to be eclipsed, at least somewhat, as the campaign progresses and he must react to charges about his voting record and issues on which he has agreed with an unpopular sitting president.

Democrats still have national issues in their favor. The war remains unpopular, and the economy is weak. McCain talks about the war in Iraq and against Islamic extremists with great passion, and he begins the contest with great credibility on matters that involve the military and national security. But he has simply not demonstrated the same facility or intensity when discussing economic matters.

And at some point, McCain will once again come under the microscope. He’ll say something contradictory. He’ll make a mistake. He’ll offend someone or some group. Indeed, if he doesn’t, it means that he’s probably trying to play things too safe. That’s not when McCain is at his most genuine and appealing.

My point is not that McCain will lose in November, or that Republicans don’t have reasons for optimism. Four or five months ago, the presidential contest looked like a foregone conclusion, while now it looks very competitive.

But it’s a mistake to focus too much on the current happenings. There will be plenty of ups and downs for both parties between now and November. The biggest tests for McCain still lie ahead.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 21, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Louisiana 6: Obama Debuts in GOP Ad

At risk of losing another special election, the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to use Sen. Barack Obama to drag down the Democratic nominee in a new television ad. It's the first time this cycle Republicans have used the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination to help their cause.

The NRCC ad goes after Democratic state Rep. Don Cazayoux by repeating the nickname Don "Tax You" and linking him to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, specifically by pointing to votes where the three Democrats raised taxes. "Cazayoux also supports Obama's radical agenda on health care," says the ad. "If Don Tax You gets to Washington, he'll do what they tell him to do."

Most Democratic insiders believe Obama's nomination would be better for down ballot races in November, but Republicans see the Illinois senator as a liability, at least in the Baton Rouge-area district that President Bush carried by 19 points in 2004.

But even though the district is conservative, the race is competitive. Republicans are at serious risk of losing the May 3 special election because GOP nominee Woody Jenkins has plenty of baggage and Cazayoux's conservative stances on social issues makes him a difficult target. The Rothenberg Political Report currently has the race as a Toss-Up.

Monday, April 21, 2008

DCCC Candidates Scoring Well With ‘Bitter’ U.S. Voters

By Stuart Rothenberg

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama may think that some voters “cling” to their guns and their religion out of bitterness and frustration, but the folks at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seem content to woo those candidates and appeal to those voters.

Indeed, one of the reasons Democrats now control the House of Representatives and continue to do so well in Congressional contests is that the party has dropped any ideological and issue litmus tests it may have once had and recruited Democrats who reflect the views of conservative constituents.

In the previous cycle, pro-gun, socially conservative Democratic candidates such as Brad Ellsworth (Ind.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) ousted entrenched Republican incumbents in conservative districts. Republicans are hoping to have strong challengers to both incumbents, but the early indications are that Ellsworth and Shuler will win second terms rather comfortably.

This year, the trend of the DCCC recruiting candidates who fit their districts has continued, especially in the South.

Louisiana state Rep. Don Cazayoux’s Web site identifies the 6th district Democratic hopeful as “pro-life” and a strong advocate of protecting gun owner rights.

After being endorsed by the National Rifle Association in the 6th district Democratic runoff, Cazayoux said, “I’m proud to have the endorsement of NRA and the millions of gun owners and sportsmen they represent across the country and here in Louisiana. We’ve passed important legislation in Louisiana over the last few years to protect the rights of gun owners, and I will continue that work in Congress to ensure our Second Amendment rights are protected.”

In the Alabama 5th district open seat being vacated by conservative Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, the Democratic frontrunner appears to be state Sen. Parker Griffith. When I interviewed him earlier this week, he called himself “pro-life,” “pro-gun” and “pro-traditional marriage.”

Griffith’s positions aren’t surprising, of course, given Cramer’s record. CQ’s Politics in America 2008 described Cramer as “one of the most conservative Democrats in the House” and “among the Democrats supporting the conservative-led effort to intervene in the right-to-die legal case of Terri Schiavo.”

In Georgia’s 8th district, Rep. Jim Marshall (D) has found a way to win three elections in a House district that voted 61 percent for President Bush in 2004. Marshall joined with conservatives in voting to intervene in the Schiavo case, opposed lifting the president’s restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research and voted to build a 700-mile fence on the Mexican border.

Democratic Rep. Tim Holden, who represents a Southeastern Pennsylvania district that stretches northeast from Harrisburg, voted the same way as Marshall did on Schiavo, embryonic research and the border fence. In addition, the eight-term Democrat is quoted in CQ’s Politics in America 2008 as saying that “most Democrats in Pennsylvania are conservative, rural, not pro-choice, not gun control, the exception being the Philadelphia guys.”

And Holden was correct. Indeed, what made Obama’s comment so odd is that, in addition to Holden, at least three other Pennsylvania Democratic Congressmen — Christopher Carney, Paul Kanjorski and Jason Altmire — fit the culturally conservative profile that the Illinois Democrat appeared to demean. In all likelihood, none of them would have been elected to Congress had they supported gun control or been socially liberal.

Both the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees have more than a few assets this cycle, so they certainly aren’t dependent on a strong presidential nominee to help elect Democrats to the House and Senate. But it would be naive to dismiss the top of the tickets as irrelevant.

I have believed for a long time that Obama would be a better general election candidate for Democratic Congressional candidates than would Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). And I believe that’s still the case, even with Obama’s gaffe about religion, guns and illegal immigrants.

Clinton’s nomination would tear the Democratic Party apart, alienate black voters, turn off independents who have been excited by Obama’s novelty and charisma, and mobilize Republicans, many of whom seem to have a visceral dislike of the former first lady.

That said, Obama may not be the asset that he was once regarded by House Democrats. True, he will likely bring out younger voters and attract more independents than his New York opponent, but he’s well on his way to being tagged a liberal, and that will undermine him as an asset for his party.

Obama’s great mistake was not in calling some small-town voters “bitter.” Instead, it was in treating support for gun control and religion as negatives, as well as in equating “anti-immigrant sentiment” and support for trade with religion.

Obama’s comments ought to worry Southern and rural Democrats about what their party’s attitude might be toward them if and when the party elects a president in November. So long as Democrats have been focused on winning majorities, party leaders have been tolerant of their conservative Democratic colleagues. That could well change if Obama finds himself in the Oval Office.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 17, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New Print Edition: 2008 House Outlook

The April 18, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

House Outlook For 2008

Republican prospects in the Presidential race have brightened over the past few months, as it became clear that Arizona Senator John McCain would carry the party’s banner in the fall. He almost certainly is the best nominee the party could have hoped for, and he offers some protection to moderate Republicans and GOP candidates in swing districts.

McCain will have some appeal to Independents and will help re-brand his party, improving the GOP’s image.

But the DCCC still has plenty of cards in its hand that it can use to make life terrible for the NRCC and for individual Republican candidates. The Democrats have more opportunities, more cash and fewer open seats....

Subscribers get the full overview and state-by-state race analysis in the print edition of the Report.

2008 House Ratings

Here are our latest House ratings. Any seats not listed are currently considered to be at limited risk for the incumbent party. For our race-by-race analysis, you must subscribe to the print edition of the Report.

  • AL 5 (Open; Cramer, D)
  • AZ 1 (Open; Renzi, R)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • LA 6 (Open; Baker, R)
  • MN 3 (Open; Ramstad, R)
  • MS 1 (Open; Wicker, R)
  • NJ 7 (Open; Ferguson, R)
  • NY 26 (Open; Reynolds, R)
  • NM1 (Open; Wilson, R)
  • OH 15 (Open; Pryce, R)
  • OH 16 (Open; Regula, R)
  • OR 5 (Open; Hooley, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • IL 10 (Kirk, R)
  • LA 4 (Open; McCrery, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NJ 3 (Open; Saxton, R)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • FL 24 (Feeney, R)
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • MI 9 (Knollenberg, R)
  • MO 6 (Graves, R)
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • IL 11 (Open; Weller, R)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • KY 3 (Yarmuth, D)
  • KS 3 (Moore, D)
  • MN 1 (Walz, D)
  • NY 25 (Open; Walsh, R)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • VA 11 (Open; Davis, R)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
  • AL 2 (Open; Everett, R)
  • CA 4 (Open; Doolittle, R)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
  • FL 8 (Keller, R)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • IL 6 (Roskam, R)
  • KY 2 (Open; Lewis, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • NM 2 (Open; Pearce, R)
  • NY 13 (Fosella, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • PA 18 (Murphy, R)
  • WV 2 (Capito, R)
  • IL 8 (Bean, D)
  • IL 14 (Foster, D)
  • NY 20 (Gillibrand, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Illinois 8: Greenberg Campaign Manager Leaves Post

By Nathan L. Gonzales

On the heels of a meager first quarter finance report, Republican challenger Steve Greenberg will now have to replace a top campaign aide. Campaign manager Brad Goodman left the Greenberg campaign on Wednesday to join the newly-renamed consulting firm Campbell Holste Inc.

“I am honored to have run Steve Greenberg’s successful primary campaign and will continue to work as an advisor to his campaign,” Goodman told the Report.

But Goodman’s exit leaves more questions than answers for Greenberg. The wealthy businessman was expected to throw a scare into Cong. Melissa Bean (D) in Illinois’ 8th District. But he showed only $5,035 in the bank on March 31, and his ability and willingness to self-finance the race is unclear. Greenberg has put in $79,000 of his own money thus far.

Meanwhile, Bean is sitting on $1.3 million in campaign cash and will likely benefit from increased Democratic excitement that likely presidential nominee Barack Obama will generate at the top of the ticket.

The Rothenberg Political Report is moving Illinois 8 to Democrat Favored from Lean Democratic in the upcoming April 18 edition of the newsletter.

The NRCC is relying on Greenberg and a handful of other wealthy candidates to fund their own campaigns, allowing the committee to focus its limited resources elsewhere. Likely Illinois 11 nominee Martin Ozinga recently told the Chicago Tribune he would only spend $350,000 of his own money. He’ll have to raise even more to keep pace with Debbie Halvorson (D), who has already raised twice that, in the open seat race.

New Jersey Senate: Is Robert Andrews Crazy to Take On Frank Lautenberg?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Many years ago, as a newly minted Ph.D., I had the good fortune to spend three years teaching political science at Bucknell University. At the end of my first year, a departmental review committee evaluated my performance. The student member of that committee was Rob Andrews — now Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

I was not at all surprised when Andrews recently announced that he would challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) this year. Although Andrews’ announcement was not expected, and I had no early knowledge of it, the Democratic Congressman has already run statewide once and has made no secret over the years of his desire to seek higher office.

The immediate reaction inside the Beltway was predictable: Had Andrews lost his mind, challenging an incumbent member of his own party?

Andrews’ six Garden State House Democratic colleagues immediately fired off a letter to him asserting that he “has failed to gain the necessary support to realistically compete in this race” and demanding that he drop his Senate bid.

Is Andrews crazy to take on Lautenberg? And why on earth would the state’s Democratic House Members sound so hysterical in denouncing what they see as a Don Quixote-like effort?

Andrews, who certainly was one of the brightest students at Bucknell when I was on the faculty, acknowledges that he is an underdog in the race. And he is.

Lautenberg, 84, is serving his fourth (nonconsecutive) term, is personally wealthy (though hesitant to spend his own money) and is running in a state squeezed between the expensive New York City and Philadelphia media markets. He has the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and showed $4.3 million in the bank at the end of December.

Andrews, on the other hand, had just less than $2.4 million in the bank at the end of last year, represents a South Jersey Congressional district and is not widely known in the important northern third of the state. He lost his only statewide bid, for governor, in the 1997 Democratic primary by a nose.

A Benenson Strategy Group poll from early April for the DSCC found Lautenberg’s job approval among Democrats at 76 percent, while 57 percent said they would vote to re-elect him and only 12 percent said they would not. In the ballot test, Lautenberg led 52 percent to 21 percent.

“Andrews looks to have no clear path to victory,” the polling memo says.

Here’s why Lautenberg should be concerned: Andrews is smart and analytical, and he wouldn’t have jumped into the race without looking at every angle six ways to Sunday. He’s not a flake and not an ideologue on a mission. He’s not Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel.

And I’m certainly not the only one who thinks that Andrews shouldn’t be dismissed by Lautenberg or his supporters. One veteran Democratic insider with whom I talked recently thinks the Senator has a real fight on his hands, even though he should win: “The primary will be competitive. But it will be hard for Andrews. Still, it’s not as if Rob is just a long shot.”

Geography is on Lautenberg’s side, since Andrews is frequently identified as a South Jersey candidate and most of the Democratic primary votes are up north. Lautenberg has the party’s endorsements in 14 counties (to Andrews’ seven), including Union, Bergen and Middlesex.

But the challenger has picked up a handful of key endorsements in Northern and Central New Jersey, including influential state Sen. Ray Lesniak of Union County, Middlesex County state Sen. Barbara Buono, Essex County Democratic power broker Steve Adubato and Hudson County state Sen. Sandra Cunningham.

Andrews’ supporters argue that while Lautenberg has “the party line” in populous northern counties, local party leaders are more concerned with local and state offices, not with a federal office. And they add that some important Democratic officeholders in those counties are backing Andrews.

Lautenberg also must be concerned about turnout, which could be microscopic in June. Garden State voters already voted in the state’s presidential primary, and with few other races on the ballot in June, most Democrats won’t bother to cast a vote in the Senate primary.

A low statewide turnout should help Andrews, because it could exaggerate the importance of South Jersey voters, who are certain to be more provincial about their choice, and of voters who want “change.”

Lautenberg is trying to portray Andrews as more hawkish on Iraq and noticeably more conservative. Andrews generally minimizes the ideological differences between the two candidates, preferring to rest his bid on generational politics.

Ultimately, the primary could come down to personality, style and age. “Frank doesn’t engender a lot of real loyalty. He’s not a nice guy,” one observer said. But Andrews, while savvy and astute, isn’t regarded as terribly warm, either. At 50, Andrews is much younger than Lautenberg.

The short campaign (the primary is June 3) could help Lautenberg, since it means less time for him to make a mistake. But party boss George Norcross, a major figure throughout Andrews’ career and the Congressman’s top strategist, has had success in the past with last-minute surprises.

Given the competitiveness of the primary, why did Andrews’ House colleagues line up so quickly behind Lautenberg and scream for Andrews to drop his Senate bid? The answer is simple, says former Democratic state party Executive Director Tom O’Neil, a thoughtful observer of state politics. “They all want what he wants: a Senate seat. So they don’t want him to get Lautenberg’s. If he wins it, there won’t be another open Senate seat for two decades.”

Lautenberg starts as the favorite. But don’t kid yourself: Andrews is for real, and this is a primary worth watching.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 14, 2007. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Should Clinton Just Pack It In When Nothing Is Decided?

By Stuart Rothenberg

The calls for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s exit from the Democratic presidential race have appeared from members of the national media, as well as from some within her own party. She can’t possibly win, they say.

When I asked one veteran Democratic insider in the past few days about the likely outcome of the race, the Clinton-supporter put Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s chances at “95 percent ... maybe higher.”

The Washington Post has Clinton trailing Obama by 136 delegates (1,638 to 1,502), while NBC has her down by 135 (1,642 to 1,507). ABC has the Illinois Senator leading Clinton by 137 delegates (1,633 to 1,496), while CBS News has Obama up by 138 (1,631 to 1,493). Finally, The New York Times shows the delegate race as 1,627 to 1,471, a lead of 156 for Obama.

Given the Democratic Party’s rules, which allocate delegates proportionately to the popular vote, it’s virtually impossible for Clinton to overtake Obama between now and the end of the primaries in June, even if Michigan and Florida were to revote.

So Clinton will trail in delegates after all of the primaries are over, which means that superdelegates (call them automatic or unpledged delegates, if you’d prefer) will put either Obama or Clinton over the top.

As others have pointed out, Obama has the delegate momentum since Super Tuesday (picking up more than four dozen new superdelegates while the New Yorker has lost a handful of those who previously had been committed to her), and there is no reason to expect a radical change in that.

According to ABC News’ calculations, Obama has received about 100,000 more raw votes than Clinton (13.8 million to 13.7 million). While Clinton may well narrow that gap, it isn’t clear that she can erase it completely.

All of this explains why Clinton is the decided underdog. But does it also mean that she should simply accept defeat now and end her candidacy? Absolutely not.

The New York Senator’s critics — and there are a lot of them on both sides of the aisle and in the national media — insist that if she has no realistic chance of winning, her candidacy does little else than divide her party and enhance the chances of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) winning in the general election.

New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, for example, equates Clinton’s chances of being nominated with Ralph Nader’s of being elected president, a ridiculous comparison because there is a qualitative difference between having some chance and no chance of winning.

The Obama-Clinton race remains incredibly tight. The difference between the two in the popular vote is slightly less than four-tenths of 1 percent (50.185 percent for Obama to Clinton’s 49.814 percent). The difference in committed delegates between the two Democrats is roughly 140 delegates out of more than 3,000 who already have committed.

Certainly, many undeclared superdelegates are swayed by the argument that superdelegates cannot “overturn” the decision of primary voters and caucus goers, and that’s a significant asset for Obama. But other superdelegates firmly believe that additional considerations, such as their own opinions of the candidates as potential presidents and the electability of the two Democratic hopefuls, should have an effect on their decisions.

Clinton has spent more than a year of her life running for president, and some of her supporters have given more than a year of their lives. Given the closeness of the Democratic contest, it’s hard to see why, at this point, Clinton should simply walk away. She and her supporters have too much invested in her candidacy to accept defeat before Obama has the 2,024 committed delegates he needs to guarantee his nomination.

Clinton’s upset scenario is based on two hopes. First, she must hope that Obama makes another mistake or that information surfaces that so far has not. Given the Illinois Senator’s relatively brief time under the national microscope, that certainly is possible.

And second, Clinton must hope that before Obama locks up the nomination, national polls show that she has a much better chance of beating McCain than he does. The “electability” issue remains a wild card in the Democratic contest, and it could well be the Clinton campaign’s best hope.

Finally, it’s more than a little amusing that some observers are calling for Clinton’s exit given the twists and turns that we have seen during this campaign. Obama wasn’t expected to win Iowa. After he did, Clinton was widely regarded as DOA in New Hampshire, which she won. McCain’s candidacy was all but over in July and August.

You’d think that we’d all be a bit more humble and modest given the presidential elections we’ve witnessed over the past decade, especially since there are just a couple of months to go until the primaries are over.

Clinton should play every card she has in her hand. She owes it to herself and, even more important, to all of her supporters.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 10, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Campaigns’ Olympian Challenge

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Synchronized swimming. Fencing. Table tennis. Congressional campaigns?

The Olympics are unrivaled in their ability to pull Americans from their vacations to their television screens for three weeks in the middle of August. And for attention-starved Congressional candidates, the Olympics provide an alluring advertising audience.

The big question is how the international event will affect the way candidates and consultants conduct campaigns.

“It’s a great television event in a normally dead television month,” said Republican media consultant Brad Todd of OnMessage Inc.

August has never been a popular month for campaign advertising, but in the emerging era of the constant campaign, races are getting started earlier and earlier.

But even candidates waiting until the traditional Labor Day start to the general election won’t be able to ignore the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. China and other related issues like trade and human rights will be thrust into the media spotlight and interjected into campaigns.

The Olympics kick off Aug. 8 and conclude Aug. 24. The Democratic National Convention starts the next day and runs through Aug. 28, followed by the Republican National Convention Sept. 1-4. If the Democratic nomination still is up for grabs in Denver, attention certainly will spike.

But for the bulk of August, the Olympics will be the only game in town and will draw television audiences similar to the most popular network shows. Over the past two decades, the opening ceremonies for summer Olympics hosted outside the United States received ratings between 13.8 and 16.2, according to Nielsen Media Research, rivaling top-rated shows such as “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars.” Ratings for the opening ceremonies at the 1984 Los Angeles games (23.9) and 1996 Atlanta games (23.6) were significantly higher.

Campaigns will have to consider the challenges of an Olympics ad buy including cost, timing and an increasingly fractured audience.

The cost will depend on how well NBC sells ads nationally, according to a Democratic media buyer. Eventually, NBC will produce a rate card, mapping out buying opportunities. Advertising packages are being sold now, but the event schedule likely will not be available until July.

During the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, advertisers paid an average of $340,000 for a 30-second commercial during the opening and closing ceremonies, according to Nielsen, with a comparable 30-second ad for the 1994 Winter Olympics costing about $158,400. Of course, the actual cost will vary by media market.

Campaigns will not enjoy the luxury of specificity in their ad buys. High-profile events such as women’s gymnastics or men’s basketball, as well as high-profile American athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps, are obvious and attractive targets, but campaigns will only be able to buy spots during blocks of time when those events are likely to receive coverage. For example, it’s impossible to buy an ad before the 100-meter dash final.

“It’s not a cheap buy, but probably good for an open-seat or challenger race,” one Democratic media consultant said.

According to multiple media consultants, general ad rates are lower than usual because of the sluggish economy, but NBC and other media outlets are looking to the Olympics and the campaigns to boost sagging revenues.

Campaigns could get priced out of the Olympics altogether if commercial advertisers like General Motors and Coca-Cola pay the premium rates for prime slots. Because the Olympics fall outside the 60-day general election window, the vast majority of campaigns will not be eligible for the lowest unit charge.

Some candidates don’t have the luxury of avoiding the Olympics because of their primaries. Campaigns within 45 days of their primary are eligible for the lower rates, affecting races in Florida (Aug. 26), Arizona (Sept. 2) and New York (Sept. 9). Colorado is scheduled to hold its primary in the middle of the Olympics (Aug. 12), while Michigan and Kansas have their primaries immediately preceding the opening ceremonies.

Former Rep. Jim Ryun (R), who participated in three Olympics and earned a silver medal in the 1,500-meter race in 1968, could gain some mileage out of the pre-Olympics hype for his political comeback in Kansas’ 2nd district. He faces state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins in the Aug. 5 Republican primary.

The Summer Olympics occur every four years, but the timing of the games varies and can affect campaigns differently. The 1992 Barcelona (July 25-Aug. 9) and 1996 Atlanta (July 19-Aug. 9) games were early, while the 2004 Athens games (Aug. 13-29) were similarly scheduled to this year. But the 2000 Sydney games were Sept. 15-Oct. 1 and made political advertising more challenging and expensive.

“The campaign budget is still the driving factor for when you go on the air,” according to a Democratic media buyer. Candidates typically budget their ad campaigns by starting with Election Day and working backward through the calendar until the campaign runs out of money.

“Would I sacrifice an October buy for an August buy? No,” said Democratic media consultant Peter Fenn of Fenn Communications. Because campaigns don’t like to “go dark” (have periods without advertising) after they have started, it becomes a long and expensive road to advertise from the Olympics to Nov. 4.

“For those people that can afford to do it, great,” said one GOP media consultant, adding that campaigns that have money budgeted for early advertising will likely hit the airwaves regardless of the Olympics.

At one time not too long ago, the Olympics inundated network television, with viewers watching long blocks of coverage on a single network. But in the age of multiple cable networks and the Internet, the Olympics have become appointment television.

“It’s not one-stop shopping anymore,” according to a Democratic media buyer. NBC plans to spread its Olympics coverage across its three networks (NBC, MSNBC and CNBC), dispersing the viewing audience. And with the time zone differential, people can access event results and medal counts online, hours before they air on television. It’s “a la carte viewing,” according to one Democratic media consultant.

Another outstanding question is to what extent China is interjected into House and Senate campaigns.

“China and trade would be an issue if the Olympics were in Switzerland,” Democratic pollster Fred Yang said. From trade to human rights to poisonous toys, the Beijing Olympics likely will provide every local reporter the opportunity to ask candidates China-related questions. The issue likely will resurface in the Illinois 18th district race — where Democrats undoubtedly will try to remind voters about controversial remarks Republican nominee Aaron Schock made about Taiwan — but it remains to be seen how it will play in races nationwide.

Some incumbents have voting records on the issue, including the bill then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2000 granting China permanent normal trade relations status.

In some races, 2008 opponents both voted in favor of the bill, such as in Maine with Sen. Susan Collins (R) and her challenger, Rep. Tom Allen (D). In competitive races in Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alaska, the incumbents voted in favor of the bill while their opponents were not serving. Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who are both running for the Senate this year, voted against the measure in the House.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on April 7, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

A significant number of retirements since my last Dangerous Dozen (Oct. 25, 2007) has shuffled the list and shows why the fight for the House is a one-sided battle, with Democrats having most of the targets.

Here are the dozen most vulnerable open House seats, starting with the most likely seats to flip. The first three districts are all likely to go Democratic and are in a class of their own.

Illinois’ 11th: State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) would be a formidable nominee in any case, but Republican prospects weren’t helped when their primary winner, New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann, dropped out of the race. Local GOP leaders are expected to select businessman Martin Ozinga III to replace Baldermann as the party’s nominee. The district is competitive (President Bush carried it by 7 points in 2004).

New York’s 25th: Republican Rep. Jim Walsh (R) barely beat challenger Dan Maffei (D) last time, and Walsh’s decision to retire gives Maffei a clear shot this time in the marginal upstate district. The race for the Republican nomination was scrambled when Peter Cappuccilli Jr., the former director of the New York State Fair, dropped his bid after having a mild stroke. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the district by 2 points in 2004.

Virginia’s 11th: Rep. Tom Davis’ (R) retirement and the general drift of Washington, D.C.’s Virginia suburbs toward the Democrats create a significant problem for the GOP. Gerry Connolly, who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, begins with an edge for the Democratic nomination over former Rep. Leslie Byrne. The most-mentioned Republican right now is businessman Keith Fimian, who has impressed in early fundraising and has invested some of his own money in the race.

Ohio’s 16th: Republican Rep. Ralph Regula’s retirement wasn’t a total surprise in a district that went for Bush by 8 points (54 percent to 46 percent) in 2004. State Sen. John Boccieri should be a strong Democratic nominee, while the Republican nominee, state Sen. Kirk Schuring, may have problems holding his party’s base.

Arizona’s 1st: GOP strategists breathed a sigh of relief when embattled Rep. Rick Renzi (R) announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, but this district is still in play. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the favorite in the Democratic race, though she faces a fight for her party’s nomination from former TV personality Mary Kim Titla and attorney Howard Shanker. The Republican race pits conservative activist Sydney Hay against state Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, though former state Senate President Ken Bennett is reconsidering his earlier decision not to run. Bush won the district by 8 points in 2004.

Alabama’s 5th: Rep. Bud Cramer’s retirement creates a rare Democratic open-seat problem this cycle. His North Alabama district is only 17 percent black, and Bush carried it with 60 percent four years ago. Businessman Wayne Parker, who lost a squeaker to Cramer in 1994 (and by a larger margin in 1996) is running for the GOP nomination, while state Sen. Parker Griffith has entered the Democratic race.

New Jersey’s 3rd: Rep. Jim Saxton’s (R) retirement gives Democrats another target in the Northeast. State Sen. John Adler (D) also gives them a formidable nominee. Local Republicans are split, with Lockheed Vice President Chris Myers having the support of Saxton and the important Burlington County GOP. Myers faces Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly for the GOP nomination. The district is competitive.

Minnesota’s 3rd: Rep. Jim Ramstad’s (R) retirement adds to Republican woes given the competitiveness of the suburban district. The district went for Bush by 3 points in 2004. State Sen. Terri Bonoff is having a surprisingly hard time trying to fend off Ashwin Madia, an attorney and Iraq War veteran, for the Democratic nomination, while state Rep. Erik Paulsen is expected to be the GOP nominee.

New Mexico’s 1st: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson’s run for the Senate opens up a seat that she has held, though with significant difficulty, since a June 1998 special election. Last year, she was re-elected by 861 votes. Three Democrats are in the race: former Albuquerque Councilor Martin Heinrich, former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. But Republicans are upbeat about their chances, with Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White the favorite of party insiders. Kerry carried the district with 51 percent in 2004.

Ohio’s 15th: Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce barely held on last time, defeating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 1,000 votes in a come-from-behind win. Kilroy is back, but Pryce has decided to call it quits. State Sen. Steve Stivers (R) initially passed on the race but has changed his mind. He should be a formidable candidate in November. While Bush barely squeezed by Kerry four years ago, Franklin County (Columbus) has been moving toward the Democrats.

Oregon’s 5th: Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley’s retirement gives Republicans a competitive Democratic seat to shoot at. Each party has a primary. For the Democrats, it’s state Sen. Kurt Schrader and former gubernatorial aide Steve Marks, and for the GOP it is former party Chairman Kevin Mannix and ’06 nominee Mike Erickson. Bush carried the district narrowly in 2004.

New Jersey’s 7th: State Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D) is taking her second shot at the seat after losing to Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) by less than 2 points in 2006. With Ferguson retiring, she'll face either state Sen. Leonard Lance (R) or Kate Whitman (R), daughter of the former governor, in the general election. Bush carried the district with 53 percent in 2004, leaving another GOP headache.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 7, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Print Edition: New Jersey 3 & New Jersey 7

The April 7, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

New Jersey 3: South Jersey Sans-Saxton
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Eighteen years after his first loss, John Adler (D) was ready for another run in New Jersey’s 3rd District. His path got significantly easier when Cong. Jim Saxton (R) announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Now, Republicans are sorting through a developing field and will likely nominate Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly or Lockheed Martin vice president Chris Myers to try to keep the seat in the GOP column.

Adler is off to a ferocious fundraising start. While he represents only a small corner of the congressional district in the state Senate, and Democrats in New Jersey aren’t particularly popular these days, the national environment still favors Adler and his party. Get the whole story in the print edition of the Report.

New Jersey 7: Open for the Taking

Some retirements are easy to explain: old age, high paying job or higher office. In the case of Republican Cong. Mike Ferguson, the reasons are murky, but the consequences remain the same. Republicans have yet another competitive open seat to defend.

Ferguson was facing a tough reelection rematch with Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D), but it was certainly a winnable race. Now with the congressman out of the picture, Republicans are sorting through a primary while Stender stockpiles campaign cash.

The GOP field is crowded, but Republicans are likely to nominate state Sen. Leonard Lance or Kate Whitman, daughter of the former New Jersey governor. Each Republican brings strengths and weaknesses to the table, but both face a tough battle in November unless the political environment warms up to the GOP. Get the whole story in the print edition of the Report.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Louisiana 6: Will Republicans Kick Away Another Special Election?

By Stuart Rothenberg

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 3, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

George W. Bush won 59 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s 6th district in 2004. That year, the district’s Congressman, Richard Baker (R), was re-elected with more than 70 percent of the vote. Two years later, Baker won an 11th term without major party opposition.

Yet in the special election in Baker’s Republican-leaning district, the Democrats have still another chance to swipe a Congressional district that, under normal circumstances, ought to stay in the Republican column.

Both parties will have runoffs on Saturday, with former state Rep. Woody Jenkins battling businesswoman Laurinda Calongne for the GOP nomination and state Reps. Don Cazayoux and Michael Jackson facing off for the Democratic nomination.

Jenkins came within a hair of winning his party’s nomination outright in the March 8 primary, while Cazayoux drew 35 percent to second-place finisher Jackson’s 27 percent in the Democratic primary.

If the expected happens — and in this political season that’s certainly not a given — Jenkins and Cazayoux will win their runoffs on Saturday and meet in the May 3 special election to fill the seat left vacant when Baker resigned to take a job in the private sector.

Jenkins served for almost three decades in the Louisiana House of Representatives, was the CEO of a local television station and, as the Republican Senate nominee in 1996, lost a squeaker to Mary Landrieu (D).

He is an icon among some conservatives, and his Web site cites endorsements from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Tim LaHaye and veteran conservative activists Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Morton Blackwell and Richard Viguerie.

The problem, say some Republicans who are watching the race closely, is that Jenkins is an incredibly controversial figure who, as one put it, “brings a significant amount of ethical baggage at a time when Louisiana is looking to turn the page” on that type of politician.

Critics of the conservative have charged him with knowingly renting former Klansman David Duke’s mailing list, as well as raising money for relief efforts in Central America, during the 1980s, that never made it to the supposed beneficiaries. Political insiders also worry that other problems, including tax issues and business failures, could surface during the race.

“It takes about two hours on Google to find five good attacks ads on Jenkins,” says one conservative Republican who doubts that Jenkins can win the May special election. “[The David Duke charge] is a hit that will stand up. His defense doesn’t really matter.”

The Duke charge was leveled at Jenkins during the primary by one of his Republican opponents, but observers say it was handled crudely by a candidate who had no credibility. Jenkins rebutted the charge in his own TV spot, but Republicans worry that the accusation will have more resonance in the special election.

Interestingly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been extremely tight-lipped about the race, apparently hoping that the controversial Jenkins will win the runoff.

Republican observers note that Jenkins is not without assets. “It would be a mistake to say that Woody is dumb,” said one insider. “He’s a smart guy. But he’s stubborn. He thinks he knows better than everyone else. And he doesn’t raise money. He has far too much confidence in his supposed grass-roots army.”

Through March 16, Jenkins had raised $291,000, with almost a third of it coming from Club for Growth members. He ended the reporting period with just $19,000 in the bank. Cazayoux had raised $565,000 for the race and ended the reporting period with $111,000 on hand.

Some GOP insiders had hoped Calongne, who put $239,000 of her own money into the race, would surprise Jenkins in the runoff. Most are pessimistic about that happening, arguing that she would have needed to be much more aggressive than she has been.

But one observer familiar with survey data in the contest argues that a Calongne upset of Jenkins on Saturday is not impossible, adding that Republican primary voters are extremely polarized in their attitudes about the former state legislator. “Jenkins’ numbers are immovable, both in a good and a bad way,” said the observer.

Nor do Republicans express much hope that Jackson, an African-American legislator with little money, can defeat Cazayoux in the Democratic runoff — an outcome that would almost certainly deliver the special election to the Republican nominee. Jackson had raised only $73,000 through March 16.

“Cazayoux’s ads have been far better than anyone else’s. His ads are top shelf, and he’s running a real campaign,” said one veteran observer of the contest who doesn’t have a rooting interest for the Democrat but believes he is likely to be the district’s next Congressman.

For the National Republican Congressional Committee, the race has all the marks of a “no-win” situation.

Another loss would embarrass NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and negatively impact the financially strapped committee’s ability to raise money. And yet, if Jenkins becomes the party’s nominee, the NRCC doesn’t have the financial resources to waste on a candidate with such political baggage. The DCCC, on the other hand, has plenty of cash to put behind Cazayoux, if it needs to.

For Cole, a Jenkins runoff victory followed by a defeat in May would create another problem. A second straight special election defeat would once again raise questions about the NRCC chairman’s “hands-off” strategy in primaries.

The GOP outlook in Louisiana’s 6th district, like the NRCC’s outlook nationally, is gloomy.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Like Being on the Cover of Sports Illustrated?

By Stuart Rothenberg

A few months ago, former Harry Reid chief of staff Susan McCue was featured in Glamour magazine talking about how wonderful it was to be working for the ONE campaign. The only problem was that she had just announced that she was leaving ONE so that she could help her old boss, Reid, and Senate Democrats plot strategy.

Fast forward a few months to a less well known publication, AMTRAK’s Arrive magazine, and you can find another example that timing is everything.

The last page of the March/April issue of Arrive (“Final Stop”) features a short “Why I Love…Boston” piece about Samantha Power.

Power, of course, is the writer and human rights activist who was forced to resign as a senior foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama after she told a Scottish newspaper that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was “a monster” who was “stooping to anything” to win. “You just look at her and think, 'Ergh’,” said Power in the interview.

The AMTRAK magazine calls Power “a foreign policy advisor to Sen. Barack Obama,” and also notes her 2003 Pulitzer prize, her inclusion as one of Time magazine’s “Top Thinkers of 2004” and her new book.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Crop of House Candidates Worth Taking a Look At

By Stuart Rothenberg

There is relatively little attention being paid to this year’s fight for the House of Representatives, since Republicans have no chance retaking the chamber in November.

Even more important, most reporters and observers are hypnotized by the fascinating presidential race, and those who care about Congress seem more interested in whether Democrats can gain nine Senate seats and true control of the chamber.

But while they aren’t the focus of the nation’s attention, hundreds of men and women are once again running for Congress, and there are plenty of good ones in the crowd. I haven’t met all of the people receiving positive buzz from national Democratic and Republican strategists, but I have met some. Here’s a quick rundown of the few candidates who have impressed me.

State Rep. Steve Driehaus is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st district, which includes Cincinnati’s West Side, as well as suburban areas north and west of the city.

The 41-year-old hopeful calls himself a “raging moderate.” He is pro-life (and has been endorsed by right-to-life groups in the past) but supports embryonic stem-cell research. He voted for Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act but opposes a federal Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, saying it’s unnecessary. And he opposes “artificial timelines” on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, but he believes those forces should be withdrawn.

Driehaus is a political animal. Since he comes from the white, Catholic, middle-class part of the district and should benefit from the district’s considerable African-American population, the challenger should give Chabot a run for his money. But don’t give this seat to the Democrats just yet. Chabot is a survivor.

Ethan Berkowitz, 45, is the former Alaska House Minority Leader. He was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006 when gubernatorial nominee Tony Knowles (D) went down to defeat, and now he is running for his state’s lone House seat.

A graduate of Harvard with an M.A. from Cambridge, Berkowitz is thoughtful and likable. He is significantly more liberal (he says “progressive”) than most Alaskans on social issues. He is pro-choice and opposed a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that passed by a 2-1 margin.

But Berkowitz is worth watching because the state GOP has plenty of headaches, and Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are both under investigation. Young now faces a serious primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R). The chaos could help Berkowitz, who must be hoping that a bloodied Young survives to the general election.

I’m told that the ladies think that New Mexico’s 1st district Democratic hopeful Martin Heinrich is good-looking. All I know is that he seems pretty down to earth, is putting together a good campaign and has the kind of background that should be appealing to New Mexico voters.

A former Albuquerque city councilor and chairman of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, he has extensive background in environmental issues, as well as some experience in campaigns. He describes himself as “a big Second Amendment guy” and says he supports capital punishment.

Heinrich, 36, faces both a primary and a competitive general election, likely against Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R), but he is worth watching.

If you like your candidates young, you’ll find Illinois state Rep. Aaron Schock (R), 26, more than interesting. He was elected to the Peoria school board in 2001, even before he graduated from Bradley University.

In 2004, Schock knocked off an incumbent Democratic state legislator in a Democratic district, and he turned back a major challenge two years later. A conservative who says he focuses on constituent services, Schock is the GOP nominee for retiring Rep. Ray LaHood’s (R) open seat.

The clean-cut hopeful looks like the president of a College Republicans chapter (and acts far older than his years), and he sounded well-versed on most matters. If you can be a seasoned political pro at 26, Schock is. It’s a bit scary, actually.

The fact that Brett Guthrie (R) made it on the ballot this year is evidence enough of his political savvy.

The three-term Kentucky state Senator had an inkling that Rep. Ron Lewis (R) might retire, so he waited and watched, submitting his filing papers at the deadline, moments after Lewis withdrew his and the Congressman’s aide filed to run for the open seat.

Guthrie, 43, is likely to face state Sen. David Boswell (D). The Republican, who graduated from West Point and holds an M.A. from Yale, is personal and politically astute, and he’ll be a formidable candidate in the open seat.

Finally, Anne Northup (R), the five-term Kentucky Congresswoman who was swept from office in the 2006 anti-Republican wave, is seeking her old House seat.

Northup, who lost an ill-advised gubernatorial primary last year, has a history of running excellent campaigns, but she was always at risk because of the marginal nature of her Louisville-area district. She wasn’t going to run this time until the likely GOP nominee was called to active military duty.

The former Congresswoman is smart, politically astute and knowledgeable about her district. She also brought home the bacon while in Congress. It won’t be easy for her to dislodge freshman Rep. John Yarmuth (D), and fundraising is a huge question mark for her. But Northup has been through a great deal, including the death in July 2006 of one of her adopted children, and there is no one with greater inner strength.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on March 31, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.