Published in The Moderate Voice on August 16, 2016
A once sleepless battle for control of the U.S. House has been jolted by what is routinely becoming known as Trumpacolypse. While few think Democrats can capture the 30 seats necessarily to retain the gavel, the national tailwinds may be pulling them ever closer. In fact, a net gain of twenty plus seats is no longer out of the question. Surprisingly, the region that seems most hospitable to Democratic gains is one where the party seems to have lost strength in recent years: predominantly Republican leaning districts in the upper-Midwest. This is compounded mainly due to retirements in districts that, more often than not, have been held by Republicans. But weak candidates and normally strong incumbents never before confronted with a looming tsunami are part of it as well.
To be sure, two seats in the region that Democrats are seen as having strong chances of picking off reliably tilt toward that party.
Democrats are considered all but certain to pick up a seat in <strong>Iowa’s First Congressional District</strong> in which their candidate was a surprise second fiddle to Republican Rod Blum two years ago. The national mood and a weak campaign by Democrat Pat Murphy handed the seat to the Republicans. This year’s standard bearer, Monica Vernon won’t be caught unprepared and has already proven her political mettle (she was the Lieutenant Governor nominee in 2014). Blum on the other hand has ticked off Republican leaders since his very first vote in refusing to vote for John Boehner for Speaker and Republicans have treated him like a dead man walking, refusing to even place him on their incumbent protection list until recently. Blum has made Congressional reform an issue but with Democrats having a 20,000 voter registration edge, his odds for returning seem to be bleak.
In the <strong>Tenth Congressional District of Illinois</strong>, Bob Dold may be living proof that one can do everything right and still lose. After all, that appears to have happened once before. Dold won the seat in 2010, lost in ’12 when a Democratic-engineered redistricting increased the performance to give Obama 58% and won his seat back in ’14.
Brad Schneider was his opponent in the last two races. But the big story was that when Dold lost the seat, it was only by a single percentage point. He had shown deft and assiduousness that made him was one of the most moderate members, most notably resisting efforts to oppose Obamacare. And has appealed to the district’s large Jewish population with his strong support for Israel. Schneider is Jewish and overcame a tough primary by stressing his opposition to the Iran deal, which created division that led to the last Democrat to represent the district, the late Abner Mikva, to withdraw his backing. Someone once joked that this district feels guilty if voters don’t opt for one Republican. Dold’s problem is that Trump will do worse – perhaps far worse than Romney in ’12 and given the fact that Romney wasn’t able to save him, it’s hard to see Dold overcoming headwinds like this.
Predominantly, however, the seats Democrats are gunning for in the region have a decided Republican tilt and that’s where we go. Many are close but one, <strong>Minnesota-2</strong>, seems outright certain to fall.
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<strong>Republican Bob Dold (top) faces Brad Schneider for the third consecutive time in what will be the best two out of three</strong>
<strong>Top photo via the U.S. House of Representatives. Bottom photo via the Raben Group</strong>
Democrats quickly consolidated behind wealthy health care executive Angie Craig while Republicans had an ideologically fractious fight for the nomination that culminated with a win by the candidate party regulars least wanted, conservative radio host Jason Lewis. The district, which Obama carried twice (the second time by the narrowest of margins – 226 votes), has been trending Democratic and Lewis will not be helped by a series of tempestuous statements, including a rarity for a citizen well North of the Mason-Dixon Line (Lincoln “exploited the issue of slavery”). But that’s not all. Lewis accused the “white population of committing cultural and political suicide” and single women for voting “never thought in my lifetime where’d you have so many single, or I should say, yeah single women who would vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm…. They are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody’s got to educate them.” Both candidates will have to deal with the presence of an Independence Party candidate in November but t probably doesn’t matter. Craig’s money and Lewis’s jejune way of expressing himself seem likely to give the Democrats a pickup.
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<strong>Angie Craig is seen as offering Democrats one of their strongest pickup opportunities in the nation
Photo courtesy of Emily’s List</strong>
In <strong>Michigan-1</strong>, retired Marine Core Lt. General Jack Bergman defeated two better known candidates to win the nomination, a result generally viewed as a setback for Republicans. Bergman, a conservative, is not particularly known. Conversely, his two rivals were not only state legislators but fairly moderate. On the other hand, Democratic nominee Lon Johnson easily dispatched a rival and as a one-time Michigan Democratic Party Chair, has been a fundraising juggernaut. But there is some question about his viability for the sprawling Upper Peninsula district. There is a belief that those who don’t hail from the UP don’t do as well. Others call that a myth.
While it is doubtful Republicans would write off a seat that gave Mitt Romney 54%, the party has not been enthused about spending money just yet wich makes this a tossup with an ever-slight Republican advantage.
<strong>Wisconsin-8</strong> looks like as much a tossup as a tossup can get. It elected only three Democrats since World War II (and never awarded any a third term) and gave Romney 51%. But Obama scored nearly 54% in 2008 and the Democratic drought didn’t stop the party from recruiting one of their stronger candidates nationwide. Outagamie County (Appleton) Executive Tom Nelson had been positioning himself for a run for Governor but opted for this Green Bay-Appleton seat when GOP incumbent Reid Ribble opted to retire. Republicans chose Marine Mike Gallagher, a, market strategy executive who has served as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s foreign policy advisor during his Presidential campaign. Gallagher immediately portrayed his fight as one against a “Democratic army..with a mission to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House again.” Speaker Ryan will be going out of his way to save a seat on his home turf but Nelson is formidable and with ex U.S. Senator Russ Feingold poised to win back the Senate seat he once held, so likely will be the Democratic tide in Wisconsin.
<strong>Iowa-3</strong> is somewhat different, as it features an incumbent battling for his political life. David Young has served but one term so, the election will test how far the powers of incumbency will go. ” Young did not win his primary in 2014. He actually finished fourth. But because no candidate met the required 35% threshold, GOP leaders tapped him for the nomination. His former employer, veteran Senator Chuck Grassley, went to bat for him. In the fall, Young beat ex-State Senator Staci Appel by a wider than expected 11% margin.This year, Democrats are energized by Jim Mowrer, who beat back a well-funded challenge from a businessman, Jim Sherzan. Mowrer’s task is to broaden his appeal beyond Polk County (Des Moines) but he has already earned the gratitude of many Democrats for taking on Steve King in a neighboring, much more Republican Western Iowa district.
Young was one of seven members who changed their vote from yes to no on a pro-LGBT amendment. He had a major cash advantage on Young, $1.2 million to $161,000. Voter registration appears – at least nominally on his side as well as the district contains 8,100 more Rs than Ds. But Mowrer is not without assets: He was friends with the late Beau Biden and is sure to receive help from the Vice-President.And unlike some of the other districts mentioned, Trump will likely tank and unlike his former boss, Young after two years in office does not have the name rec to overcome a hostile climate. But Iowa voters have displayed a tendency to ticket split so this one is truly up in the air. One possible barometer may be <em>The Des Moines Register</em> endorsement. Young earned it last time but that’s not indicative of this year.
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<strong>Four term GOP Congressman Erik Paulsen initially faced little electoral danger but thanks to Trump, is now in for the race of his life</strong>
<strong>Photo via the U.S. House of Representatives</strong>
<strong>Minnesota-3</strong> is an example of how Trump has wreaked havoc on what would have been a routine year for most Republican incumbents. Erik Paulsen has held his seat uneventfully since 2008 in a seat Obama narrowly carried and had served as a State Senator for 14 years before that. From his perch on the House Ways and Means Committee, he focuses on trade issues. Although he seemed destined to face a credible opponent this year, he was hardly expected to break a sweat. But when Trump started tanking, Terri Bonoff jumped in and quickly cleared the field (Bonoff had sought the DFL nomination in ’08, when she might very well have beaten Paulsen, but lost the convention nod to a political newcomer). Bonoff boasts of working across party lines and her slogan throughout her career has been “uniting the middle.” How prominent will Trump figure into the race. A Bonoff aide described it as “ground zero” and a recent poll had Clinton up double digits. A Paulsen spokesman said Trump “will have to earn” his vote but Democrats are betting that will be enough. It may but it will likely be close. Bonoff has a cash disadvantage over Paulsen which House Democrats are helping her close. This one will likely go toward the final hours.
Finally, one race that normally would not be on a list but for a weak top of the ticket and, quite possibly, a weak GOP nominee is <strong>Indiana’s Ninth District</strong>. It’s not that Hollingworth isn’t a strong candidate on paper but he has a number of deficiencies for a person seeking a seat from Indiana. First and foremost: until last fall, he hailed from Tennessee. Prior to that time, Hollingsworth’s only connection to Indiana was a company that he operated. This has prompted Democrats to label him “Tennessee Trey.”
Hollingsworth was the surprise winner of the Republican primary. Among those he edged out: two State Senators and the sitting Attorney General. That was made possible largely through his boasting of supporting conservative causes and a Super-PAC owned by his father for $2 million. Democrats see a stark contrast in Shelli Yoder, a former Miss Indiana and Miss USA contestant – and now Monroe County Council member who lost to incumbent Todd Young in 2012 56-44%. Now Young is seeking a Senate seat and Yoder is trying again.
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<strong>Shelli Yoder’s quest for a reliably Republican seat in the heartland may be aided by an opponent with few roots in the district</strong>
<strong>Photo via the Kelley School of Business</strong>
From 2002 to 2010, the district changed hands in four of five cycles. On the losing end of two was Democrat Baron Hill. But Young, who defeated him in ’10, became the beneficiary of the GOP dominated remap and Obama dropped 3 ½ points, going from 49% to 46%. In addition, Republicans point out that Richard Moudock, the 2012 Senate candidate who famously called rape, “God’s will,” carried the district while losing the state but it was his home turf and he had sought an overlapping Congressional seat twice prior. But there is evidence that Hollingsworth’s interloping has rubbed even some Republicans the wrong way. It just remains to be seen how many. And even though redistricting has contrasted the Democratic performance, Democrat Baron Hill took 58% in 2008 against a weak candidate as the GOP ticket crumbled in 2008 which would seem to leave Yoder with room to spare. The party surely hopes similar factors are at play this time around. Yoder will also be helped by the large student population of Indiana University-Bloomington, where folks may be coming out in large numbers to oppose Trump. With Indiana’s earliest in the nation poll closing, a win here would signify that the Democratic Party’s strength at the Presidential level may also extend to the House.