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It’s a funny time for the “10 Most Vulnerable” franchise. Not that we can’t identify several House incumbents who are in political jeopardy this year, because there are plenty. It’s just that the battlegrounds where one party (Hint: It starts with a D) can make most of its gains are open-seat races.
Thanks to an expanded political playing field this cycle (and here again, the Democrats deserve most of the credit), there in fact may be more politically vulnerable House incumbents than there have been in a long time. It’s just that there isn’t a single obvious goner. Even most of the fluke freshmen from the 2006 wave — Democrats who beat or replaced fatally flawed Republicans in heavily GOP districts — have done a good job of protecting themselves and may pull through. Hence, the list is in alphabetical order:
She comes off as a hardworking suburban mom, and that’s exactly what she is. But she’s still too liberal for her eastern Kansas constituency. Her victory in 2006 was as much a rebuke to the incumbent, then-Rep. Jim Ryun (R), as anything else. Now Ryun wants his old job back, but he must first get through a tough primary with state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R). That primary could be Boyda’s salvation.
The only reason he won in a northern Pennsylvania Republican stronghold two years ago is that then-Rep. Don Sherwood (R), a married man, was accused of choking his much younger mistress. The Republican nominee this time, millionaire businessman Chris Hackett, has no such baggage –– and is in fact an engaging, nice-looking young man. Carney is working hard and trying to make the right votes for his district. But it may not be enough.
House Republicans are trying to exorcise the ghost of Jack Abramoff, and in several instances, they’ve succeeded: Many GOP Members with ties to the imprisoned lobbyist were bounced last time or are racing for the exits in 2008. Feeney’s transgressions on the Abramoff front may not seem so major compared to some of his current and former colleagues, but in the politically volatile Sunshine State and with a solid challenger in former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D), they may be just toxic enough to end Feeney’s once-promising Congressional career.
The $2.3 million man makes his debut on this list. It’s not his fault. He’s raising a ton of money and advancing an agenda that should resonate with his suburban Chicago constituents. But with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) expected to be the Democratic presidential nominee, business consultant Dan Seals (D) — himself an appealing young black man who finished 6 points behind Kirk in 2006 without much help from the national party — should benefit enormously.
In one of the most Republican districts in the Empire State, a seasoned pol like Kuhl should be in fine shape. But he has never really recovered from his rocky first House campaign in 2004, when news of a drunken-driving arrest and his nasty divorce came to light; he’s never been able to endear himself to his constituents as a result, and his fundraising this cycle has been lackluster, to say the least. Eric Massa (D), the passionate former Navy officer who came within 2 points of ousting Kuhl last time, is trying again.
He may be the most vulnerable incumbent of them all. Running in a Houston-area district represented for 22 years by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), Lampson won in the previous cycle largely because of DeLay’s ethical troubles — and because his Republican opponent had to run as a write-in candidate. Democrats had hoped that controversial former Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs would emerge from the crowded GOP primary; instead, Pete Olson, a former Senate aide, won and appears to be a far stronger challenger. Lampson has the tools and savvy to win — but that district is awfully tough.
Mahoney won in the previous cycle after then-Rep. Mark Foley (R) was swept up in a scandal surrounding his sexually charged instant messages to male Congressional pages. But without Foley to kick around anymore, the task for Mahoney becomes tougher in a previously reliably Republican district. He’s raising a lot of money and trying to stay out of trouble. And he benefits from a free-wheeling and free-spending three-way Republican primary with no clear favorite. But assuming the GOP can unify behind its nominee, Mahoney will have a big fat target on his back come autumn.
Not only did McNerney oust then-House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R) in the 2006 general election, to get there he had to upset the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s preferred candidate in the primary. So McNerney has shown his mettle. Still, he’s sitting in a fairly conservative district. And his challenger, former state Assemblyman Dean Andal (R), carries none of the baggage that Pombo did. What’s more, environmental groups won’t be running the multimillion-dollar — pardon the expression — scorched earth campaign against Andal that they did against Pombo.
It’s tough to go from hero cop to endangered incumbent in such a short stretch of time, but that’s the former King County sheriff’s fate in a suburban Seattle district that is steadily becoming more Democratic. Reichert still has a reservoir of good will to draw from as he fights off Democrat Darcy Burner for the second straight cycle. But Burner has become a more polished and confident campaigner — and has outpaced the incumbent on the fundraising front for the past few quarters.
He’s vulnerable in the primary. He’s vulnerable in the general. That’s not a good place for any incumbent to be, even one as tough and with as storied a career as Young’s. As one faction of Alaska Republicans, led by dynamic young Gov. Sarah Palin, seeks to install a new generation of leaders, Young has plenty to fear from his principal GOP challenger, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. And if Young survives the ordeal of a primary, former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D) could be a formidable general election challenger.