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Roll Call

South Region Roundup

North Carolina Redistricting Dims Democratic Outlook

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although he still has a strong edge in the race a year out, Republicans will paint Sen. Bill Nelson as a stooge of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

ALABAMA | ARKANSAS
FLORIDA | GEORGIA
KENTUCKY | LOUISIANA
MISSISSIPPI | NORTH CAROLINA
SOUTH CAROLINA | TENNESSEE
VIRGINIA


Alabama

Gov. Robert Bentley (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote:
McCain 60%/Obama 39%

House

2nd district | Incumbent: Martha Roby (R)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Roby defeated one-term Rep. Bobby Bright (D), who billed himself as “independent and conservative” but couldn’t hold on in the GOP wave of 2010.

The district is anchored in the suburbs of Montgomery and covers the southeastern portion of the state. Redistricting shored up the seat, which already favored Republicans, for Roby.

National Democrats think they might be able to give her a tough run, but they’ll need the right conservative candidate who can put together the most exceptional of campaigns. That might be state Rep. Joe Hubbard, but if he gets in, his campaign will have a certain quixotic flavor to it.


Arkansas

Gov. Mike Beebe (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 59%/Obama 39%

House

1st district | Incumbent: Rick Crawford (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Crawford comes to the race in this comfortably conservative district with the decided advantage of incumbency. Crawford connects well in this largely rural district, having been a farm broadcaster covering agricultural news for years.

State and national Democrats are bullish on their prospects for making Crawford work for a second term. Their likely nominee is state Rep. Clark Hall, a farmer who they believe is a good fit for a district that they see as winnable.

But President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular in the Razorback State, and it won’t be easy for Democrats seeking federal office in Arkansas, no matter how in tune they are with their potential constituents.

2nd district | Incumbent: Tim Griffin (R)

1st term (58 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Griffin is a gifted campaigner and fundraiser who could easily be a contender for higher office in years to come. But first, he has to win re-election in a district that is anchored by Democratic Little Rock. Without a Democratic opponent, and there isn’t one yet, he has a pretty straight shot to a second term.

But there’s a proven opponent eyeing the race.

“I think the 800-pound gorilla here is Bill Halter,” Arkansas Democratic strategist Robert McLarty said. He explained that if Halter, a former Arkansas lieutenant governor and 2010 primary challenger to former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), got in, it would become a competitive and expensive race, with lots of interest and money coming from national groups.

If Halter doesn’t get in, however, both Democrats and Republicans believe the odds strongly favor Griffin returning to Capitol Hill in January 2013.

4th district | Open seat: Mike Ross (D) is retiring

Outlook: Likely Republican

Ross’ decision to retire one cycle early in order to prepare to run for governor in 2014 likely moves this southern Arkansas district into the Republican column.

The district became more favorable for Republicans through redistricting, and state Sen. Gene Jeffress, the current Democrat in the race, is not seen as a strong candidate.

Republicans have Tom Cotton, a member of the Army Reserve and former business consultant for McKinsey & Co., who is seen as a top recruit by national strategists because of his biography, contacts and fundraising prowess. Cotton pulled in $343,000 in the third quarter. “Everybody better get their sneakers on if they’re going to catch Tom Cotton,” said one Republican consultant with knowledge of the race.

Beth Anne Rankin, who lost to Ross in 2010, is also running for the GOP nomination. She raised $176,000 from July to September and is a serious contender as well.


Florida

Gov. Rick Scott (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 29
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 51%/McCain 48%

Senate

Incumbent: Bill Nelson (D)

2nd term (60 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

It’s hard to see Nelson winning or losing this election by his own hand: His GOP opponent and the political climate in the Sunshine State will be much stronger determinants of whether he returns for a third term in the Senate.

Although the climate does not look ideal for him, he still has a strong edge in the race a year out. His $7.5 million in the bank doesn’t hurt either.

“Do not underestimate him,” ex-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) told Roll Call earlier this year about his former colleague. “I think he’ll be a formidable candidate in his re-election effort.”

Republicans will paint the 69-year-old former astronaut as a stooge of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Nelson will sell himself as an independent voice fighting for the people of Florida and the issues they care about.

“Our challenge, like for any candidate running in 2012, is to make sure that the race is about who we are, who Bill Nelson is and his relationship with the state,” Nelson pollster Dave Beattie told Roll Call in September. “That’s going to be the No. 1 goal is to make sure [voters] understand who he is as a person, not just what he’s done in Washington.”

But with Obama expected to spend perhaps $100 million in Florida, and his GOP opponent likely a similarly huge sum, Nelson and his challenger may find it hard to break through. That benefits Nelson, who is likely to outperform Obama in the state anyway.

The race for the Republican nomination was thrown into disarray in late October with the entrance of Rep. Connie Mack IV.

“Connie becomes the instant frontrunner,” Florida GOP strategist Ana Navarro said. “Everybody else has been at it for a year and has been producing anemic fundraising numbers and even worse poll numbers.”

Mack’s name recognition is expected to be a boon to him; his father and namesake served in the Senate for 12 years and was succeeded by Nelson.

Before Mack’s entrance, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner appeared to have what little momentum there was in the race, pulling in key conservative endorsements and creating some buzz among the grass roots.

The other top-tier candidate in the race is ex-Sen. George LeMieux. The Republican suffered lackluster fundraising in the third quarter and faces scrutiny over his ties to former Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and former state Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, who goes on trial next year for allegedly stealing money from the party. Republican insiders expect LeMieux’s connections to Crist and Greer to sink his candidacy, but with his connections in D.C., he’s down but not out.

Also in the primary are retired Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Ruth’s Chris CEO Craig Miller. Neither is considered a serious contender but will still pull some votes in a five-way race.

Hasner and LeMieux have both tacked hard to the right for the primary; Mack would likely be the strongest candidate in the general. But whether the victor of the GOP race can position himself in a way that appeals to enough independents to win next November remains to be seen.

House

There are certain states where three people sitting in a room decide the state’s Congressional map for the next decade. Florida doesn’t appear likely to be one of them.

Republicans control the process, and the state added two seats. But with a new constitutional amendment that prohibits intentionally drawing districts based on party or incumbency and a national Democratic Party that is keen on netting a handful of seats, a lengthy court battle over the new lines seems likely. Even the most plugged-in Florida strategists only have a wisp of an idea what a final new map might look like.

None of the state’s six House Democrats appears vulnerable. But Democrats see opportunity in picking off Republican Reps. Steve Southerland, Daniel Webster, Bill Young, Vern Buchanan, David Rivera and Allen West. Just how realistic those opportunities are depends on the final map, but it’s hard to see all of those seats in play this time next year. State strategists of both parties see Democrats picking up two to four seats.

Buchanan and Rivera are burdened by investigations into their finances and have declared Democratic opponents. Former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald is Buchanan’s only opponent, and state Rep. Luis Garcia (D) is challenging Rivera. But Garcia had a lackluster quarter, despite House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) holding a fundraiser for him. And Buchanan won with 69 percent of the vote last cycle and remains comfortably safe.

Neither Rivera’s nor Buchanan’s district is expected to get dramatically more Democratic.

But Rivera faces particular difficulty because he can’t seem to raise any money. He brought in only $35,000 in the second quarter and only $27,000 in the third quarter. The state’s investigation into his alleged financial improprieties has gone on for more than a year, but investigators had no comment on when it might conclude. It’s unclear whether any Republicans will challenge Rivera in a primary.

Southerland, who won his first term in Congress in 2010 with 54 percent of the vote, might be vulnerable, too, but for different reasons. Democrats expect him to face former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox (D) or another strong candidate in what could be a contentious race — but he doesn’t have an opponent yet and a Democrat winning in the Panhandle won’t be easy. National Democrats see Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief, as a superstar candidate who has a good shot of beating the freshman Webster.

And, in a race that will draw national attention and national money, tea party favorite West will face either fiery former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel or 29-year-old businessman Patrick Murphy. The race will, by every early measure, be a true tossup. All three candidates come with significant fundraising abilities but also distinct vulnerabilities: West’s outspoken views might leave him struggling with moderates; Frankel’s long tenure in the Florida Legislature left her saddled with a lot of tough votes; and Murphy was a Republican as recently as this year, which may make winning the primary tough but could make moderates easier to pick up in the general.

Young has been on the retirement-watch list for many cycles, and national Democrats hope 2012 is the year he finally departs the House. Still, until he does, Young is pretty safe.


Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 16
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 52%/Obama 47%

House

9th district | New seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

Reapportionment allotted the Peach State a new district, which the GOP-controlled Legislature placed in the northeastern part of the state, anchored in Hall County. A Republican will win this new district, which is home to the state’s governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker and was drawn to be one of the most Republican districts in the country. The question is what kind of Republican will voters there elect.

The top two contenders are conservative talk-radio host Martha Zoller, who is closely aligned with the local tea party movement, and state Rep. Doug Collins, who is closely aligned with the Atlanta establishment. Both have strong conservative credentials and top-notch political teams and start with bases of support, but it’s unclear who will edge out whom.

A number of other contenders are expected to jump into the GOP primary, which could ensure that the contest is decided in a runoff next year.

12th district | Incumbent: John Barrow (D)

4th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

The new Congressional lines may as well have been in the shape of a large target on Barrow: The Legislature put his political future in peril. Democratic-leaning Savannah — including Barrow’s current home — was moved to another district, and the 12th gained the staunchly Republican suburbs of Augusta. Under the new lines, a little less than 60 percent of voters would have cast their ballot for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election.

Adding to Barrow’s challenge will be his voting record. According to Congressional Quarterly’s 2010 vote study, Barrow voted with Democrats 91 percent of the time. By comparison, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), another co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition who faces a tough re-election campaign, only voted with his party 60 percent of the time in 2010.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see GOP ads during the general election slamming Barrow for his vote in favor in the 2009 stimulus while noting the Peach State’s stubbornly high unemployment rate. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already run a TV spot connecting Barrow to Obama and knocking him for voting against the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Although the new district makes this Barrow’s toughest re-election slog — and he’s faced really hard races before — there is a path, if narrow, to victory. He raised a comfortable $284,000 in the third quarter and had almost $700,000 in the bank at the end of September.

Two of the top GOP contenders in a large field are businessman Rick Allen and state Rep. Lee Anderson.


Kentucky

Gov. Steve Beshear (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 8
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 41%

House

Redistricting has yet to be completed in the Bluegrass State, but politicos in the know expect the split Legislature to draw a map that protects incumbents. The expectation in Frankfort is that Congressional lines will be addressed when the Legislature goes back into regular session in January.

The rematch between Rep. Ben Chandler (D) and lawyer Andy Barr (R) is likely to be the only competitive race on tap in 2012. Chandler won the 6th district seat in 2010 by only 648 votes out of almost 240,000 cast. Although national Republicans are bullish on this race with an unpopular president at the top of the ticket, Kentucky GOP strategists believe that Barr’s best chance to defeat Chandler was the previous cycle and that redistricting is likely to add Democrats to the Lexington-anchored district.

“Of course challengers are underdogs,” Barr told Roll Call last month. “But the reality is this is a rematch of the third-closest Congressional race in America.”

In the 3rd district, Rep. John Yarmuth, the only other Democrat in the federal delegation, is expected to cruise to re-election in his Louisville-based district.


Louisiana

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 8
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 59%/Obama 40%

House

3rd district | Member Vs. Member: Charles Boustany (R) and Jeff Landry (R)

4th term (unopposed); 1st term (64 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Landry and Boustany were drawn into the same district under the new lines signed into law earlier this year. The majority of that district is territory that Boustany currently represents, but Landry retains some constituents. Although Landry hasn’t yet officially declared for the seat, it’s clear there’s a battle brewing in the bayou.

Landry’s strategy will likely be to portray himself as the tea party outsider, painting a contrast to Boustany, who is close with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Landry probably found his key wedge issue in the Budget Control Act to raise the debt ceiling, which he voted against and Boustany voted in favor of.

Being close to leadership, Boustany is expected to be able to raise a lot more money. But, surprisingly, Landry had a slightly better third quarter than his colleague. Still, Boustany had more in cash on hand at the end of September: $1.1 million compared with Landry’s $402,000.

During the August recess, Sen. David Vitter (R) added intrigue to the intraparty fight by holding forums with Landry on the debt ceiling in Boustany’s district.

Bottom line: This should be a fun race to watch.


Mississippi

Gov. Haley Barbour (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 56%/Obama 43%

Senate

Incumbent: Roger Wicker (R)

1st term (55 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

In some future election for one of Mississippi’s Senate seats, Republican candidates will look back with envy at Wicker’s stroll toward a second term. The 60-year-old is a former House appropriator who was appointed to the Senate in 2007 and won a 10-point victory in 2008.

He faces no opponents, Republican or Democratic. That’s probably because with more than $2 million in the bank and views and votes that fit the state, he would be almost impossible to beat.

House

Although redistricting has not yet been completed in Mississippi, Republicans and Democrats expect the map redraw will make only minor changes to the four districts. The governor and the state GOP have asked a federal court to adjust the districts based on new census data, and the case is pending. But regardless of whether the lines are crafted by the Legislature or the courts, they’re likely to remain similar.

One race to watch is the potential GOP primary between state Sen. Michael Watson and Rep. Steven Palazzo in the 4th district. Watson is seen as an up-and-comer in Mississippi politics and is expected to make a decision on a run in the next few months.

Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R) also faces a primary opponent in former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross, but the challenge is not seen as serious.

Yet another incumbent, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D), also faces a primary challenge. Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer is challenging him, but he’ll probably be fine.

In an interview in August with Roll Call, McTeer repeatedly declined to criticize Thompson, and she only had $7,000 in the bank at the end of September. Thompson Chief of Staff Lanier Avant said the Congressman takes the primary challenge “pretty seriously,” but with $1.7 million in the bank, the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee doesn’t appear to have much to worry about.


North Carolina

Gov. Beverly Perdue (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 15
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 50%/McCain 49%

House

4th district | Member vs. Member: Brad Miller (D) and David Price (D)

5th term (56 percent); 12th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Miller and Price were both drawn into the same Research Triangle district. Each currently represents about a third of the district, although Price has a small edge in how much of the new 4th he currently represents.

When the lines first came down, Miller said there was no way he would run against Price. But for months, Miller has been firing rhetorical shots across his colleague’s bow, and many Democratic strategists in the Tar Heel State think a primary is now inevitable. In late October, Price, who is definitely running for the seat, appeared to blast back. A Price campaign survey of the new 4th showing Price comfortably besting Miller in a horse race matchup was leaked to the media.

Insiders think it’s unlikely that Members will endorse, but there’s no question that Price will quietly have establishment support. In the solidly Democratic district, Miller might try to portray himself as more progressive, but because Miller has similar policy positions and votes as his mentor and friend, it’s not clear what the exact issues in the campaign might be.

There’s still a chance that Miller decides against a run here or that Price retires, but it appears likely that the Republican redistricting map has pitted two of the North Carolina Democrats against each other.

7th district | Incumbent: Mike McIntyre (D)

8th term (54 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

McIntyre will have his biggest political fight yet: winning another term in the district he currently represents but no longer lives in. The GOP-controlled state Legislature not only drew McIntyre out of his district but also sliced out his base of support in Robeson County. McIntyre is known as a hard campaigner, has the advantages of incumbency and raised $232,000 in the third quarter.

Right now, the GOP primary appears likely to be won by state Sen. David Rouzer, who faces retired Marine Ilario Pantano, who lost to McIntyre by more than 7 points in 2010. Pantano only raised $65,000 in the third quarter and had a lackluster $29,000 in cash on hand at the end of September, while Rouzer raised $205,000 in the quarter.

If Rouzer wins, it’s going to be difficult for McIntyre to hack out a victory. The field will be slightly more level if Pantano is the GOP nominee.

8th district | Incumbent: Larry Kissell (D)

2nd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Kissell, a former social studies teacher and textile mill supervisor, is among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country as a result of the GOP-led redistricting effort. Under the new lines, Barack Obama would have garnered just 42 percent in the district in the 2008 presidential election. That means Kissell casting his vote 93 percent in support of the Democratic Party’s agenda in 2010 will be a tough sell to voters.

There are already five candidates in the race for the GOP nomination, and there will probably be others who throw their hat into the ring. Likely to get the most support from the Washington, D.C., and Raleigh establishment is Richard Hudson, who was most recently chief of staff to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and previously chief of staff to Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and district director to former Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.). Other GOP candidates are Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle, insurance executive Dan Barry, neurosurgeon John Whitley — who is expected put a lot of his money in the race ­— and Vernon Robinson, a former Winston-Salem city councilman.

Kissell won his seat during the 2008 Democratic wave and managed to hold on to it during the 2010 Republican wave. But his political luck seems likely to run out in 2012.

11th district | Incumbent: Heath Shuler (D)

3rd term (54 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Republicans keen on knocking Shuler out of Congress drew a map that carved out a big chunk of liberal Buncombe County and made the 11th the most Republican district in the state.

But all is not lost for the Blue Dog Democrat, who only voted with his party 60 percent of the time in 2010. He’s a strong campaigner and has shown the ability to be a strong enough fundraiser. And yet Shuler raised only $87,000 in the third quarter and burned through almost $100,000 in the same period, raising serious questions about whether he is still keen on running again.

If Shuler decides to retire, Republicans will almost certainly win and hold this seat for the next decade.

The two establishment GOP candidates in the race are local District Attorney Jeff Hunt and real estate investor Mark Meadows. Both are untested running in a federal race, but in interviews with Roll Call, both appeared to be thoughtful candidates with cogent strategies for victory. Meadows, who seeded $251,000 of his own money in the campaign, has a particularly compelling biography that might help in introducing himself to voters. Hunt raised just $102,000 in the third quarter and will need to up his fundraising game.

Dan Eichenbaum, a tea-party-affiliated ophthalmologist who came up short in the 2010 GOP primary, is also running. Although Eichenbaum has a base of support in the district, there is likely also a ceiling that might make an outright victory for him very tough. That said, there’s likely to be a runoff, and, as with any low-turnout election, anything could happen there.

13th district | Open seat: Brad Miller (D) is likely running in the 4th district

5th term (56 percent) | Rating: Safe Republican

Even Miller acknowledged that after redistricting, Democrats don’t have much of a shot in the newly drawn 13th. In an interview over the summer, he called the new lines “very inhospitable” to his re-election or that of any Democrat. He’s right, and that’s probably why Miller has all but announced he’s running in the redrawn 4th district primary against fellow Rep. David Price, the Democratic dean of the state’s delegation.

The top-tier Republicans vying for the seat are former U.S. Attorney George Holding and Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble. Holding brought in $235,000 in the third quarter, which included a $45,000 personal loan. Coble raised $102,000 from July to September. Bill Randall, a tea party-affiliated Navy veteran who was the 2010 GOP nominee for the district, is also running.


South Carolina

Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 54%/Obama 45%

House

7th district: New Seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

South Carolina gained a seat in reapportionment because of population growth. The GOP-held Legislature, after some wrangling, situated the new 7th in the northeastern part of the state, anchored in Myrtle Beach and the Pee Dee region of the Palmetto State.

It would take a strange and unlikely confluence of events for this solidly Republican open seat to be won by a Democrat.

Based in Republican Horry County, which went 62 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election and 64 percent for now-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) in 2010, the new district is not fertile ground for even a moderate Democrat, although some Blue Dog-types might throw their hat into the ring.

State Rep. Thad Viers (R) was the first candidate to enter the race, but he’s been joined by former Lt. Gov. André Bauer (R). Attorney Jay Jordan (R) has also announced a bid, and state Rep. Phillip Lowe (R) will soon make a decision on a run.

Viers and Bauer come with a base of name ID in the district but also with baggage. In 2007, Viers pleaded no contest to making threatening phone calls to a man who had a relationship with his then-wife. Bauer made national headlines during his losing 2010 gubernatorial campaign when he drew a comparison between people who receive government assistance and “stray animals.” Potential Democrats in the race include state Sen. Dick Elliott, state Rep. Ted Vick and lawyer Preston Brittain.


Tennessee

Gov. Bill Haslam (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 11
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 42%

Senate

Incumbent: Bob Corker

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

If Corker were ever vulnerable this cycle, and that’s a questionable proposition, the challenge would have come from his right.

The Senator, derisively known in some Tennessee tea party circles as “Bailout Bob” for his vote in favor of authorizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, faced disapprobation from grass-roots conservatives for working with Democrats on a financial services reform bill in 2010. But Corker didn’t end up voting for the legislation that become the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and, over time, he has convinced a number of influential grass-roots conservatives that he holds many of the same beliefs as them.

“He’s moved much more toward the conservative principles that he should be defending,” said syndicated conservative talk-radio host Mark Skoda, co-founder of the Memphis Tea Party. Skoda happily noted that Corker was a co-sponsor of the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation. “Bob Corker will do good things for the state,” he said.

A former mayor of Chattanooga, Corker has a comfortable bankroll and should win both the primary — he faces two non-credible candidates — and general election with ease.

House

Redistricting is not yet complete in the state, and a map is not expected until January. Although discussions in the Republican-controlled Legislature are ongoing, not too much has leaked out, leaving Democrats who might ponder challenging an incumbent at a disadvantage. The expectation, however, is that the GOP will attempt to draw a map with seven comfortable GOP seats and two Democratic ones. Of the two Democrats in the delegation, Rep. Jim Cooper is more vulnerable — he won with 56 percent of the vote in 2010 — but is expected to win another term.

In the Chattanooga-anchored 3rd district, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R) faces a primary challenge from Weston Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp (R). The younger Wamp declared his candidacy in early October, and a key metric of the seriousness of his campaign will be how much money he posts in the fourth quarter. Fleischmann had $352,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.


Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 13
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 53%/McCain 46%

Senate

Open seat: Jim Webb (D) is retiring

Outlook: Tossup

Webb’s February retirement announcement ended the possibility of a rematch of 2006 with former Sen. George Allen (R) and put a seat in an increasingly important state for Democrats in jeopardy.

But Democrats, including President Barack Obama, got their top recruit in then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, whose entrance in April made this race perhaps the purest tossup in the country.

The battle of the former governors promises to be competitive, expensive and likely nasty. The previous three polls from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found them in a statistical dead heat, but those numbers are expected to ebb and flow as voters begin to pay more attention and as the presidential race kicks into a higher gear.

Both candidates want voters to focus on their tenures as governor, but Democrats will no doubt highlight Allen’s six years in the Senate just as national Republicans will remind voters as often as possible of Kaine’s work at the DNC.

That’s already begun, with Republicans tying Kaine to the president by highlighting his early endorsement of Obama in 2007, subsequent appointment to run the DNC and two years of publicly advocating for the president’s policies. They’ll keep it up as long as polls continue to show independents less supportive of the president than they were in 2008.

Meanwhile, Allen is rebuilding a political career that went off the rails five years ago in a surprising loss to Webb. He’s been touring the state for more than a year already, working to regain the trust and support of the GOP grass roots.

Tea party leader Jamie Radtke (R) is running to Allen’s right but so far hasn’t gained enough traction to put Allen in much trouble in the primary.

House

Republicans currently hold an 8-3 majority in the state’s House delegation, and that will likely remain under an incumbent retention redistricting plan supported by all of the Members, the GOP-controlled state House and McDonnell.

Before Tuesday’s state elections, the only holdup was the Democratic-controlled state Senate, which approved a plan that would make more drastic changes to the map.

So the route of the redistricting process was to be determined by the outcome of several competitive state Senate races. By Wednesday, Republicans appeared to have secured a 20-20 split in the Senate, giving them a majority with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) breaking any ties. A Republican majority in the state Senate will most likely allow the incumbent retention plan to move forward.

In that scenario, Democrats’ best shots at picking up seats would be against freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R) in the Virginia Beach-based 2nd district and Rep. Frank Wolf (R) in the western suburbs and exurbs of Washington, D.C. Both districts would continue to favor Republicans, however.

Democrats are excited about businessman Paul Hirschbiel (D) in the military-rich 2nd. Hirschbiel rivaled Rigell in fundraising in the third quarter, with both just eclipsing $300,000, although Rigell still had a $350,000 lead in cash on hand.

In the 10th, which almost certainly will keep the swing exurban county of Loudoun after redistricting, retired Brig. Gen. John Douglass (D) is challenging Wolf, should Wolf run for a 17th term. Both are in their 70s.

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