Unlike the fireworks of the 2010 Delaware Senate race, the First State’s political landscape in 2012 can be described in four words: Nothing to see here. Native son Vice President Joseph Biden is on the ballot again, and Carper racked up two-thirds of the vote the last time he was up for re-election. Carper is a safe bet to return for a third term.
Cardin won an open-seat race in 2006 that was competitive enough to make the “Meet the Press” Senate debate series. That is not the case this time around. Maryland has only become more Democratic in the past 10 years, and it is hard to see how Republican nominee Daniel Bongino has a serious chance. The former Secret Service agent has attracted conservative enthusiasm, but this is Maryland. The state GOP has a great deal of work to do for the Old Line State to be competitive statewide.
6th district | Incumbent: Roscoe Bartlett (R)
10th term (61 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic
Last October was cruel to Bartlett, and this October is expected to be equally brutal. One year ago, Maryland Democrats drew a new map with the intention of redistricting the 86-year-old incumbent out of office. Despite early intense support of the Congressman, national Republicans have yet to commit any actual financial support to this race.
Bartlett fielded a self-financing Democratic challenger in businessman John Delaney. The fact that Delaney can put his own money into the campaign is all the more important in this district covered by the expensive Washington, D.C., media market. National Democrats shouldn’t have to spend precious resources here to help Delaney.
Bartlett has run a feisty campaign, but the partisan bent of the new district is just too overwhelming. The one fear Maryland Democrats express is that a super PAC might sweep in and keep Bartlett afloat. But it had not happened as of press time. This is more than likely Bartlett’s last dance.
Democrats are incredibly confident that this race is “done, a blowout.” While Menendez’s first Senate race was somewhat competitive, it is hard to see how he loses re-election.
At one point in August, national Republican strategists began to express some curiosity about New Jersey. The GOP nominee, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, is on an upward trajectory in state politics and has done well in fundraising. But thanks to its position in the New York and Philadelphia media markets, New Jersey can bankrupt an adequate fundraiser quickly. Despite Republican optimism, this race is probably a test-run for future races for Kyrillos.
Republicans and Democrats alike express confidence in their chances in the 3rd. Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee was confident enough in Runyan’s chances to cancel a $780,000 ad buy meant to support his candidacy. Runyan’s 2010 defeat of Rep. John Adler (D) was a squeaker, but now he has the benefit of incumbency and a redrawn district that is somewhat better for Republicans. National Democrats have been bullish for months on their recruit, Adler’s widow, attorney Shelley Adler.
State operatives are also quick to vouch for her campaign, saying GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate helps put this race in play. The district has a large senior citizen population, and Democratic messaging on the Ryan budget blueprint will be front and center.
What works against Adler is location. For September, the two campaigns focused advertising on cable networks. Neither House campaign committee had made television investments in this campaign, but each has been heavily involved in the race. The Runyan campaign anticipates going up on Philadelphia broadcast — one of the most expensive markets during election season. Democrats, and the groups that support them, will have to decide whether keeping up with that expensive air time is worth the money or if it can be put to better use shoring up multiple candidates in cheaper markets.
One New Jersey Democrat pointed out that this is the type of seat the national party will have to win if it wants to take back control of the House.
10th district | Vacancy: Donald Payne (D) died.
Outlook: Safe Democratic
The November ballot will feature a special election to fill out the remainder of Payne’s term, as well as the general election for a new two-year term. Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. (D), the late Congressman’s son, will have no trouble winning both elections and he should be sworn in at the beginning of the lame-duck session in November. The younger Payne should be able to hold this safe Democratic seat for as long as he wants it.
The popular Senator will glide to victory against attorney Wendy Long (R).
1st district | Incumbent: Tim Bishop (D)
5th term (50 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic
Bishop faces a rematch from 2010 against businessman Randy Altschuler, with national Republicans eager to finish what they failed to do last cycle.
Politico reported in August that Bishop’s campaign asked for a donation from a constituent who was in the midst of being helped by the lawmaker’s Congressional office. Bishop denies any wrongdoing, but Republicans have launched attack after attack on him based on the story. Bishop, obviously taking the attacks seriously, went up on the air to defend himself.
For a race that Altschuler lost by 593 votes in 2010 and was on track to lose by a lot more in 2012, the story is a chance to maybe make this truly competitive again.
At the beginning of October, the race still favors the Congressman, if only slightly. But monied third-party groups such as Crossroads GPS have taken aim at the incumbent, and that’s going to make the next 30 days a political lifetime for Bishop.
6th district | Open Seat: Gary Ackerman (D) is retiring.
Outlook: Safe Democratic
State Assemblywoman Grace Meng, the Democratic nominee strongly backed by powerful Queens County Democratic Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, should beat New York City Councilman Dan Halloran (R) with no trouble.
11th district | Incumbent: Michael Grimm (R)
1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican
If the freshman were facing a better opponent than Mark Murphy, former aide to the New York City public advocate and son of a former Congressman, he’d probably be toast. Allegations of ethical impropriety have been swirling around Grimm with greater velocity in recent months. Even though Grimm’s Staten Island-based district will probably vote for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the right Democrat would have had a good shot here. But Murphy, seen with derision by New York City Democratic insiders, is not that person.
“It boggles the mind that this seat isn’t solidly Democratic in this cycle with all the problems the incumbent has had,” one New York City Democratic insider said. “And it’s equally confounding that a candidate as weak as Mark Murphy could pull it off.”
With a big revelation about Grimm, the Democrat might eke it out. But right now, this looks like a good target for Democrats in 2014.
This one is going to be close. Hayworth, the feisty, personable incumbent, probably has a slight edge over Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, but that’s likely to diminish. Both are running strong campaigns and have outside help knocking down their opponent. The district is in the prohibitively expensive New York City media market, which has kept outside groups from spending overwhelmingly on broadcast television, which is probably useful to the incumbent.
A top Hayworth hit on Maloney, an attorney and former aide to President Bill Clinton, appears to be that he’s a carpetbagger from Manhattan — he recently moved to the district. It’s unclear what kind of resonance that has with this seat north of the Big Apple. An outside Democratic group has worked to tie Hayworth to the tea party in TV ads.
Whatever the messaging, watch this one to the end.
Gibson, a strong candidate, faces Julian Schreibman, a weaker candidate with lots of support from national Democrats. They’ve worked to tie GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who looks likely to lose the district by a small margin, around Gibson’s neck and to paint him as working in lock step with top Republicans. The GOP-aligned group Crossroads GPS has aired ads in the district. Schreibman, a former federal prosecutor, is definitely the underdog, but the race appears likely to close over the next four weeks with big spending from national Democrats.
Owens won a special election in 2009 and his first full term in 2010 with less than 50 percent of the vote, making him a ripe pickoff opportunity for the GOP. But a month out, it’s surprising how good things are looking for the Congressman in his rematch with investment banker Matt Doheny (R). There’s a growing sense among operatives of both parties that the Congressman — shockingly — will manage to win in November. Owens has run a good campaign; Doheny has not. A September public poll found Owens ahead by 13 points. The final margin is likely to be a lot closer, but this is still a race that has evolved in Democrats’ favor.
There are two reasons Buerkle, who rode the tea party wave to Congress in 2010, will probably not be coming back in January: This reconfigured district, drawn by a federal court, is more Democratic than the one she currently represents, and Buerkle, a strong Republican, has stayed true to her views and hasn’t pivoted to try to match her new constituents.
In November, she faces Democrat Dan Maffei, the Congressman she unseated in 2010. He’s no superstar of a candidate and has a voting record (the stimulus, the Affordable Care Act) that makes him easier to knock. But the dynamics of the district in a presidential year make it look like Buerkle’s probably on her way out.
25th district | Incumbent: Louise Slaughter (D)
13th term (65 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic
A few months ago, there looked to be a path for popular Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks (R) to beat Slaughter in this newly configured Democratic-leaning district. At the beginning of October, that doesn’t look to be the case. Public polling in late September found the incumbent with a 10-point lead. Brooks, it appears, didn’t make the case to voters soon enough about why they should kick out their longtime, not to mention popular, Member. In a district that will vote comfortably for President Barack Obama, Slaughter looks on track to win here.
This race, in the Empire State’s most Republican district, is only competitive because of Hochul, whose personality and top-notch campaign skills give her a shot in this exurban and rural seat that would be unwinnable for a generic Democrat. Hochul, a favorite of Washington, D.C., Democrats, won an upset victory in a 2011 special election, riding a wave of discontent with Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget blueprint that would fundamentally change the way future seniors interact with Medicare.
But this time around her district is more Republican, her slog will be harder and Democratic Medicare messaging won’t be as resonant. If she’s to win, her Republican opponent, businessman and former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, will have to be disqualified in some manner in the minds of swing voters. And that will be tough to do in a very conservative district that will vote for Mitt Romney next month.
Collins is a competent politician, though he sometimes rubs people the wrong way. If he can make this race a referendum on national issues and tie Hochul to President Barack Obama, he’ll be coming to Congress. But Hochul, telegenic and with a deeply personable touch, can’t be discounted.
1st term (59 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic
In the past few weeks, just about every Senate race in the country tilted toward Democrats — except for this one.
Several recent polls showed former coal company executive Tom Smith (R) trailing Casey by single digits. For example, a Quinnipiac University survey showed the Senator with a 6-point lead. All the while, President Barack Obama increased his lead over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the Keystone State.
To be fair, other polls show Casey maintaining a small double-digit lead. But the trend is clear: This race has become more competitive.
Why is this happening? Smith is a wealthy candidate running in an expensive state. He went up on TV this summer in the pricey Philadelphia media market — a rich Democratic voting area — while Casey stayed off the air there until late Septmeber. It was a bold and expensive move, but it’s paying off for Smith.
Casey hails from northeastern Pennsylvania, and he plays well in other conservative, Democratic areas such as Pittsburgh. Historically, Democrats have had a harder time electing statewide candidates not from Philadelphia.
Smith will have to finish this race out by relying on his own deep pockets. National Republicans won’t help a wealthy challenger when their money is needed elsewhere.
Casey is still likely to win on Election Day. But it’s looking like a much closer race than he — and many Republicans — anticipated.
4th district | Open seat: Todd Platts (R) is retiring.
Outlook: Safe Republican
Platts kept his promise to retire after six terms, paving the way for a Republican primary to replace him in this south-central district.
State Rep. Scott Perry won the contested primary over York County Commissioner Chris Reilly. Perry is headed to Congress in January in all likelihood.
5th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican
A perennial target and survivor, Gerlach has endured his fair share of tough elections. This is not one of them.
For 10 years, he represented one of the state’s most competitive House districts. He survived by a few points over less-than-stellar Democratic recruits.
Gerlach’s opponent, physician Manan Trivedi (D), is one of his better challengers. But it’s likely too late for Trivedi, who is running in a more conservative district than the one he ran in in 2010. Republicans redrew the 6th district following reapportionment, moving more reliable GOP territory into it.
A month before Election Day, the only way this race seems to be trending is toward the Safe Republican column.
8th district | Incumbent: Mike Fitzpatrick (R)
1st term (54 percent; previously served one term) | Outlook: Leans Republican
This is the most competitive House seat held by a Republican in the Keystone State — and probably will be for a while. Republicans helped shore up many GOP seats through redistricting last year, but they didn’t touch this one much.
Democrats nominated attorney Kathy Boockvar. As one of two targeted races in the state, she’s been touted by local Democrats such as Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
While Fitzpatrick has the upper hand, Boockvar’s candidacy has caused concern among Republicans. The National Republican Congressional Committee started attacking Boockvar — a sign that it knows this race could be competitive if it isn’t already.
Both committees have reserved millions of dollars in airtime in Philadelphia, and this race is the most likely recipient.
This is the most competitive and fought-over district in the state. It is a race that will be decided by a couple of points, no matter who is the victor.
Republicans view this seat as their white whale after failing to pick it up during a 2010 special election that propelled Critz to Congress. They overlooked it in the general election later that year, when attorney Keith Rothfus was their nominee for the first time.
Not anymore. The party has made every major effort to pick up this seat. Republicans redrew it to include more GOP-friendly territory after redistricting. They got behind Rothfus early this time around. They poured millions of dollars in resources into the district to air ads boosting their nominee.
To Critz’s credit, he’s endured more competitive races in the past two years than any other Member of Congress. After he won the special and general elections last cycle, he ran against Rep. Jason Altmire in the April primary. Each race cost millions of dollars.
This race has national implications as well. First, this district has a large elderly population and has more Medicare Part D enrollees than almost any other in the country. It will serve as a test for both parties pushing their respective Medicare messages to senior voters.
Second, this district will test how well a Democrat can run in a district that does not approve of the president. Critz will have to run several points — likely double digits — ahead of the top of the ticket to squeak out a victory.
17th district | Open seat: Tim Holden (D) was defeated in a primary.
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Republicans redrew Holden’s 17th district to include mostly new and liberal territory for the Blue Dog. They stretched the district from his home in Schuylkill County northwest to the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.
The new district proved too difficult for Holden to keep. He lost his primary to Matt Cartwright, a telegenic attorney who married into one of the best-known local political families in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Now Cartwright is headed to Congress to represent this solidly Democratic district.
Manchin’s 2010 race to finish the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) was integral to any Senate majority calculation last cycle. That is not the case this time around.
His rematch against businessman John Raese (R) has barely registered on the national political radar. President Barack Obama has never been popular in West Virginia, and that’s why Manchin worked overtime to brand himself in a way that separates himself from the national party. It is hard to see why he would be more vulnerable this year than in the 2010 GOP wave.
3rd district | Incumbent: Nick Rahall (D)
18th term (56 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic
Democrats point to Rahall’s double-digit victory in 2010 and are confident the seat will stay in their hands. At the same time, state and national operatives maintain they are not taking anything for granted.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent a sizable amount on negative advertising targeting Rahall, who faces state Del. Rick Snuffer (R). He is affable and has been on the air with clever television ads.
Rahall will have to run well ahead of President Barack Obama on the ballot here. But West Virginia voters are well-accustomed to splitting their tickets when it comes to federal races. And Democrats such as Rahall and Sen. Joe Manchin have been able to successfully carve out a brand separate from the national party.
At this point, Rahall appears to be on his way to a 19th term, but this is a race worth watching — the Republicans are.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.