This is one of the more difficult lists that I have tried to create over the years. Many of the incumbents on this list have proven their political mettle before, and in normal circumstances, they wouldn’t be in all that much trouble. Others find themselves in the sort of hot water that should automatically sink them, but because of unique circumstances, they might somehow survive. Anyway, here is my current list (including only districts likely to change partisan hands), with the more vulnerable incumbents coming first and the less vulnerable Members coming toward the end.
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). I’ll be surprised if Ney hasn’t been indicted by the time Election Day rolls around, and if he has any chance of surviving it’s only because the Democrats may nominate Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, who is a walking political time bomb with his own political and personal baggage. With Ney on the ballot in November, the Republicans will probably lose this district, even though it was redrawn after the 2000 Census to make it reliably Republican. If Ney retires — and he has already filed to run again — the GOP would have a much better chance of holding the seat. Any normal Democrat (attorney Zack Space might meet that test) should beat Ney.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Former House Majority Leader DeLay faces a potentially competitive primary against former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration general counsel Tom Campbell, as well as a difficult general election challenge by former Rep. Nick Lampson (D). Lampson’s record gives DeLay plenty to shoot at, but the Congressman’s history of being admonished by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and his current vulnerabilities certainly give his opponents ammunition.
Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.). Sheriff Brad Ellsworth (D) has plenty of assets, while Hostettler has barely squeaked by against lesser opponents. And the national political environment stinks for Republicans, if you hadn’t noticed. Once again, the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to pour money into this race to try to save Hostettler.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.). Democrat Lois Murphy drew 48 percent last time. She is back for a rematch, and while Gerlach seems more aggressive in defending himself and attacking her, the environment is much worse for the GOP. Plus, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) will be trying to squeeze every possible Democratic vote out of Southeast Pennsylvania to win a tough re-election bid.
Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.). Simmons has done everything he could to be re-elected, including playing a role in “saving” the New London Naval Submarine Base from closure. But his district will be difficult to hold in this political environment. Democrat Joe Courtney, who lost to Simmons in 2002 by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin, had $450,000 in the bank at the end of December, guaranteeing that he will run a well-funded race. If Simmons survives in this political climate, Democrats may finally conclude that they will never beat him.