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Anti-Washington Fervor Not Bad for All Democrats

House Democrats are trying to minimize their expected losses this fall by targeting a handful of Republicans, banking on a belief that voters are more frustrated with politicians in both parties than they are with the Obama administration or the Democratic-run Congress.

“They’re just mad at Washington. They don’t really give a rip about party; they just want some help,” said Tom White (D), a state Senator who is challenging Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).

White said the political environment in the Omaha-based 2nd district is “an interesting climate — I’ve never seen anything like it among voters here.”

Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks (D), who is taking on Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), recalled hearing on her entry into the race, “You’re not an incumbent. This is going to be a tough year for nonincumbents.”

“Well, guess what — that is certainly somewhat turned on its head,” she said. “I have the advantage of being a nonincumbent in this district, and I think the wind is at my back this year.”

Other Democratic challengers interviewed — including Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive who is taking on Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), and Tommy Sowers, an educator and military veteran who is a long shot against Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) ­— expressed similar sentiments.

Though small in number, serious Democratic challengers this cycle are an important part of their party’s effort to defend its majority. With the GOP winning back the House this fall not completely out of the question, any victories that Democrats can eke out over GOP incumbents — as well as in a few GOP-held open seats — would help take the sting out of larger losses that the party might sustain elsewhere.

“As we have made clear all cycle, the best defense is a strong offense, and our Democratic recruits have been winning over voters with their commitment to creating jobs and standing up for the middle class,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

White, Brooks and DelBene were among just seven Democratic challengers included on the DCCC’s recently announced “Red to Blue” list of GOP-held districts that Democrats have identified as top targets. The others are Ami Bera, a doctor taking on Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.); Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who is challenging Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.); Rob Miller, an Iraq War veteran waging a 2008 rematch against Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.); and Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is taking on Rep. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.).

But history points to limited success by Democratic challengers this year. In midterm election years, voter anger almost always is directed at the party controlling the White House. Seldom have there been midterm elections in which both the dominant party and the minority party bore the brunt of voter anger.

In 1994, when Republicans won control of Congress at the midpoint of President Bill Clinton’s first term, Republicans defeated 34 Democratic incumbents and didn’t lose any of their own seats. In 1982, when Democrats made big gains two years after a sweeping victory by Ronald Reagan and his Republican Party, 26 GOP incumbents lost and just three Democrats were felled.

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