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Roll Call

At-Large Seats Seem Safe for Both Parties

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Freshman Rep. Kristi Noem is in a strong position for re-election at this early point in the cycle. The South Dakota Republican has cultivated a national profile that is giving her a boost in her safe seat back home.

Roll Call Politics is releasing the first House ratings for the 2012 cycle. We’re beginning with the states that elect Members to at-large seats. The seven seats are largely expected to not be competitive. Montana is the lone exception, where there’s a slim chance a Democrat could jump in and shakes things up, but that is unlikely.

This will be followed by ratings for the states that have completed new maps through redistricting: Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Alaska: Safe Republican

Just four Members have represented Alaska since it was granted statehood 52 years ago, and Rep. Don Young (R) has held the office for almost three-quarters of that time.

Young has faced election cycles under some dark ethical clouds and has still come out unscathed. With those clouds behind him and until a Democrat can prove he is vulnerable, Roll Call Politics rates this race Safe Republican.

Young moved beyond a Department of Justice investigation last year. He was elected to a 19th term with 69 percent of the vote and soon after named chairman of the National Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

A little-known Democrat, Doug Urquidi, announced a bid recently, but any Democrat would have a tough time winning against Young in the GOP-heavy state. Young’s real test could come in a primary matchup with 2010 Senate nominee, attorney and tea party favorite Joe Miller.

Miller defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in last year’s Senate primary before losing to the incumbent in the general. Murkowski won with an unprecedented write-in campaign, defeating Miller and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams, 39 percent to 35 percent to 23 percent.

Miller reported having $475,000 in the bank at the end of the first quarter of 2011 and has remained active by doing national tea party events. Young, 77, raised almost $100,000 and has $222,000 in the bank.

Still, a recent poll found Young in far better shape than Miller. According to a March Dittman Research poll, 63 percent said Young was doing a good or excellent job in office, and 73 percent said they held a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion of Miller.

A Miller-Young primary would be a race to watch, but as of now the general should not be nearly as close.

Delaware: Safe Democratic

Democrats are confident they will hold this seat with little trouble given their strong voter registration advantage in a presidential year. Moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle held it for nine terms before opting to run for the open Senate seat in 2010. Castle’s defeat by Christine O’Donnell in the GOP primary and subsequent national attention focused on Delaware helped Democrats capture the statewide seat.

Freshman Rep. John Carney defeated Republican Glen Urquhart by more than 15 percent in one of the party’s only pickups last fall.

Carney has done little to scare off a serious challenge so far this cycle. He reported less than $8,500 in the bank as of the end of March. Republicans think they could put this seat in play if Carney’s sluggish fundraising totals persist, but that isn’t likely. Plus, no candidates have emerged.

Montana: Likely Republican

Businessman Steve Daines (R) was raising money for a Senate bid until swapping races with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), who opted to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D) this year. That gave Daines a clearer shot at coming to Washington.

While several other Democratic state legislators are considering bids, state Rep. Franke Wilmer is so far the only member of her party to step forward. Wilmer raised just over $10,000 in the first quarter, while Daines raised close to $200,000 and had $330,000 on hand.

Even though an open seat could eventually make the race more competitive, Roll Call Politics rates this race Likely Republican because of the Republican lean of the state and Daines’ fundraising head start.

North Dakota: Safe Republican

Freshman Rep. Rick Berg’s (R) recent announcement that he’ll run for Senate opens up the district that had been held by former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) for almost two decades until last year. But don’t expect that to mean there will be a competitive open-seat race here in 2012. Willing and talented Democratic candidates in this state are few and far between.

Senate Democrats are already struggling to find a candidate for retiring Sen. Kent Conrad’s (D) seat. It’s hard to imagine any viable Democratic candidate opting to run for the House instead of the Senate.

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of GOP candidates looking to run for either chamber in this state in 2012 — state Speaker Al Carlson, state Sen. Tony Grindberg, state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong and state GOP Treasurer Bob Harms, to name a few. A few days after Berg’s Senate announcement, Public Services Commissioner Brian Kalk (R) announced he would run for Berg’s House seat instead of the Senate.

More good news for Republicans: Despite the plethora of GOP candidates who might run for the House, the party will most likely avoid a primary battle for the seat. Traditionally, only the winner of the GOP’s endorsement at the state convention goes on to the primary.

Finally, it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will try to compete here on a national level given the state has consistently supported GOP presidential candidates. Democratic nominees will be on their own through November.

South Dakota: Safe Republican

The House race here has the potential to be more competitive than the open-seat contest in North Dakota, but that’s not saying much. Freshman Rep. Kristi Noem (R) has quickly cultivated a national profile and is widely viewed to be an effective campaigner following her victory in November.

Democrats believe this could be a competitive race if ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) decides to run for her old seat — but that’s a big “if.” Not only did the three-term Democrat already close her campaign account after losing last fall, she told Roll Call earlier this year that she’s enjoying her new work on K Street and looking forward to more of it.

There are a couple more potential candidates floated to challenge Noem if Herseth Sandlin declines — such as Matt Varilek, a top staffer for Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) — but none boasts the same stature as Herseth Sandlin in a potential rematch.

If Herseth Sandlin is out, it’s hard to imagine the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spending significant resources here when there are more competitive races elsewhere.

Vermont: Safe Democratic

Rep. Peter Welch, a three-term Congressman, is sitting on more than $974,000 in an overwhelmingly Democratic state with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.

It would take a perfect storm — a personal scandal, perhaps, combined with the emergence of a well-funded challenger — for this seat to be competitive in 2012.

Republicans, who don’t yet have a candidate, do not expect that to happen and neither do we.

Wyoming: Safe Republican

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) has just $44,000 in the bank and carries $36,000 in debt, but it would be difficult for a Democrat to defeat the two-term lawmaker in this heavily Republican state. It was President Barack Obama’s worst-performing state in 2008, and Roll Call Politics rates this race Safe Republican.

The closest a Democrat has come to winning this seat in recent years was Gary Trauner, who lost his 2006 challenge to then-Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) by just 1,012 votes. In that race, a libertarian took 4 percent of the vote in part because Cubin was unpopular after 12 years in Congress. Despite a strong push in 2008, Trauner lost the open-seat race to Lummis by 10 points.

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