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Can Any of These House Underdogs Survive?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Bobby Schilling is just one vulnerable incumbent up for re-election this cycle.

But Barrow’s ability to win re-election last time in the face of the Republican electoral tsunami shouldn’t give Democrats too much comfort. His opponent, Ray McKinney, raised little money and didn’t run a serious race. National Republicans never helped him. Barrow’s 57 percent victory was more a reflection of the challenger’s weakness than of anything else.

Republicans won’t pick a nominee until July or, more likely, a mid-August runoff.  None of the four Republicans in the race looks like a political powerhouse who can automatically take advantage of the re-drawn district’s Republican bent.

In Illinois, Schilling wasn’t expected to win in 2010, so it’s probably no surprise that nobody expects him to survive after the Democratic-controlled state Legislature redrew his already difficult district to make it even more Democratic.

But Schilling, who owned a pizza restaurant before he was elected to Congress, has a down-to-earth, blue-collar appeal that allowed him to win this very Democratic district in the first place. A May Public Opinion Strategies poll for the Republican’s campaign had him leading East Moline Councilwoman Cheri Bustos (D) by double digits, 51 percent to 35 percent.

However, that poll could be deceiving. Bustos’ fundraising is credible — she showed $470,000 in the bank at the end of March — and her standing in the GOP poll is more a reflection of her weak name identification than anything else.

Like Schilling, she is personable. And while her comments in videos on her website are filled with nothing more than boilerplate Democratic rhetoric, that could be enough given the partisan makeup of this district and the presidential year.

Utah’s Matheson once again is an underdog. So what else is new? I’ve seen this movie before. But this time the ending may be different.

Matheson always outperforms other Democrats in his district, frustrating GOP strategists who believe the seat should be theirs. Four years ago, for example, he ran 23 points ahead of Obama in the district, and two years ago he was re-elected by more than 4 points when almost every other vulnerable House Democrat was going down to defeat.

Matheson has not put together a typical Democratic record. He supported extending the Bush tax cuts and opposed his party on health care reform and cap-and-trade.

But Republican legislators redrew his 2nd district to give him new voters who don’t know him, and he is now running in the 4th district. Matheson has never faced a Republican opponent quite like Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs and the daughter of Haitian immigrants.

Love is black, Mormon, conservative and personable, an obvious change from the generic white state legislators that Matheson has usually faced and dispatched. National Republicans are likely to rally for Love’s candidacy, giving her the cash and notoriety that Matheson’s recent challengers have not had.

Finally, back in Illinois, Dold’s already difficult district was made even more inhospitable for him by redistricting.

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