Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Think You Can Be a Political Handicapper?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Ann Wagner, Republican candidate for the House seat in Missouri’s 2nd district, is in a competitive primary with candidate Ed Martin.

After meeting and interviewing Missouri Republican Congressional candidate Ann Wagner on Monday, I had the opportunity the following day to interview nine Democratic House candidates in less than four hours — the political version of speed dating.

Yes, national party strategists set up the interviews with the nine Democratic hopefuls (out of more than 100 candidates who were in town), and they probably weren’t going to let me interview a bunch of duds, at least not at this point in the cycle.

Still, it’s worth noting that while each of the candidates had his or her strengths and weaknesses, I could easily imagine any or all of them winning next year. Here is my quick reaction to the first five candidates I interviewed:

Ann Wagner (Missouri’s 2nd district). Articulate, poised, polished and extremely well-funded, Wagner is certainly a top-tier candidate. She is in a competitive primary with Ed Martin, who ran against Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) last time. The winner of the GOP primary could face Carnahan if he runs again, though it isn’t yet clear he will, given the more Republican nature of the district after redistricting. The seat is open on the Republican side because Rep. Todd Akin is running for Senate.

Wagner will likely be characterized by Martin as the “establishment,” since she is a former Missouri GOP chairwoman, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a one-time ambassador to Luxembourg (appointed by George W. Bush). She has also been endorsed by almost every big-name Republican inside and outside the state.

However, in my interview with Wagner, she not only emphasized her conservative credentials, but she also made it clear that she won’t let anyone run to her right. Genghis Khan couldn’t get to her right.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that she is quite the “no compromise” conservative that she insists she is. But there is no doubt that Wagner will be a formidable candidate for Congress. Actually, I think she probably would be a better candidate against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) than anyone currently in the GOP Senate field.

Gary McDowell (Michigan’s 1st district). A former longtime county commissioner who served six years in the Michigan Legislature, McDowell lost a 2010 open-seat contest to Republican Dan Benishek.

McDowell positions himself as a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat who is close to organized labor, and he criticizes the Congressman’s votes for the Ryan budget and for free-trade agreements, which he says will cost jobs. Not too slick, he appears to fit the district well.

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