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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.

But the Democratic hopeful seems to think that he can run a purely local race in 2012. That strategy clearly failed for Congressional candidates in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and it doesn’t look to be much more effective in 2012.

McDowell clearly became uncomfortable when asked whether he would commit to voting for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker should he get elected, ultimately saying that he would not “make a commitment” on how he would vote. He’ll need to hope that President Barack Obama can place a good deal of the blame for the economy on the Republican Congress.

Still, this is a competitive district, and Benishek better take the Democratic challenger very seriously.

Christie Vilsack (Iowa’s 4th district). The wife of the current secretary of Agriculture (and the former governor of Iowa), Vilsack is something of a celebrity in Democratic circles and has already been recommended by EMILY’s List. She had raised $760,000 at the end of September but had spent $213,000, leaving her with $547,000 on hand.

Her GOP opponent, Rep. Steve King, is widely regarded as one of the most conservative Members of Congress, and his redrawn district includes a great deal of new territory, including some less conservative areas.

Naturally, I was excited to meet Vilsack, given her reputation. I found a candidate who is serious, measured in her responses and on message. I also found a candidate who would not take a position on whether she would have supported the Obama health care bill; the Colombia, South Korea and Panama free-trade agreements; or raising the debt ceiling. Her response each time was that she wasn’t in Congress so she didn’t have to decide how to vote. (In frustration, I jokingly asked her about the 1964 Civil Rights Act and received the same sort of response.)

Instead, Vilsack took any and every opportunity to highlight local issues and noncontroversial ideas that could help folks in the district. She wants more apprenticeships. She wants to offer tax credits to landowners who sell land to returning veterans. She wants to repair the nation’s infrastructure.

So, what I got was a classic rope-a-dope strategy on big, ideological issues — the kind of issues that people often use to characterize candidates. To me, that screamed out, “I’m a liberal, but I don’t want voters to know it, so I’ll couch everything in local and noncontroversial terms.” We’ll see whether voters have that same reaction.

It’s not a terrible strategy if Vilsack can pull it off in the general election. Certainly she has a decent chance of knocking off King if she can make the election about him rather than about Obama or the national Democratic agenda. The question is whether she can do it.

Jamie Wall (Wisconsin’s 8th district). Wall last ran for Congress in 2006, coming in second to Steve Kagen in a Democratic primary. He waited until Kagen, who lost his seat in 2010, decided not to run again, getting into the race just two weeks ago.

Like the other hopefuls, Wall will try to localize his race. He believes he already has some good ammunition against Rep. Reid Ribble (R), whose name I haven’t heard anyone mention since he was elected last November.

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