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So You Want to Be a Political Handicapper, Part II

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Stuart Rothenberg writes that Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who rose through the police department’s ranks and is making her first run for office, is one of the most intense candidates he’s ever met.

In my last column, I reported on my reactions after recently interviewing five House candidates. Here are my thoughts on the other five, all Democrats, whom I saw during a day of “speed interviewing.”

Ann Kuster (New Hampshire’s 2nd district). Kuster has already emerged as one of the Democrats’ top challengers to a sitting Republican, Rep. Charles Bass. She almost beat Bass in a great Republican year, and the 2012 environment probably can’t be worse than 2010 was for Democrats. Plus, Bass now has more votes that Kuster can use, and she cites “women’s health” and Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget as examples.

Like Iowa’s Christie Vilsack, Kuster has already been “recommended” by EMILY’s List, and, like Vilsack, she seems to prefer finessing controversial issues.

Kuster describes herself as “pro-business, pro-environment, pro-family and pro-jobs,” and during the interview, she talked energetically about a college savings plan she pushed in New Hampshire and a medication program she advocated in the state. But she also talks about the need to “end two wars” and to end tax subsidies for oil companies, gas companies, coal companies and agriculture.

Bass’ district is less conservative than the state’s other Congressional district, and the Republican Congressman, who has traditionally been regarded as more moderate on social issues and the environment than many in his party, will be on the defensive throughout the race. Kuster is clearly a top-tier challenger and a formidable foe.

Jose Hernandez (California’s 10th district). Democratic strategists are drooling at the “story” that Hernandez has to tell. The son of migrant workers from Mexico, the electrical engineer worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for more than a dozen years before being accepted into NASA’s astronaut program. He was the flight engineer on a space shuttle flight during the summer of 2009.

Personable and extremely likable, Hernandez easily connects with people. His personal story is compelling, and he tells it in an appealing way.

But while campaign committees and consultants always love candidates with great stories, many of those candidates ultimately lose, especially when the campaign turns away from biographies and to partisan issues. Unsuccessful Democratic House hopefuls Tammy Duckworth (in Illinois in 2006) and Patty Wetterling (in Minnesota in 2004) are two who come to mind easily. Voters like good stories, but they often look at other things when deciding how to vote.

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