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Vote Now: Where Should Roll Call Travel for the Midterm Elections?

Uphill Climb for Candidates Challenging Leaders

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Nancy Pelosi's Republican challenger released an original ad to get some attention in his longshot bid for Congress.

“This is not a district where they want to see their leaders in cussing matches and flailing their arms about,” he said.

Still, no amount of rhetoric can obscure the fact that the challengers face an uphill climb. None are expected to win, and in all cases, the districts, name identification and money advantage heavily favor the incumbents.

Dennis knows that all too well. In his 2010 bid against Pelosi, he raised almost $2.5 million, only to come away with a little more than 15 percent of the vote — and that was in a wave election that widely favored Republicans. Now, he has less than $50,000 in cash on hand to Pelosi’s more than $3 million.

“I would never say I’m not running to win,” Dennis said. “But at the same time, there’s a didactic satisfaction in running and hopefully getting people ... to maybe look at politics and the nature of government in a different way.”

He is hoping his focus on civil liberties will help peel off a few more Democrats.

Powell, on the other hand, is in it to win. Cantor agreed to debate him, a departure from last cycle when a candidate wearing a chicken suit tailed the Republican accusing him of being too scared to debate.

In the debate, Powell ferociously attacked the Majority Leader on a range of issues, from veterans health funding cuts to lack of bipartisanship. He has raised close to $700,000 this cycle, but Cantor has more than three times that amount in cash on hand.

Hoyer’s challenger, Maryland state House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell (R), is also bullish about his chances. As a seasoned politician, he said he does not have the name-recognition hurdle to overcome.

“Was Scott Brown a sacrificial candidate for Teddy Kennedy’s seat?” he asked of the 2010 Massachusetts Senate upset. “People can get myopic, they can write these districts off on election night, but there’s going to be upsets, and we’re going to be one of them.”

His chances are slim in the heavily blue district, but he said ballot initiatives on gay marriage and immigration will help turn out more Republicans than usual.

O’Donnell estimates that to win he would have to secure 90 percent of the Republican vote, 60 percent of undecided voters and 30 percent of Democrats.

But with less than $130,000 raised, he does not have the money to reach everyone. Hoyer has more than 20 times that amount on hand.

“I have been proud to represent the Fifth District for over thirty years in Congress,” Hoyer said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to do so.”

McCarthy is facing his first challenge since winning the seat of his former boss, Rep. Bill Thomas (R), in 2006. He debated his opponent, former CBS journalist Terry Phillips, an Independent. Phillips also said name recognition is not a problem because he hosted a radio show in the district for more than 5 years.

Phillips faces the starkest money disadvantage. With mere thousands in the bank, he faces a multimillion-dollar McCarthy war chest. But he is at least making the lawmaker spend some of that money at home.

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