Southwest

House Democrats See Opportunity in Ariz., N.M.

Posted November 7, 2003 at 11:39am

Arizona

Filing deadline: June 9
Primary: Sept. 7

Senate

Incumbent: John McCain (R)
3rd term (69 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican


McCain is untouchable in his bid for a fourth term.

Any chance that the maverick Republican would be seriously challenged evaporated in July when Rep. Jeff Flake (R) announced he would not oppose McCain in a primary. Flake, who is in his second term, was hoping to tap into the dissatisfaction among some conservatives in the party with McCain’s increasingly independent voting record.

Given the state’s open primary system, which allows Democrats and Independents to vote in a Republican primary, Flake decided McCain could not be beaten.

“After a lot of soul searching on this, I decided I’d probably get whipped,” he said at the time.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson has admitted that finding a challenger for McCain is not high on his priority list.

Pederson is seen as one of the rising stars in the party but will not run a quixotic challenge to McCain.

McCain ended September with more than $1 million in the bank.

House

1st district
Incumbent: Rick Renzi (R)
1st term (49 percent)
Outlook: Tossup


As Democrats look around the country for a handful of seats that can bring them back to the majority they lost in 1994, this sprawling district, which is larger than Pennsylvania, is at the top of their list.

Renzi won the newly created district in 2002 through a combination of hefty personal donations and a weak Democratic nominee.

The seat was created in redistricting to be a tossup between the two parties even though George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 6 points there in 2000.

Renzi dropped $500,000 of his own money in the primary, emerging from a crowded field with 24 percent.

Democrats hosted a large primary of their own highlighted by former Apache County Attorney Steve Udall, the cousin of Reps. Mark (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Fred DuVal, director of intergovernmental affairs during the Clinton administration.

The surprise winner of the race, however, was venture capitalist George Cordova, who performed well on American Indian reservations and edged Udall 22 percent to 20 percent.

Cordova’s general election campaign was crippled from the start as the National Republican Congressional Committee unloaded on his past business dealings, which included tax liens and dissatisfied former partners.

Cordova was also expected to spend freely from his own pocket but chose not to do so. Renzi outspent him by roughly $1 million.

Despite all of this, Renzi only won a 49 percent to 46 percent victory, a vote margin of approximately 6,000.

Upon his arrival in Washington, Renzi did little to endear himself to his colleagues, publicly declaring that his race was so close only because of the negative ads run by the NRCC.

At least three Democrats are expected to run.

National Democrats favor Coconino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Babbitt, the brother of former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Paul Babbitt formed an exploratory committee in early October to begin raising money for the race.

Cordova has also signaled he will run again, as has Diane Prescott, who won 18 percent in the 2002 primary, good enough for third place. Udall and DuVal are also mentioned. National Democrats are working to clear the field for Babbitt.

This is clearly one of Democrats’ best opportunities, but the already packed primary field coupled with the September primary date could again sabotage their chances.

New Mexico

Filing deadline: Feb. 10
Primary: June 1

House

1st district
Incumbent: Heather Wilson (R)
4th term (55 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican


Democrats feel they should win this district: They have felt that way throughout Wilson’s tenure and they felt the same when her predecessor, the late Steven Schiff, was in office.

But Wilson has proven to be a tenacious campaigner and a prodigious fundraiser, and most of her Democratic challengers have been flawed in one way or another.

This time, Democrats are counting on their 2002 nominee, state Senate President Richard Romero, to learn from the mistakes he made last cycle and run a tougher race. There is also the possibility that Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and the Democrats who control the Legislature will change the district lines to make Wilson more vulnerable. Don’t bet on it, though.

2nd district
Incumbent: Steve Pearce (R)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican


Democrats like to think they can compete for this southern New Mexico seat, and several of their candidates have run respectably there through the years. But the district remains very conservative and a tough place for Democrats to win.

Pearce has proven adept at raising money, and Democrats have no strong challenger yet. Jeff Steinborn, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) and son of a former mayor of Las Cruces, has declared his candidacy. But Democrats are waiting on former state Rep. Gary King (D), the son of former three-term Gov. Bruce King (D), one of the most popular figures in the state.

Gary King does not live in the 2nd, but his family owns ranchland there, and he is considering making the race.

Oklahoma

Filing deadline: June 23
Primary: July 27
Runoff: Aug. 24

Senate

Open seat: Don Nickles (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup


Nickles’ announcement last month that he would not seek a fifth term came as little surprise to potential candidates and strategists in both parties who had been preparing for his likely retirement.

Now both Democrats and Republicans appear to have almost completely clear primary fields for their top candidates.

Democrats have turned to Rep. Brad Carson, who was first elected in 2000 and is the lone Democrat in the Sooner State delegation. Meanwhile, the Republican establishment in the state has coalesced behind former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who stepped down from that job Nov. 1 to run full time for Nickles’ seat. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is chairing Humphreys’ campaign.

Former Rep. Tom Coburn (R) still hasn’t ruled out a run.

Without a competitive primary on either side, the general election race would appear to be starting almost immediately and Republicans are given a slight edge for retaining the seat.

While Oklahoma is reliably Republican in presidential elections, it is much more Democratic on the state level and just elected a Democratic governor in 2002.

But Republicans argue that Humphreys’ candidate profile, as a pragmatic conservative with an urban base, will be tough to beat.

Democrats, meanwhile, say that Carson’s background as a pro-gun rights Democrat makes him an equally strong statewide candidate capable of pulling an upset.

However, the most important factor in determining how competitive the contest is may be whether national Democrats have the resources to devote to this race while they compete for other open seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Illinois.

House

2nd district
Open seat: Brad Carson (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Democratic


This district, which includes most of eastern Oklahoma and the area known as Little Dixie, was improved greatly for Democrats during last cycle’s redrawing of Congressional lines.

With Carson now running for Senate, the fact that this district isn’t really competitive is a boon to national Democrats, who don’t need their efforts to win back the majority complicated further by competitive open seats.

State Rep. Dan Boren (D), the son of former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) and grandson of former Rep. Lyle Boren (D-Okla.), became the instant frontrunner to succeed Carson when he recently decided to run.

Boren, 30, was first elected to the Legislature last year and his home and most of his state House district fall within the district lines of the neighboring 5th district. Still, his family name, fundraising ability and deep roots in the area should minimalize the residency issue.

Former District Attorney Kayln Free is the only announced Democratic candidate in the race. Three other Democrats — former state Senate Majority Leader Billy Mickle, state Sen. Kenneth Corn and District Attorney Rob Wallace — are also seriously considering the race, and it is still unclear what effect Boren’s candidacy will have on their decisions.

On the Republican side, former state Transportation Commissioner Kent Pharaoh, who ran against Carson last year and once ran for Congress as a Democrat, is mentioned as a potential candidate, but the GOP is not expected to contest this seat.

Texas

Filing deadline: Jan. 2
Primary: March 2
Runoff: April 12

The battle over Texas’ Congressional lines has provided much fodder for political junkies bored with the limited off-year election slate.

And with the passage of a new map in October — after months of partisan wrangling — Texas is likely to feature as many as seven competitive elections next November, including several that will pit Members against one another.

Assuming that these boundaries aren’t thrown out in court, the new lines actually create five open seats and force three pairs of incumbents into races against one another. In the new 6th district, Democratic Reps. Martin Frost and Jim Turner and GOP Rep. Joe Barton are all placed together.

Frost, the driving force behind Democratic redistricting efforts in Texas and nationwide for the past two decades, has left open the possibility that he may challenge Barton or run against either Rep. Michael Burgess (R) or Rep. Pete Sessions (R). He has ruled out running against Rep. Kay Granger (R).

Although Democrats, led by Frost, are pursuing several legal challenges to the lines — the first of which will be heard in December — candidates are already popping up in a variety of districts.

The most compelling race on the docket is an expected clash between Reps. Randy Neugebauer (R) and Charlie Stenholm (D) in the new West Texas 19th district.

The composition of the West Texas districts was the major stumbling block in negotiations between state House and Senate Republicans. State House Speaker Tom Craddick (R) eventually got his way, securing an open seat centered in Midland, his hometown.

That pushed Stenholm and Neugebauer into a “barbell” district with population centers in Lubbock and Abilene — on the extreme western and eastern ends of the district, respectively.

On its face, the demographics heavily favor Neugebauer. Statewide Republicans in 2002 would have received almost 70 percent of the vote in the new 19th; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who won the tightest statewide race in 2002 (52 percent), would have taken 60 percent there.

But Stenholm is no ordinary Democrat. He has shown an ability to regularly win crossover Republican support, and his position as the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee makes him a potent force for the area.

On the other hand, Neugebauer is largely unknown, having just won his seat five months ago in a special election to replace former Rep. Larry Combest (R).

Stenholm has said he will run for re-election regardless of the legal decision on the map.

In East Texas, Democratic Reps. Max Sandlin and Turner saw their districts drastically reshaped.

Sandlin’s 1st district was made roughly 5 points more Republican, and those numbers have led numerous GOPers to jump into the race.

Already state Rep. Wayne Christian, former Texas Appeals Court Chief Justice Louie Gohmert, attorney John Graves and doctor Lyle Thorstenson are running on the GOP side.

Thorstenson is the early financial frontrunner, with $215,000 in the bank at the end of September after making a $100,000 personal contribution.

Sandlin has so far refused to engage in speculation about his political future.

After a first glance at the lines, Turner floated the idea that he may run for governor or Senate in 2006 after acknowledging there is not an obvious district for him to run in next year.

One option offered by knowledgeable Democratic observers is that Turner run against Rep. Kevin Brady (R) in the 8th district, where much of his previous East Texas base is preserved.

That race would be no treat, however, as statewide Republicans would have taken 64 percent there in 2002.

Several other Democratic incumbents have drawn serious Republican challengers.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D) currently has the new 17th to himself, though the seat is roughly 1 point more Republican than the Waco-based 11th district he has held since 1990.

State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R) has announced for the seat, as has former Waco school board trustee Dot Snyder (R), who ended September with $200,000 in the bank. State Sen. Steve Ogden (R) is seen as a potential candidate.

Edwards is also contemplating a run in the 31st district currently held by freshman Rep. John Carter (R). That seat has roughly 60 percent of Edwards’ present district in it (the new 17th has just 35 percent of Edwards’ old territory). Former state Rep. Hugh Shine (R) is also seen as a potential candidate in the 31st.

Rep. Ralph Hall’s (D) 4th district was actually made slightly more Democratic but a great deal of new territory was added to it, making many of the constituents unfamiliar with Hall.

The most conservative Democrat in the House, Hall is also the oldest. Most Democrats and Republicans expect him to retire before the 2004 elections.

Former Navy aviator Ray Ivie (R), a one-time legislative fellow in the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), is set to run regardless of whether Hall seeks re-election. Ivie held a fundraiser Oct. 28 hosted by House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.).

Of the five open seats, two are likely to be filled by Democratic House Members.

Rep. Chris Bell (D), who currently holds the 25th district, is likely to move to the 9th, a near mirror image of his old seat.

Similarly, Rep. Gene Green (D) is likely the next Congressman from the 29th district although he is currently drawn into the 2nd district with Rep. Nick Lampson (D).

In the 24th, which contains portions of Frost’s old district, state Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) has already announced.

Midland accountant Mike Conaway (R) is considered a lock in the new Midland-based district after running a near-miss special election campaign against Neugebauer earlier this year. Conaway is an ex-business partner of President Bush’s.

In the new 25th district, which stretches from Austin all the way to the Mexican border, a fight is brewing in the Democratic primary.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) has announced plans to run for the seat, joining Hispanic state Rep. Kino Flores (D) in the contest. Flores has already questioned Doggett’s ability to effectively represent a district that is 62 percent Hispanic. State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D), another Hispanic, is also interested in the race.