Outside of Texas, Vulnerable House Members Hard to Find

Posted March 26, 2004 at 2:21pm

A few weeks ago, I offered my initial “Dangerous Dozen” list of House open seats most likely to change party control. This time, it’s the incumbents’ turn.

Once again, the pickings are slim. Few incumbents face serious threats, and redistricting has solidified most of them. Two of the incumbents on this list face other incumbents, and if it weren’t for another round of redistricting in Texas, the Democrats might not have to worry about losing even a single member of their Caucus. [IMGCAP(1)]

Obviously, voters’ dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation could eventually weaken incumbents, and a late-breaking “wave” is always possible. But I don’t see one on the horizon at this point.

This list is likely to change as campaigns develop, new races emerge and national conditions evolve. But here is where we stand as of today.

Tier-One Vulnerables
(listed alphabetically)

Max Burns (R), Georgia 12th: Burns probably is the single most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election. Not that it’s his fault. He simply wasn’t expected to win election in the Democratic-leaning district in 2002. Now, he will surely face a credible Democrat, and that automatically puts his political career in jeopardy. Burns showed $623,025 on hand at the end of December in his last Federal Election Commission filing.

Martin Frost (D), Texas 32nd: Frost’s district was eviscerated by the Texas GOP, leaving him with a number of unattractive political options. He chose to run against another incumbent, Pete Sessions (R), in a Dallas district. While the district includes some reliably Democratic voters, it leans Republican. Frost is a strong campaigner and fundraiser, but he has never run in a district quite like this. He’ll need to attract Republican votes to survive.

Nick Lampson (D), Texas 2nd: Judge Ted Poe easily captured the GOP nomination on March 9, and the district’s generic numbers give him an advantage over Lampson, whose district was altered dramatically by the most recent round of redistricting. George W. Bush won the district with more than 62 percent in 2000, about the same that Republican Gov. Rick Perry drew in his 2002 race.

Rick Renzi (R), Arizona 1st: Renzi won in a squeaker two years ago, beating a lackluster Democrat in a new open-seat district created by reapportionment and redistricting. The district’s demographics guarantee that a Democratic nominee who is leading a united party will be even money to win the general election. Former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt (D), brother of former Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D), will challenge Renzi, who doesn’t appear to have solidified his hold on the district. Renzi had $404,551in the bank at the end of 2003.

Charlie Stenholm (D), Texas 19th: Stenholm faces off against another incumbent, Republican Randy Neugebauer, in a district that definitely leans Republican. Democrats insist that Stenholm can win, in part because he has been re-elected before in a district with a similar partisan bent. But two things are different this time. First, he faces a proven votegetter in Neugebauer. And second, the GOP-leaning voters in the redrawn district have never voted for him before.

Tier-Two Vulnerables
(listed alphabetically)

Bob Beauprez (R), Colorado 7th: Republican insiders were praying that Beauprez would take a pass on the Senate race, and those prayers were answered. But the freshman Republican still faces a test in a tossup district that he won by just 122 votes over Democrat Mike Feeley. Former District Attorney Dave Thomas wasn’t the Democrats’ first choice, but he’s credible enough to make Beauprez take this contest very seriously.

Chet Edwards (D), Texas 17th: Redistricting added to Edwards’ woes, but a Republican runoff between state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth and former Waco school board member Dot Snyder could produce a nominee who has trouble uniting the district’s GOP voters. So while the partisanship of the district looks tough, the dynamic could help Edwards escape. But no matter what, he’s in for a fight.

John Hostettler (R), Indiana 8th: Democratic challenger Jon Jennings wouldn’t rank as a top-tier challenger in some cycles and against some incumbents, but Hostettler isn’t just anyone. If Jennings can raise lots of cash and run a full-tilt campaign for six or eight months, he is a threat to the eternally underfunded Hostettler.

Max Sandlin (D), Texas 1st: Another victim of Republican redistricting, Sandlin won’t know whether he will face former Judge Louie Gohmert or attorney (and 2002 nominee) John Graves in the April runoff. This district is tough for any Democrat, which is just what the GOP intended.

Jim Matheson (D), Utah 2nd: A recent Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV shows Matheson with huge leads over either former state legislator John Swallow (R) or businessman Tim Bridgewater (R). Ignore that poll. Other surveys had Swallow trailing badly last cycle, but he lost to Matheson by only 1,641 votes. With Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) leading the Democratic ticket in the state and Matheson’s brother, Scott Jr., running for governor, the Congressman will have another fight on his hands.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.