Target: Lone Star State Democrats

Texans Make Up Half of Roll Call’s List of Most Vulnerable House Incumbents

Posted May 13, 2004 at 3:52pm

Roll Call’s updated list of the most vulnerable House Members features five Texas Democrats — all victims, to one degree or another, of the redistricting fight that roiled the state last year.

The previous list, published in November, did not include the Texans because the redistricting process had not been completed. As a result, half of the Members on November’s list have been spared the indignity this time around.

Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.) has since decided to retire, and ex-Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) resigned in January.

The three other Members on the November list — John Hostettler (R-Ind.), Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) — may still face rough sledding at the polls. But their paths to re-election seem a little clearer today than they did half a year ago.

A little history here: Four of the 10 Members on Roll Call’s May 2002 vulnerable list lost; a fifth, then-Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), was expelled before the election.

In 2000, six of the 10 people on that May’s vulnerable list were booted out of Congress; a seventh, then-Rep. Jim Maloney (D-Conn.), lost his seat a cycle later in a redistricting-forced Member-versus-Member battle.

Rep. Rodney Alexander (D-La.)

Alexander’s presence on this list is entirely dependent on the candidacy of former Rep. John Cooksey (R).

If Cooksey, who held this northeastern Louisiana seat from 1996 until 2002, decides to run, Alexander will be seriously tested.

If not, he will have a much easier task — an amazing accomplishment given the fact that he won this GOP-leaning seat in a December 2002 runoff by just 974 votes.

A Republican poll released in late April showed Alexander with just a 3-point lead over Cooksey; the Democrat’s own polling, however, showed him with a more comfortable double-digit edge.

Until Cooksey makes a final decision, Alexander is firmly ensconced on the list.

Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.)

Democrats continue to portray Burns as an accidental Congressman — a Republican who won a strongly Democratic seat in 2002 simply because the Democratic nominee was fatally flawed.

Burns did not waste any time before raising money — he had $879,000 in the bank as of March 31 — and drawing GOP celebrities to his district for fundraisers. He was also elected president of the freshman class.

While five Democrats are fighting for the nomination, party leaders are most enthusiastic about Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow, who was sitting on $437,000 on March 31.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas)

By most accounts, Edwards got a major break when state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth won a Republican runoff for the right to face him in November.

Wohlgemuth defeated a candidate with a Waco political base — the same area that Edwards must rely on to win in this GOP-tilting district.

Now, Edwards is likely to dominate in the Waco area while Wohlgemuth is expected to cruise in Johnson County, which encompasses the southern Dallas suburbs.

That leaves Brazos County as the battleground. Edwards would appear to have a leg up there due to his ties to Texas A&M University in College Station.

There is also some concern among Republicans that Wohlgemuth is too conservative for the district, which could allow Edwards to peel off moderate GOPers.

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas)

Long a Republican target due to his lead role in both the 1990 and 2000 rounds of Texas redistricting, Frost faces a difficult race against Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in the suburban Dallas 32nd district.

While minorities make up 40 percent of the district, it gave statewide Republicans an average of 60 percent of the vote in 2002.

Sessions has represented more than half of the new district’s voters, giving him something of a leg up. Frost has run an extremely aggressive campaign and national Democrats have an almost supernatural faith in his ability to win this race despite the demographics of the district.

Both men have been raising money at a furious pace. Sessions ended March with $1.9 million in the bank. Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, banked $1.2 million.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas)

Pressured by some within the party to take on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) following the redrawing of the state’s Congressional lines, Lampson chose instead to run in the Republican-leaning 2nd district.

The seat does include his political base in Beaumont and roughly half of the constituents from his old 9th district.

In a Republican survey conducted in April, however, 50 percent of voters said they usually vote for the GOP compared to just 29 percent who vote for Democrats.

Republicans have nominated former Judge Ted Poe, who despite a crowded primary field won without a runoff. He has not, however, taken advantage of the extra time to stockpile funds for the general election.

Lampson had $490,000 on hand through March 31; Poe had just $35,000.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah)

In a district that gave George W. Bush a 36-point victory over Al Gore in 2000, Matheson will always have a huge target on his back. But he continues to compile a moderate voting record, and his fundraising is stellar.

Republicans will select their nominee in a June primary. The contenders are former state Rep. John Swallow, who lost to Matheson by 1,600 votes last cycle, and businessman Tim Bridgewater, the runner-up to Swallow in the 2002 primary. Either should be reasonably well-funded for the general election, but the Republican Party in Utah is wracked by division, and that could hurt the eventual nominee.

The big unknown for Matheson is how his brother’s gubernatorial candidacy will affect him. Scott Matheson Jr. will be the Democratic nominee for governor, seeking to reclaim the job their late father once held.

Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.)

Moore continues to hold a spot on this list because of the Republican nature of his Kansas-City based seat — one of the most GOP-leaning districts currently held by a Democrat in the country.

Republicans will stage a three-way primary in early August to choose their nominee. Adam Taff, who took 47 percent against Moore in 2002, is the frontrunner, although former Justice Department official Kris Kobach is also running a solid campaign.

It remains a distinct possibility that the primary will dissolve into yet another scuffle between the state’s moderate Republicans (Taff) and conservatives (Kobach).

Moore is well-stocked for November with $829,000 in the bank.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.)

Renzi’s re-election prospects have grown more tenuous over the past six months as Democrats have successfully cleared the field for former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt.

The brother of former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt (R), Paul Babbitt has gotten off to a relatively slow start in organizing his campaign but has the strong backing of Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) and the national party.

An independent poll conducted in mid-April gave Renzi an 11-point lead but given the swing nature of this district, this will be one of the closest contests in the country.

Renzi had a financial edge at the end of March, with $625,000 on hand to Babbitt’s $182,000.

Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas)

Of the five Texas Democrats to make this list, Sandlin appears to be the most endangered.

Only about half of the new East Texas 1st district’s voters have been represented by Sandlin in the past; the two new counties — Smith and Gregg — that were added to the district are heavily Republican.

Adding to Sandlin’s problems is the fact that his general election opponent — former Judge Louie Gohmert (R) — displayed a strong and loyal base in Smith County, which includes the city of Tyler, winning a primary and runoff election.

Sandlin’s fundraising has lagged behind that of his Texas Democratic colleagues. He ended March with $375,000 in the bank. Gohmert had $119,000.

Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas)

Stenholm faces the most difficult re-election battle of his long career as Republican remappers drew him into a district with GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer. The West Texas seat has a strong Republican bent, but Democrats argue that the contrast of Stenholm’s 26 years of Congressional experience versus Neugebauer’s single year plays well for them.

But while Stenholm has been able to win in a Republican-leaning district before, he has represented only one-third of the new 19th district’s voters in the past. Both sides have put out polling with vastly different results. In the GOP poll Neugebauer led by 11 points; Stenholm’s survey showed him with a 4-point edge over the Republican.

Neugebauer has a fundraising advantage, banking $727,000 to Stenholm’s $588,000 at the end of March.