MID-ATLANTIC: Neither Party Has a Clear Advantage in Region’s Numerous Open-Seat House Contests This Fall

Posted October 1, 2004 at 1:56pm

DELAWARE
House
At-Large
Incumbent: Mike Castle (R)
6th term (72 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Castle, a well-respected moderate, is expected to cruise to a seventh term in November over family service caseworker and former labor union organizer Paul Donnelly (D).

Castle had $1.2 million in his campaign war chest as of Aug. 22. Donnelly has yet to file a report with the Federal Election Commission.

MARYLAND
Senate
Incumbent: Barbara Mikulski (D)
3rd term (71 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Although he is personally wealthy, there is no evidence that the Republican nominee, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, is willing to pour millions of dollars into the race — or that he is making much headway against the popular Mikulski.

Pipkin, a moderate, grew up in working-class Baltimore and made his fortune on Wall Street. But his populist credentials pale in comparison to Mikulski’s — and the $3 million sitting in her campaign account doesn’t hurt her, either.

Pipkin hopes to catch a draft from Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s surprise victory in 2002. But the wind seems to be blowing in his face.

House
3rd district
Incumbent: Benjamin Cardin (D)
9th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

None of Maryland’s eight House Members is in any danger of losing this year.

But Cardin at least has the most credible challenger: Anne Arundel County Clerk of Courts Bob Duckworth (R).

Duckworth, who has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress, is best known in the district for performing thousands of civil weddings through the years.

He won’t win, but this is the kind of Reagan Democrat district where a Republican could run strong if the seat ever becomes vacant.

Not that the 61-year-old Congressman shows any signs of going anywhere.

NEW JERSEY
House
7th district
Incumbent: Mike Ferguson (R)
2nd term (58 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

>While retired Marine Lt. Col. Steve Brozak (D) was hyped earlier this cycle as a potential top-tier challenger down the stretch, Ferguson’s re-election prospects look solid and this race has largely slipped off the national radar screen.

Democrats argued earlier this cycle that this contest would be a prime pickup for the party if a wave ever developed in their favor. The wave has never materialized, and Brozak hasn’t been overly impressive as a candidate.

Brozak, who snagged a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in July, switched parties and decided to run for Congress as a Democrat after returning from deployment in Iraq. He served three years of active duty and 18 years in the reserves and now runs an investment firm.

Ferguson was not a top target for Democrats last cycle after barely winning a competitive first race in 2000.

The swing district voted narrowly for President Bush in 2000. But even as New Jersey looks to be in play at the presidential level, it doesn’t appear likely that the 7th district race will be equally competitive.

NEW YORK
Senate
Incumbent: Charles Schumer (D)
1st term (55 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Having raised almost $26 million, Schumer will glide to re-election against a fractured GOP.

The Republican nominee is unknown and underfunded state Assemblyman Howard Mills III. But he does not even have all Republicans and conservatives behind him.

The New York Conservative Party has nominated Long Island ophthalmologist Marilyn O’Grady. A poll in September showed Schumer with 61 percent, Mills with 13 percent and O’Grady with 9 percent. Some Republicans privately fear that Mills could finish third.

The only drama in this race is what Schumer will do with all his campaign cash — squirrel it away for a possible run for governor in 2006, or dish it out to various needy Democratic candidates and committees this fall? In late September, he gave away $1 million.

House
1st district
Incumbent: Tim Bishop (D)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Bishop, the second straight “accidental” Congressman this eastern Long Island district has elected in a row, appears to be doing all the right things when it comes to fundraising and constituent service.

But even though he was not the first choice of national and local Republicans, the GOP nominee, banker and former federal transportation official Bill Manger, is working the district hard, and an upset is not entirely out of the question.

A big question is whether Manger will be willing to write himself a big check (he has given his campaign about $200,000 so far). The district does have some radio stations and cable outlets of its own, but it is mostly tethered to the hyper-expensive New York City media market. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently chipped in $60,000, but that’s chicken feed in New York.

The 1st is the most unpredictable Congressional district in the Empire State: While it gave Al Gore an 8-point victory in the 2000 presidential election and John Kerry should do well there, it has more enrolled Republicans than Democrats. Manger was touting a private poll in late September that showed President Bush leading there by 5 points. And 1st district voters have booted out their Congressional incumbents in each of the past two elections.

With his deep roots in the community — in contrast to Manger, who “summered” there as a youth — Bishop should win. But anything is possible in the 1st.

4th district
Incumbent: Carolyn McCarthy (D)
4th term (56 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The Republican, Hempstead Mayor James Garner, is well-respected at home and nationally, having served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But his once-highly touted candidacy has generated surprisingly little notice or interest. He was damaged further when a recent state audit accused the city of using a federal grant to hide a budget deficit.

And with gun control in the news again, McCarthy — whose husband and son were shot in the infamous 1993 Long Island Railroad massacre — should run strong.

27th district
Open seat: Jack Quinn (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

As expected, this Buffalo-area district is turning into one of the most hotly contested races of the cycle.

Quinn had a genius for appealing to his largely Democratic, blue-collar constituency. The challenge for the Republican nominee, three-term Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples, is to show the same kind of strength among working- and middle-class voters.

It won’t be easy: The Democratic nominee, state Assemblyman Brian Higgins, is the son and grandson of bricklayers. His father and uncle were also well-known union leaders in the Buffalo area. And his convincing victory in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary has bolstered his standing among national and local liberal interest groups.

But Naples is not without her attributes. Like Quinn, she is a political moderate who has been touting her independence (an ongoing feud with the Republican county executive has served her well). She is personally wealthy. And she defeated Higgins handily when they squared off in the comptroller’s race in 1993.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds represents an adjoining district, ensuring that plenty of national GOP money will flow into the district on Naples’ behalf. But the Democrats are equally likely to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the district.

This race is one of the true tossups of the cycle.

28th district
Incumbent: Tom Reynolds (R)
3rd term (74 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Reynolds, a popular longtime officeholder in the Buffalo region, has drawn an unusually aggressive challenger in factory owner Jack Davis — who switched parties and became a Democrat for the sole purpose of running against the Congressman.

Davis has made his opposition to free-trade agreements his signature issue, and has pledged to spend at least $500,000 of his own money to spread the word. He won’t win, but Democrats love the brickbats he’s throwing Reynolds’ way — and the fact that his vigorous challenge will keep Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, at home more than Reynolds wants to be.

29th district
Open seat: Amo Houghton (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican

State Sen. Randy Kuhl won a convincing Republican primary victory three weeks ago over Monroe County Legislator Mark Assini, and he remains the favorite — as he has been since Houghton made his retirement announcement in April.

Initially Assini, the nominee of the Conservative Party, had signaled his intention to continue campaigning actively through the fall, meaning he had the potential to siphon Republican and conservative votes from Kuhl in November. But he changed course last week and endorsed Kuhl. While Assini remains on the November ballot, he should pose no threat to Kuhl.

Kuhl is a smooth and seasoned campaigner but has barely faced tough competition during a political career that dates back to 1980.

Democrats have high hopes for their nominee, 27-year-old Samara Barend, a party operative who has shown a surprising talent for fundraising and gaining publicity.

The numbers favor Kuhl: Republicans have a 45 percent to 29 percent edge in voter enrollment. But Barend is running a smart and aggressive campaign, and the district is fairly distressed economically, which helps the Democrat.

PENNSYLVANIA
Senate
Incumbent: Arlen Specter (R)
4th term (61 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Specter’s re-election prospects look brighter now than they did following his narrow primary victory over Rep. Pat Toomey (R) in April.

While Toomey came within 2 percentage points of beating the 24-year incumbent, Specter remains heavily favored to win a fifth term as he faces Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D) in November.

This race has been an uphill battle for Hoeffel from the beginning, but only in the past two months have national Democrats begun to pull back from their months-long push to get this race into the top tier of contests this cycle.

The biggest blow to Hoeffel’s campaign came in late August when the state AFL-CIO chose to support Specter instead of remaining neutral in the contest. Hoeffel has the backing of some individual unions, but his inability to break through the core of Specter’s labor support has widely been viewed as fatal for his campaign.

Last month Hoeffel, who polls have shown is still unknown to almost one-third of Pennsylvania voters, launched a statewide television ad campaign in an effort to boost his name identification. But the buy lacked intensity, and questions remain about whether Hoeffel will have the money to fund a top-tier challenge in this expensive media market state. National Democrats will not have the money to aid him down the stretch.

A recent Keystone poll found that Specter was beating Hoeffel in the Congressman’s own Philadelphia-area district, 48 percent to 39 percent.

Another poll done for the same organization showed Specter beating Hoeffel 51 percent to 25 percent statewide.

Democrats have been hopeful that Constitution Party Chairman Jim Clymer, who is also on the Senate ballot, will be able to take a substantial bite out of Specter’s vote total. Clymer, the only anti-abortion rights candidate in the race, has run radio ads attacking the incumbent for being too liberal, but polls still show him garnering only about 1 percent of the vote.

Democrats’ other hope has been that the party’s presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), will win the state by a large enough margin that Hoeffel will be able to ride his coattails to victory. But with Specter above the 50 percent mark in most polls that hope is quickly fading, even as Kerry currently leads in the state.

Popular Gov. Ed Rendell’s (D) tepid support of Hoeffel (something that had been expected) also doesn’t serve to improve the Democrat’s long odds. Rendell and Specter are longtime friends, and the governor doesn’t mind having a senior appropriator in Washington even if he is a Republican.

House
6th district
Incumbent: Jim Gerlach (R)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Democratic attorney Lois Murphy appears to be well-positioned to give the freshman Gerlach a real contest in this suburban Philadelphia district, and both parties are watching this race closely as November draws closer.

One of the factors currently driving this race is the flurry of political activity taking place in southeastern Pennsylvania. Not only is this turf that will play a key role in the presidential election, but this is also a portion of ground zero in the state’s Senate race.

Murphy has close ties to Gov. Ed Rendell (D), and this district has a high concentration of “Rendell Republicans.”

Gerlach, meanwhile, isn’t helped by the fact that he is still relatively unknown throughout the district, which was altered heavily during the previous cycle’s redistricting effort.

Still, a Republican poll taken in June showed Gerlach leading Murphy 59 percent to 20 percent.

Those results disputed the findings of a Democratic poll taken around the same time that found Gerlach with a 45 percent to 24 percent lead. At the same time, only 34 percent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote to re-elect Gerlach.

According to the GOP poll, only 17 percent of respondents said they had heard of Murphy, and there is no doubt she will have to spend heavily to get known in the district.

On paper this district looks to be about as swing as swing districts come. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore got 49 percent in the 6th district in the 2000 presidential contest.

8th district
Open seat: Jim Greenwood (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Republican

Greenwood’s late-breaking surprise retirement sets up a competitive and potentially nasty race to succeed the six-term lawmaker.

Republican leaders selected Bucks County Commissioner Michael Fitzpatrick as their nominee, even though Greenwood backed a more moderate state legislator during the party’s selection process. Greenwood has since endorsed Fitzpatrick.

Democrats stuck with their original nominee, attorney and political novice Ginny Schrader. Schrader had raised little money for her bid against Greenwood, but the party has since kicked in resources to help her compete in this now open-seat contest.

It’s hard to see how this race doesn’t ultimately come down to one issue: abortion.

Fitzpatrick opposes the procedure in most instances, while Greenwood has been one of the most outspoken supporters of abortion rights during his career.

Schrader favors abortion rights, and she recently scored the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Bucks County, which has been a staunch ally of Greenwood’s.

It remains to be seen whether EMILY’s List, the country’s foremost group supporting pro-abortion rights Democratic female candidates, will choose to get involved in this race. So far, the group has not taken a high-profile role.

The 8th district includes all of Bucks County and small parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia.

On paper this district favors Democrats more so than the 6th and the 15th, which are also competitive. Al Gore would have won 51 percent to George W. Bush’s 46 percent in the 2000 presidential election.

Fitzpatrick, a proven votegetter, definitely has the edge in this contest. But if it turns into an ugly national battle over abortion, who knows what might happen?

13th district
Open seat: Joe Hoeffel (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Leans Democratic

State Sen. Allyson Schwartz (D) and ophthalmologist Melissa Brown (R) are vying for the chance to succeed Hoeffel, who only narrowly defeated Brown last cycle.

Both women are socially moderate and favor abortion rights. Both also have the ability to spend considerable resources, and this was pegged early on as likely to be one of the most expensive House races this year.

Schwartz, who got the early backing of EMILY’s List and organized labor, represents portions of the district in the state Senate.

Brown has run for this seat four times, spending personal resources on each try. Last cycle, she outspent and came close to knocking off Hoeffel, who Democrats argue underperformed in the district.

Just as in Brown’s 2002 race against Hoeffel, she has again focused on the issue of Section 8 housing — leading Democrats to charge that she is running a racially charged campaign.

In a recent Keystone poll, Schwartz led Brown by 11 points, 45 percent to 34 percent.

Both parties will be aided heavily by the get-out-the-vote efforts of the presidential and Senate campaigns.

The 13th district is split fairly evenly between Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is expected to easily win this district on the presidential level, as Al Gore did in 2000.

Democrats remain confident in their ability to retain this seat, but Brown’s demonstrated willingness to spend her own money will never enable them to take their eyes off Schwartz.

15th district
Open seat: Pat Toomey (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Likely Republican

State Sen. Charlie Dent (R), who has essentially become the incumbent in this open-seat race, remains the prohibitive favorite to win this Lehigh Valley seat.

Although the makeup of this district is marginal at best, there has been little evidence to show that developer Joe Driscoll (D) has the ability to make this into a real contest even in a presidential year.

Driscoll is a political newcomer, and his lack of ties to the Lehigh Valley has left him vulnerable to attacks that he is a carpetbagger. He recently moved to a Lehigh address.

To his credit, Driscoll’s fundraising has been impressive. But even unlimited resources might not be enough to overcome the aces that Dent has played to his favor so far.

Dent, an affable moderate, has represented parts of the district for 14 years in the state Legislature. He has been elected previously with the support of Republicans and Democrats and has never lost a general election.

More importantly, he is airing a television ad that features footage of Gov. Ed Rendell (D) praising his efforts to aid the local economy. What more can a Republican candidate ask for?

Although Al Gore carried this district in the 2000 presidential contest, it’s hard to see how Driscoll gives experienced ticket-splitters enough reason to cast Dent aside and elect him instead.

17th district
Incumbent: Tim Holden (D)
6th term (51 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Holden faces attorney Scott Paterno (R), the son of Penn State football coaching legend Joe Paterno.

Paterno, a former aide to the state Senate Majority Leader, has one of the best known and respected last names in the area, but it is still hard to see just how he surpasses Holden at the ballot box in November.

A recent poll showed Holden with a 57 percent to 31 percent lead over Paterno. The poll also showed that Holden is more popular in the district that any other politician, including President Bush.

That’s bad news for Paterno, considering the president carried the district with 56 percent in 2000.

Even worse for the 31-year-old attorney is that the survey showed more voters had a negative opinion than a positive one of Paterno, who is still relatively unknown to voters in the Harrisburg-based district.

Still, Paterno has been able to draw some star power to the district, and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) recently campaigned on Paterno’s behalf.

Republicans know they face an uphill battle in retiring Holden, who beat Rep. George Gekas (R) in a Member-versus-Member contest last cycle simply by outworking the 20-year veteran lawmaker.

WEST VIRGINIA
House
2nd district
Incumbent: Shelley Moore Capito (R)
2nd term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

West Virginia will be a top battleground in this year’s presidential race, but for the first time since Capito was elected to the House the 2nd district contest will not be featured in the battle for control of the chamber.

Capito is expected to cruise to a third term in November over former TV anchor Erik Wells.

Capito faced free-spending trial lawyer Jim Humphreys (D) in the past two elections, but Democrats failed to recruit a viable challenger to her this year.

Look for the popular Capito, daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore (R), to eventually run statewide, likely when either of the state’s Senate seats becomes open.

— Josh Kurtz and Lauren W. Whittington