Who You Calling Vulnerable?

These 10 House Members Have Bulls’-Eyes on Their Backs

Posted October 1, 2004 at 2:48pm

This is the final Roll Call list of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents this cycle — and this time, it counts. Therefore we’re not listing them alphabetically. The order is most vulnerable to least.

Three of the 10 Members here weren’t on our previous list in May — Reps. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.).

We were always watching Beauprez and Porter: They are freshmen in swing districts and now have fairly strong opponents. Herseth wasn’t even in Washington in May. She is endangered because she is a four-month incumbent in a heavily Republican state.

Falling off the list since May: Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who was more vulnerable as a Democrat, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), and Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), who drew a very conservative challenger.

Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.)

Burns’ spot atop this list is more a reflection of the demographics of the 12th district than it is of his performance during his first term in office.

He faces Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow (D), an attorney who doesn’t appear to carry the same catastrophic baggage that Burns’ 2002 opponent did.

While neither man is an overly impressive campaigner, the fact remains this district was drawn to elect a Democrat (more so than any other district won by a Republican in 2002) — and it would have if the party’s nominee had been electable last time.

Even as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will lose Georgia big, there is no doubt he will overwhelmingly win Burns’ district.

Burns has already demonstrated that he’s not going down without a fight and even those who have privately pegged him as a goner expect the race will be tight.

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas)

A GOP target due to his repeated successes at keeping Republicans at bay in the Lone Star State over the past two decades, Frost faces the toughest race of his life this fall against fellow Rep. Pete Sessions (R).

The north Texas 32nd district has roughly a 40 percent minority population, which should help Frost. But the remainder of the district is strongly Republican, having given statewide GOP candidates an average of 64 percent of the vote in 2002.

Frost is working to take partisanship out of this race, arguing that he is the more effective lawmaker, but that is a tough sell given the demographics of the district.

Both men are raising millions of dollars in what will be the most expensive House race in the country.

Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas)

One of the most conservative Democratic lawmakers, Stenholm faces the toughest test of his 26-year Congressional career against fellow Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R).

Stenholm has repeatedly shown an ability to win Republican votes during his career but the new 19th district includes only one-third of the voters in Stenholm’s old seat, meaning that many people will be seeing his name on the ballot for the first time.

Neugebauer is a relative newcomer to Congress, having won a June 2003 special election to replace Rep. Larry Combest (R), but has transitioned well into this race, leading the fundraising chase throughout.

Polling shows a close race but this district will vote overwhelmingly for President Bush, making Stenholm’s task extremely difficult.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.)

One of the hardest districts to analyze in the country, this sprawling northeastern Arizona district was drawn by a bipartisan commission in 2001 as a fair fight between the parties.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R) faces former Flagstaff Mayor Paul Babbitt (D) in November in what was originally billed as one of Democrats’ top takeover opportunities. While party strategists remain optimistic about their chances, Babbitt is a less-than-inspiring candidate and has not raised the kind of money expected of him.

Democrats insist that candidate quality is of little importance in a district this size, and Babbitt’s last name (he is the brother of former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt) will be a major plus. Still, Renzi seems a better bet for re-election than he did six months ago.

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.)

Beauprez won by the narrowest margin of any incumbent in the class of 2002 — besting then-state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) by 121 votes.

State Republicans attempted to make the district more favorable to Beauprez with a new round of redistricting in 2003, but the GOP-drawn map was thrown out by the Colorado Supreme Court. The court ruling ensured that Democrats would heavily target a district that then Vice President Al Gore won — albeit narrowly — in 2000.

Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, who lost the Democratic primary to Feeley last cycle, is the party’s nominee this time around.

While Thomas has run a solid campaign and is a dependable if unspectacular candidate, a state grand jury report about his role following the 1999 Columbine school shooting may have doomed his campaign. Because of the makeup of the district, this should be a close race, but Beauprez seems a slight favorite.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas)

Originally thought to be in the best shape of the five Texas Democrats endangered by the Republican redistricting plan of 2003, Lampson is seen as increasingly vulnerable in this Houston-area seat.

The new 2nd district includes Beaumont, which is Lampson’s political base, and roughly half of the population that he represented in his old 9th district. Even so, it is a very Republican-friendly district, having given statewide GOPers an average of 61 percent in 2002.

Former state Judge Ted Poe won a convincing victory in the Republican primary but has not performed up to expectations — especially on the fundraising end since. He had $336,000 on hand at the end of June; a total dwarfed by Lampson’s impressive $807,000. Poe is well-known in the Harris County-area portion of the district, however, due to his 22 years as a judge and his penchant for headline-grabbing sentences.

Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas)

Sandlin’s chances at re-election have improved considerably over the past six months as he seems to have found his stride on the campaign trail.

First and foremost, Sandlin has picked up his fundraising pace — he ended June with $727,000 in the bank, a marked improvement from the end of March when he had just $375,000 on hand. His opponent, former state Judge Louie Gohmert has yet to distinguish himself as a candidate or a fundraiser. As of June 30, he had $372,000 left to spend on the race.

Roughly half of the East Texas 1st district’s population is new to Sandlin, including Smith and Gregg counties, which are Republican strongholds. In his primary and runoff races, Gohmert used his strong base in Smith County, which includes the city of Tyler, to overwhelm his opponents.

Despite the district’s demographics, a poll conducted for Sandlin in early September put him 4 points ahead of Gohmert, a lead within the survey’s margin of error.

Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.)

Porter caught a lucky break last time when his Democratic rival turned out to be fatally flawed, allowing him to capture 56 percent of the vote — good enough for a 19-point margin — in this swing district.

He is not so fortunate this time around as former gaming executive Tom Gallagher (D) is hoping to take the freshman down. Democrats enjoy a slight voter-registration advantage in the district and Gallagher has been raising money like gangbusters. Nonetheless, Porter, prepared to be a top Democratic target, has horded cash since coming to Congress and currently sits atop a more than $1 million war chest while Gallagher only had about $400,000 in the bank as of Aug. 18.

Democrats see this as a genuine pickup opportunity but national Republicans are taking nothing for granted and are prepared to step in to help Porter, should he need it.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah)

As the only Democrat in the Utah delegation, Matheson will always be a top GOP target.

His huge district sprawls from Salt Lake City all the way west to the Nevada border and east to Colorado and usually favors Republican candidates. George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 36 points in the 2nd district in 2000.

This year’s race is a rematch of 2002, when Matheson beat former state Rep. John Swallow (R) by a mere 1,600 votes.

Swallow again suffered a bruising, and costly, primary with venture capitalist Tim Bridgewater and entered the general election with far less money than Matheson, who has stockpiled cash for the last two years.

A recent poll shows Matheson leading by 31 points but Republicans are quick to point out that is the exact gap Swallow overcame last time to almost win. Republicans also think increased voter turnout will favor them with Bush at the top of the ticket.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.)

In perhaps the best moment for House Democrats this cycle, Herseth defeated state Sen. Larry Diedrich (R) in a June 2004 special election to replace Rep. Bill Janklow (R). Though she began the special election with a 30-point lead, Herseth won by just 3,000 votes.

Herseth and Diedrich will face off again in November and although most observers expect the Democrat to emerge victorious, the Republican lean of the state make this far from a done deal. President Bush is expected to win 60 percent in South Dakota this year. In addition, the race between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) and former Rep. John Thune (R) is likely to increase turnout, which seems likely to accrue to Diedrich’s benefit.

Herseth does have several factors in her favor, most importantly the recent success of special election winners. Herseth is also a very strong fundraiser, having raked in better than $2.7 million this cycle as of June 30.