With Renzi out of the way, Democrats finally have the break they’ve been looking for in the sprawling and mostly rural Northern Arizona district.
Since running and winning in 2002, Renzi has kept the seat in the GOP column by appealing to key voting blocs, including American Indians, conservative Democrats, and grass-roots Republicans. It helped that he had flawed Democratic opponents each time.
But with Renzi’s retirement on the heels of a continuing federal investigation into his Congressional and business dealings, Democrats believe they finally can crack the winner’s circle. His seat is a top Democratic target, and they are expected to spend heavily to flip it.
But Republicans also are optimistic about their chances, noting that a majority of the seat’s Democrats tend to be socially conservative and out of step with the national Democratic Party.
The leading candidate to win the Democratic nomination is former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who actually speaks at least one Indian language. She has solid roots in the district and has proved to be a prodigious fundraiser thus far.
Attorney Howard Shanker (D) and former television reporter Mary Kim Titla (D) also are running, but the impact they will have on the primary is unclear at present.
Several Republicans are interested in succeeding Renzi, with 2002 1st district GOP primary candidate Sydney Hay, a well-known anti-tax advocate, already in.
According to some GOP insiders, state Rep. Bill Konopnicki would give Republicans the best opportunity to hold the seat in what could be another Democratic year, that — unlike 2006 — is likely to find Democrats with a decisive financial advantage. Konopnicki is still considering a bid, as are other Republicans.
Incumbent: John Shadegg (R)
7th term (59 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican
Shadegg’s Phoenix-based district is solid Republican territory, and the Congressman shouldn’t have too much trouble winning an eighth term.
However, attorney Bob Lord, Shadegg’s presumed Democratic challenger, has been such an impressive fundraiser that Democratic officials in Arizona and on Capitol Hill have taken notice and are considering throwing their weight around in the general election.
Lord raised $142,000 in the third quarter, to close the period with $332,000 in cash on hand. That left him reasonably close to Shadegg, whose receipts for the quarter totaled $194,000 and banked cash amounted to $451,000.
Republicans are unconcerned, noting that Shadegg won re-election handily last year while campaigning very little, as he focused most of his attention on helping his fellow House Republicans win their races in preparation for a failed run at the Minority Leader post won by John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Incumbent: Harry Mitchell (D)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic
This Phoenix-area district as drawn is a Republican seat, and Mitchell no doubt benefited last year from the Democratic wave that engulfed Capitol Hill as well as the fact that voters had finally tired of the incumbent in last year’s election, the bombastic J.D. Hayworth (R).
However, Mitchell, the former mayor of Tempe and a former state Senator, was a well-known and popular figure in the 5th district when he ran last time, and his status as the incumbent looks to benefit him this time around.
Still, Republicans believe Mitchell has made some missteps with regard to his Congressional voting record, and they believe a solid GOP candidate could remind the district’s voters — a majority of whom are Republicans — that they probably would prefer that their Congressman represent their values.
If Mitchell provides Republicans with the political ammunition — and if Republicans can in fact make this race about Mitchell’s record, the GOP might have a chance.
Running for the GOP nomination are lobbyist Jim Ogsbury, Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert and former state Rep. Laura Knaperek. Other Republicans are considering a bid.
Incumbent: Gabrielle Giffords (D)
1st term (54 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
Giffords has done a solid job of cutting a moderate image in this GOP-leaning, Tucson-area district that previously was represented by moderate Republican Jim Kolbe for 22 years.
Her centrist reputation and background as a local business owner helped her defeat 2006 Republican nominee Randy Graf, who was viewed as too extreme by the district’s voters — and even by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
However, Republicans still have a chance to make Giffords’ reign short. State Senate President Tim Bee (R) has an exploratory committee open and is considering challenging Giffords next year.
If Bee gets in, the 8th district could be in play. If he doesn’t, Giffords looks to cruise to re-election in 2008. Because of Arizona’s resign-to-run law, Bee might simply be waiting for the new year to announce, as at that time he would be able to hang onto his legislative seat and still run for Congress.
Until Bee gets in — if he gets in — this seat has to be considered fairly safe for Giffords.
Filing deadline: Feb. 12
Primary: June 3
Open seat: Pete Domenici (R) is retiring
With the iconic Domenici calling it quits after six terms, the Democrats have yet another Senate pickup opportunity. And it looks as if there could be competitive primaries on both sides, with the victor hard to predict at this point.
On the Republican side, Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce are running. Theirs will be a high-stakes, expensive grudge match. While Wilson has been a champion fundraiser and has overcome electoral adversity throughout her Congressional career, Pearce could have the edge in a primary because he is the more conservative of the pair. It will be interesting to see if the Club for Growth, which began hitting Wilson even before she declared her candidacy, decides to play heavily in the primary.
On the Democratic side, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Santa Fe developer Don Wiviott are running, not to mention a party activist or two.
Only Gov. Bill Richardson could have cleared the Democratic field, but he remains focused on his presidential campaign. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) might have been able to do the same but has chosen instead to focus on running for governor in 2010 — though she has yet to completely close the door on a Senate run.
Some Democrats in Washington, D.C., and New Mexico hold out the hope that Richardson will jump into the Senate race just before the filing deadline, assuming his White House campaign falters.
Regardless of whether Richardson runs, look for Democrats to spend heavily to flip Domenici’s seat, and look for Republicans to spend as much as they can find in the seat cushions to hold it.
New Mexico is a swing state that could go either way in a presidential cycle, and Republicans and Democrats tend to agree that the candidate who eventually wins will be the one who best presents himself as a moderate, practical and centrist problem-solver as opposed to a partisan political player.
Open seat: Heather Wilson (R) is running for Senate
With Wilson out of the way, Democrats might finally have the upper hand in this Democratic-leaning, Albuquerque area district, which has improbably remained in Republican hands since 1968.
But Republicans were able to recruit the candidate they wanted to replace Wilson, and even some Democratic insiders concede that flipping the seat won’t be easy — particularly if the eventual Democratic nominee tacks too far left.
Running for the Republicans is popular Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. He could face challengers in the GOP primary, but Republicans in Washington, D.C., and in New Mexico believe he gives the party its strongest shot to hold the 1st district
Several Democrats are eyeing a 1st district bid, but it’s Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich, who has been in the race since spring, who is seen as the favorite for the nomination and viewed as the best Democratic candidate. Former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) just entered the race two weeks ago, and other candidates — including former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D), who finished just 861 votes behind Wilson in 2006 — could follow.
Expect a general election brawl no matter who the nominees are, and expect D.C. money to play a large role in funding it.
Open seat: Steve Pearce (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Leans Republican
Pearce’s exit from the House creates another headache for House Republicans and the National Republican Congressional Committee in a cycle when it appears they will be ill-equipped to spend money to make the pain go away.
But unlike the 1st district, the Las Cruces-area 2nd district is solid Republican territory, resembling West Texas more than it does New Mexico’s urban centers. This should give the GOP the political advantage, at least at the outset.
Pearce just announced for Senate in the past few weeks. With the seat now open, expect both the Democratic and Republican primary fields to crowd, at least initially, as ambitious politicians on both sides of the aisle try to seize on a seat that has been out of reach since 2002.
Although the seat is drawn Republican, Democrats could seriously challenge for it. National Democrats could have more money to throw at the race. Also, New Mexico is a swing state in presidential elections, and if it goes Democratic in 2008, that could provide Democrats with a boost in this open seat.
Doña Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley (D), who is just 29 years old, already was in the race running against Pearce, and former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague (D) recently got in. The big fish on the Democratic side could be state Rep. Joseph Cervantes, who comes from a prominent farming family. If he gets in the race, he’d be regarded as the Democratic frontrunner.
Filing deadline: June 4
Primary: July 29
Runoff: Aug. 26
Incumbent: James Inhofe (R)
3rd term (57 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Inhofe probably will face Andrew Rice (D), a young state Senator, in the general election.
Rice, whose brother died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, has a compelling personal story. And Democrats believe Inhofe might have worn thin with voters courtesy of some controversial comments he’s made of late, including those questioning just how extensive global warming is.
However, Oklahoma remains solid Republican territory in federal elections, and Inhofe probably has not said anything terribly upsetting to a majority of his constituents. He should have little trouble with his re-election bid, absent a late pouring of money into the state by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Even if that happens, he should survive.
Inhofe closed the third quarter with $1.7 million on hand, compared with just $260,000 for Rice. Clearly Inhofe has nothing to worry about at this point.
Incumbent: Mary Fallin (R)
1st term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Fallin, the former lieutenant governor, is a freshman, and this is likely the best opportunity Democrats will have to knock her off. But her Oklahoma City-area district is solid Republican territory, and she probably would do just fine even if the Democrats targeted her — which they won’t.
Financial analyst Bert Smith, who was a 5th district candidate the past two cycles but did not win the Democratic nomination in the previous cycle, is running again in 2008.
Filing deadline: Jan. 2
Primary: March 4
Runoff: April 8
Incumbent: John Cornyn (R)
1st term (55 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Even as Democrats have improved their position nationally, Texas has remained reliably Republican. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) cruised to re-election last year, as did Gov. Rick Perry (R). The two Democratic bright spots in the previous cycle — House pickups in the 22nd and 23rd districts — were the result of quirks.
But Democrats nevertheless continue to insist they can knock off Cornyn, although their enthusiasm was tempered mightily late last month when wealthy San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts surprised everyone by dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Watts had banked $8.3 million — more than Cornyn’s $6.6 million — to close the third quarter, mostly on the strength of personal loans to his campaign.
That leaves state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) as Cornyn’s most likely competition.
Noriega already was favored over Watts by grass-roots Democrats — and presumably he has the backing of a large portion of Texas’ important Latino voting bloc. He raised a respectable $581,000 in the third quarter of the year, to finish September with $510,000 in cash on hand.
His ability to seriously challenge Cornyn now depends on his ability to catch the incumbent in fundraising while additionally finding a way to overcome the political disadvantage he has by virtue of being a Democrat in a majority Republican state. Democratic Party officials believe Cornyn is politically weak and would be vulnerable against an opponent who can match him in campaign spending. Noriega is not the fundraising powerhouse Watts would have been, but as a military veteran whose wife is a member of the Houston City Council, he does have a compelling personal story to tell.
Cornyn has no primary competition and during this off year has begun raising the approximately $20 million he’ll need to run a strong race in Texas, a large state with several media markets — a few of them expensive.
Although a first-term Senator, Cornyn has been a statewide elected official for about a dozen years, having previously served as an elected member of Texas’ Supreme Court and as state attorney general. Cornyn raised $1.8 million in the third quarter.
Republicans feel confident that Cornyn will return to Capitol Hill for a second Senate term, but they are preparing for a tough challenge, should one emerge.
Incumbent: Ralph Hall (R)
14th term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
On Election Day, this seat will still be in Republican hands. But the GOP primary could be worth watching, as a trio of Republicans are targeting Hall in the March 4 intraparty contest.
Republicans familiar with the district, centered in the northern and eastern Dallas suburbs, say Hall is not in any danger. But that hasn’t stopped some Republicans who believe he is too old from trying to take him out.
At 84, Hall — a lifelong Democrat until he switched parties in 2004 — is the oldest Member of the House.
Challenging him in the 4th district GOP primary are businessman and NASCAR team owner Gene Christensen, businessman Kevin George and former Frisco Mayor Kathy Seei. For what it’s worth, Christensen has been endorsed by Hollywood strongman Chuck Norris.
Incumbent: Ron Paul (R)
6th term (60 percent; previously served four terms)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Paul’s elevated national stature, courtesy of his upstart presidential bid, is causing some to wonder if he might abandon Congress for financially greener pastures and a bigger stage from which to expound on his Libertarian views.
Several Republicans are gambling that Paul will do just that and have launched campaigns to replace him in the solidly Republican, Galveston-area district. Although the March primary is just a few months away, the race has yet to truly take shape.
Among those running are Eric Dondero (R), a one-time Libertarian Party activist, former Congressional aide and Navy veteran; Bobby Eberle, the former chairman of the Texas Young Republicans; businessman Mark Henry (R); NASA computer contractor Andy Mann (R); and Friendswood City Councilman Chris Peden (R).
Incumbent: Nick Lampson (D)
1st term (52 percent; previously served four terms)
Even though the eventual Republican nominee might have to survive a bruising primary in order to earn the right to challenge Lampson, this seat has to be considered a tossup considering the conservative makeup of the district and the odd circumstances that resulted in Lampson’s election last year.
The Houston-area 22nd district used to be home to Tom DeLay (R), the former Majority Leader. But that was before DeLay was indicted on charges he broke Texas election law by a Democratic district attorney based in Austin, hundreds of miles away from the 22nd district. DeLay won the 2006 Republican primary, but the fallout from that indictment proved to make his re-election in the general election untenable, and rather than take a chance on losing DeLay resigned and moved to vacate his name from the ballot.
But the Texas Democratic Party sued in federal court and prevented DeLay from removing his name from the general election ballot, forcing the Texas GOP to recruit then- Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula Gibbs (R) to run as a write-in candidate. Lampson, who had raised millions from liberal activists all over the country in preparation for a showdown with DeLay, beat Sekula Gibbs, although she finished with a respectable 42 percent of the vote despite her status as a write-in.
Next year, Lampson won’t have the luxury of running against a write-in. And even though he’ll be running as a well-funded incumbent who cuts the image of a folksy Texas politician, his mainstream liberal views on some issues could prove too much of a hurdle for him to overcome.
Smelling blood, a host of Republicans have signed up to run in the party’s primary, including Sekula Gibbs, who served in Congress for a stormy three weeks at the end of 2006 after winning a special election to fill the remainder of DeLay’s term (she WAS on the ballot in that contest).
Also running are former Sugar Land Mayor Dean Hrbacek (R), former Pasadena Mayor John Manlove (R), state Rep. Robert Talton (R) and Pete Olson (R), a former chief of staff to Sen. John Cornyn (R) who has a lot of support on Capitol Hill. Additionally, other Republicans are considering a bid.
Incumbent: Ciro Rodriguez (D)
1st term (54 percent; previously served four terms)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
Like his Lone Star State colleague Rep. Nick Lampson (D), Rodriguez came to office through unusual circumstances that involve former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R).
The 23rd district as it currently is drawn did not exist until last summer, when a federal judge created it to comply with a Supreme Court decision that determined the district’s previous borders violated the Voting Rights Act.
That ruling was an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed to challenge the 2003, DeLay-engineered redistricting of Texas House seats. That mid-decade remap, which eliminated some Democratic seats and led to the creation of additional GOP seats, split Latino voters between the 28th and 23rd districts.
Then-Rep. Henry Bonilla (R), who at the time held the 23rd district, was forced to run for re-election in a new district with more Democratic-leaning Latino voters than the old 23rd district. Even still, Bonilla won the November general election with slightly less than the margin he needed to avoid a runoff.
However, on the heels of the Republicans losing control of Congress in the Nov. 7, 2006, elections, Republican turnout for the December runoff was light — and Democratic enthusiasm was high — resulting in Rodriguez winning a somewhat surprising runoff victory.
Because Rodriguez — who previously represented the 28th district before losing a Democratic primary in 2004 — never has been a great fundraiser, the 23rd could be up for grabs if Republicans nominate a good candidate who can connect with the district’s Latino voters. Attorney Quico Canseco (R) is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to prove he is that candidate. Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson (R) also is weighing a bid and could end up challenging Canseco in the primary.
Republicans believe they have a shot but have yet to express confidence that either Canseco or Larson have what it takes to beat Rodriguez.