Big Top-Ticket Races Could Have Coattails

Posted October 9, 2009 at 6:21pm

House Republicans are counting on some top-of-the-ticket coattails in a handful of highly competitive states to boost their candidates and help the party further down the ballot in 2010.

Strong gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states could help Republicans win battleground House races.

In Ohio, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) is certain that he’ll benefit from the gubernatorial candidacy of John Kasich, a former Congressman from the Columbus area. Stivers lost to now-Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D)by a mere 2,312 votes in 2008, when the presidential race boosted turnout among students and black voters across the Columbus-area 15th district.

“I found out last year what the top of the ticket can do,— Stivers said. “Barack Obama got a lot of voters excited … and it made a difference in my race.—

In the southern part of the Buckeye State, GOP candidates are hoping former Rep. Rob Portman’s (R) bid for Senate will give them an Election Day boost as well. In the Cincinnati-based 1st district, freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) is facing a rematch with former Rep. Steve Chabot (R). And in Portman’s former House district, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) will try to stave off a challenge from state Rep. Todd Book (D).

Public polling shows Portman trailing both of his potential Democratic opponents, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, although more than a quarter of voters are undecided in the recent Quinnipiac University survey. But the same September poll also showed Portman receiving favorable marks from 51 percent of survey respondents in southwest Ohio, where Chabot and Schmidt are running to win back and keep their House seats, respectively.

The same Quinnipiac poll of 1,074 Ohio voters also showed Gov, Ted Strickland (D) ahead of Kasich, 46 percent to 36 percent, but the Republican was in a statistical tie with the governor in his central Ohio geographic base.

“I think he’ll have a pretty major impact,— Stivers said of Kasich. “In Columbus, especially, the governor’s race is going to affect turnout in central Ohio.—

Gabby Adler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, defended Democrats’ chances in the Buckeye State. Democrats also pointed out that Obama is still relatively popular in parts of the state, and Democrats have a voter registration advantage in Kilroy’s district.

“Democrats are energized and ready to mount a strong and well-organized effort to turn out and persuade House voters in 2010,— Adler said.

Ohio won’t be the only state where top-of-the-ticket races could boost GOP House candidates. Pennsylvania is set to host competitive gubernatorial and Senate races next year. Recent public polls for both races showed Republican gubernatorial candidates as well as former Rep. Pat Toomey, the likely GOP Senate nominee, with a lead in the Keystone State.

This could be the first year that Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) has a serious re-election challenge since he came to Congress: Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D) has announced that he will run in the Democratic-leaning district. Dent won re-election with 59 percent last year, while Obama carried the district with 56 percent of the vote.

But Dent is running for re-election in Toomey’s former House district, which means Republican turnout and support should be strong there. Therefore, it was no surprise that Dent was the first Republican in the delegation to endorse Toomey’s bid for Senate.

“The top of the ticket is looking good for us, at least in Pennsylvania’s 15th district,— Dent campaign manager Shawn Millan said. “We kind of feel like the wind is in our back instead of in our face.—

Also in the Keystone State, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) is running for governor in 2010. If he wins the primary against state Attorney General Tom Corbett, Republicans running in Gerlach’s district could be boosted by having him on the ballot next November. Businessman Steve Welch, one of the Republicans looking to succeed Gerlach, said that although he’s not endorsing any gubernatorial candidate in 2010, having the Congressman on the ticket could help his bid.

State Rep. Bryan Lentz, the only Democrat in the race so far to replace Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in southeastern Pennsylvania, said he’s not relying on any candidates at the top of the ticket for coattails this time.

In “Delaware County, they’re probably the most informed and independent voters in the country. I think if you look at their history there, they vote for the person, not the party,— Lentz said. “I’ve never relied on it in the past, and I won’t in the future. My varied experience and my background is going to help me to win.—

Other states hosting competitive gubernatorial and Senate contests that could have coattails next year in downballot races include Florida and California.

But certainly not all competitive House races will be affected by contests at the top of the ticket.

In New Hampshire, Senate Republicans have recruited a strong candidate in former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, but the state GOP still lacks a strong nominee against Gov. John Lynch (D). What’s more, New Hampshire is so small that it is unlikely a candidates’ popularity in one part of the district will differ from his statewide reception.

“It’s a lot smaller, and we’re all in the same media market,— former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said. “There’s not a real big difference in terms of name identification for a Member of Congress in either Congressional district.—

In Illinois, a competitive race for Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R) seat could be swayed by the Congressman’s bid for Senate next year. Both parties are targeting Kirk’s Democratic-leaning North Shore Chicago seat.

But the 10th district is also one of the most well-educated in the country, and history shows that voters often split their tickets. While Obama won the 10th district with 61 percent of the vote last year, Kirk won re-election with 53 percent of the vote.

Although no Republicans have officially filed for the at-large district in Delaware, several GOP candidates, including state Rep. Tom Kovach, are considering a bid now that Rep. Mike Castle (R) will be at the top of the ticket in the Senate race. Although Delaware has consistently voted for Democrats in recent cycles, Castle has won re-election by large margins in the House and is favored in the Senate race against likely Democratic nominee state Attorney General Beau Biden.