Mountain: Markey, Minnick Among Most Vulnerable Frosh

Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:03am

Colorado


Filing deadline: May 29 | Primary: Aug. 10

Senate

Incumbent: Michael Bennet (D) was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) on Jan. 21
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Bennet came to the Senate by way of appointment, filling the seat that Ken Salazar (D) vacated when he became Interior secretary. And while Bennet’s gilded résumé included a stint as an investment company executive and a well-regarded tenure as Denver’s superintendent of schools, his lack of political experience poses challenges for him in a large and growing state. He’ll need to convince constituents who never elected him that he is deserving of continued service in the Senate.

Bennet has the backing of the Obama administration as he campaigns for a full six-year term — first in a primary against former state Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who announced his candidacy in September. Most county Democratic chairmen and some state legislators wanted Gov. Bill Ritter (D) to tap Romanoff for the Senate appointment.

It’s not clear yet what differences on policy will emerge between the two Democrats, and so Romanoff will need to give voters compelling reasons to replace Bennet, who will have served 18 months by the time of the primary. Bennet has performed well on the fundraising front, and Romanoff has a lot of catching up to do.

Republicans are trying to get back on the winning track in Colorado, after losses in Senate races in 2004 and 2008 and the open-seat gubernatorial race in 2006. Of the handful of Republicans who are vying to oppose Bennet, the best-known is Jane Norton, a former lieutenant governor.

Among those also vying for the Republican nomination are Ken Buck, a county district attorney who has been campaigning since the spring, and state Sen. Tom Wiens.

House

4th district
Incumbent: Betsy Markey (D)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Markey’s landslide 2008 victory belies the district’s mild Republican lean and shouldn’t be taken as evidence that her second campaign for the House will be less difficult than her first.

Markey unseated Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), a flawed opponent, even as the district narrowly backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — albeit by a much narrower margin than GOP presidential candidates are accustomed to receiving. Markey also ran a dynamic, well-funded campaign that highlighted her background as a business owner and her service as an aide to then-Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who is now Interior secretary.

Without Musgrave to run against, and with Republicans expecting a more favorable political environment in Colorado than they had in 2006 or 2008, Markey is bracing for a difficult race. She raised $951,000 in the first nine months of this year, one of the highest totals for a first-term Democrat.

Comeback-minded Colorado Republicans are promoting the campaign of Cory Gardner, a young and articulate state House Minority Whip who previously was a Senate aide.

Gardner’s $395,000 in campaign receipts through September — including a contribution from the leadership political action committee of former Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), Gardner’s former boss — makes him a heavy favorite to win the GOP primary. The only other announced candidate is Tom Lucero, an elected member of the University of Colorado’s board of regents.

Idaho


Filing deadline: March 19 | Primary: May 25

Senate

Incumbent: Mike Crapo (R)
2nd term (99 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

It would be difficult to pinpoint a Senator more politically secure than Crapo, who was first elected in 1998 with 70 percent of the vote and was essentially re-elected unanimously six years later, when Democrats didn’t even bother fielding a candidate.

Unassuming and popular, Crapo represents one of the nation’s most strongly Republican areas. He’s overwhelmingly favored to win a third term next year against what should be meager Democratic opposition — if it even materializes.

House

1st district
Incumbent: Walt Minnick (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Minnick, a business-oriented Democrat who last year narrowly unseated one-term Rep. Bill Sali (R), must establish a more conservative profile than the average House Democrat if he hopes to win re-election next year in a district that gave President Barack Obama just 36 percent of the vote.

Minnick doesn’t miss an opportunity to brandish his political independence. On House votes this year that have essentially divided the two parties, Minnick has opposed his party more frequently than any other Democratic Member. He voted against the economic stimulus measure, the fiscal 2010 budget resolution and a cap-and-trade energy bill that is intended to address climate change.

Nonetheless, Republican strategists will try to link Minnick to a national Democratic Party that is not popular in Idaho. One of their two candidates is Vaughn Ward, a former Senate aide and CIA employee who served in Iraq with the Marine Corps and later ran the 2008 Nevada presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Also seeking the GOP nomination is state Rep. Ken Roberts, who has been collecting endorsements from fellow state legislators. Roberts is more politically experienced than Ward, though he got a later start on his campaign and trails Ward in early fundraising.

Montana


Filing deadline: March 15 | Primary: June 8

House

At-large
Incumbent: Denny Rehberg (R)
5th term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Rehberg seems safe in this seat for as long as he wants it. Democrats can win statewide office in Montana, as proved by the fact that the state currently has two Democratic Senators as well as a Democratic governor. But the party has struggled to field credible challengers against Rehberg. In 2010, state Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald and lawyer Tyler Gernant (D) are in the race and have begun raising money, though both have less than $50,000 in the bank, compared with $734,000 for Rehberg at the end of September. Writer Melinda Gopher (D) joined the race in October. At this point Rehberg seems likely to cruise to a sixth term.

Utah


Filing deadline: March 20 | Primary: June 22

Senate

Incumbent: Bob Bennett (R)
3rd term (69 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

A Republican will win Utah’s Senate race next year, but it might not be Bennett.

Bennett’s issues at home began with his efforts to help pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008. While Bennett was hailed by leaders on Capitol Hill as a chief negotiator on the bill, that distinction turned into a dubious one back home in Utah, which remains one of the most conservative states in the country.

Four conservative challengers have filed to challenge Bennett in the primary, and more could be on the way. His biggest competition will likely be Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R), but the Senator has also found a powerful enemy in the anti-tax Club for Growth, which has made him an early target this cycle.

Under Utah’s party convention format, a candidate can avoid a primary by earning 60 percent of the delegate vote at the convention. If that doesn’t happen, the top two finishers face off in a June primary.

Bennett raised just over $400,000 in the third quarter. Moreover, he spent more than he brought in from July to September. The Senator’s high rate of spending could be a sign that he is trying to shore up his support because he knows he’s vulnerable. But his $792,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30 isn’t going to scare off any of his challengers.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Jim Matheson (D)
5th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Matheson is the only Democrat in the Utah delegation, and in a ruby-red state he always faces the potential of a serious race. However, the five-term Congressman has steadily pulled away from his Republican challengers in the past three cycles, most recently winning his 2008 re-election by nearly 30 points.

Matheson faces only token opposition so far, and national Republicans have yet to seriously target him. But if they’re looking to expand the playing field later in the cycle, Matheson’s conservative district would be a natural target.

3rd district
Incumbent: Jason Chaffetz (R)
1st term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Chaffetz stunned veteran Rep. Chris Cannon in the 2008 Republican primary and then cruised to victory in the general election.

He’s been a high-profile freshman since coming to Washington, D.C., and he has even taken a few shots at the state’s junior Senator, fellow Republican Bob Bennett, who faces a serious primary this cycle. Chaffetz has allowed his name to be floated when it comes to talk of challenging the Senator, but the Congressman has yet to take any concrete steps toward a Senate run. Assuming he doesn’t challenge Bennett, Chaffetz should have no trouble holding his seat in 2010. If he does run for Senate, there will certainly be a Republican free-for-all to replace him in the 3rd district.

Wyoming


Filing deadline: May 28 | Primary: Aug. 17

House

At-large
Incumbent: Cynthia Lummis (R)
1st Term (53 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Lummis did not run a particularly impressive open-seat campaign in 2008, defeating Gary Trauner (D) by just 10 points. Still, she is not a top target for Democrats in Republican-heavy Wyoming, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried with 65 percent despite the burst of support for Democrats nationwide. She’s a safe bet for re-election in 2010.