Plains: Home to Full Range of Political Activity

Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:20am

Iowa


Filing deadline: March 19 | Primary: June 8

Senate

Incumbent: Chuck Grassley (R)
5th term (70 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Grassley has spent more than half a century as an elected official in Iowa, including a three-decade run in the Senate during which he has been overwhelmingly re-elected four times. Even at age 76, Grassley is a heavy favorite to win re-election, though Democratic leaders for months have promised that this time he will actually face a serious candidate.

Some speculation had centered on Christie Vilsack, a lawyer and educator who is married to ex-Iowa governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (D). But she announced last week that she is not running, leaving attorney Roxanne Conlin as the likely Democratic standard-bearer. Conlin told the Des Moines Register in late October that she is “more likely than not— going to challenge Grassley. She last appeared on the ballot in 1982, when she narrowly lost a race for governor, but her previous service as the president of the national trial lawyers’ association should help her raise money for a Senate race.

Conlin would be the heavy favorite in a Democratic primary that includes two little-known former state legislators, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

A Daily Kos/Research 2000 survey conducted Oct. 12-14 gave Grassley a 51 percent to 40 percent lead over Vilsack and a 51 percent to 39 percent lead over Conlin.

House

3rd district
Incumbent: Leonard Boswell (D)
7th term (56 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Boswell, who turns 76 next January, hasn’t exactly dominated his Des Moines-area district in recent elections. In his past four re-election campaigns, he’s topped out at 56 percent of the vote, which is what he received in the strong Democratic year of 2008 against Kim Schmett, a former Congressional aide who raised $157,000 for his entire campaign and who didn’t receive any help from the national party.

Still, the Republicans don’t yet have a candidate who can seriously compete for the seat. At the moment, the only announced Republican is David Funk, an aviation security consultant who reported raising just $16,000 through the end of September.

Kansas


Filing deadline: June 10 | Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

Open seat: Sam Brownback (R) is running for governor
Outlook: Safe Republican

The two longest-serving GOP House Members in the state, Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, are running for Senate in 2010.

This race could have been competitive if former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) opted to run, but she decided to become President Barack Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services instead. She was the only viable Democratic candidate, and whoever wins the GOP primary will be the next Senator from Kansas.

Public polling has shown Moran in the lead, but surveys this early in the cycle are hardly good predictors of a primary 10 months away. Moran is likely ahead in public polls because there are more registered Republicans in his rural western Kansas district, and parts of his district are in the Topeka and Wichita media markets, so he has increased his name identification in both cities.

Moran also has more money in the bank than Tiahrt. Moran raised $521,000 in the third quarter, bringing his cash-on-hand total to $3.48 million. Tiahrt raised $341,000 in the same period but only has $1.4 million in cash on hand.

Moran has never had a tough race in his safe GOP seat — one of the reasons why he was able to stockpile cash over the course of the past few cycles. While Tiahrt’s district hasn’t been really competitive either, he has spent down his campaign funds.

Even though it seems like Moran has an advantage, this race is far from over. While Moran has a slight edge, many Republicans are still undecided. The key for both candidates is to win support in the Republican-rich suburbs of Kansas City. It’s even ground in this area because neither of the Congressmen’s districts are close to the suburbs or are part of the Kansas City media market. Local operatives say the Member who performs best in this area will likely win the nomination.

House

1st district
Open seat: Jerry Moran (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Republican

There are seven Republicans seeking to succeed Moran in this safe GOP seat, and it’s nearly impossible to predict a winner with the primary more than 10 months away.

State Sens. Jim Barnett and Tim Huelskamp, and to a lesser degree Rob Wasinger, a former top aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), are the top candidates in the race who have enough money to support their campaign.

Barnett and Huelskamp start out with higher profiles in the district from their time in the state Legislature. Barnett also lost a gubernatorial bid against then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) in 2006, and his statewide bid no doubt boosted his profile and name identification in the district.

Barnett had raised $365,000 for his campaign through the end of September, including $100,000 from his own wallet. Huelskamp, meanwhile, had raised $345,000 for his bid.

Huelskamp has also been endorsed by the Club for Growth, which could help him with fundraising and eventually boost his campaign with hefty third-party expenditures closer to the primary.

Wasinger has raised $230,000 so far for his campaign, although three-quarters of that total is from out-of-state donors. Wasinger is well-connected from his time as Brownback’s top aide, but his biggest challenge is proving to voters that he is from Kansas and not from Washington.

Businessman Tracey Mann also has shown a strong fundraising track record, bringing in $246,000 through the end of September. Other Republicans, teacher Sue Boldra and former Salina Mayor Monte Shadwick, have not raised enough money to be competitive in the race.

The fight for the nomination is a free-for-fall with no clear frontrunner. Although Barnett and Huelskamp have the edge, it’s possible that voters could reject both and pick an outsider candidate in August.

2nd district
Incumbent: Lynn Jenkins (R)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Jenkins defeated one-term Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) in this eastern Kansas district that includes Manhattan, Topeka and the less populous southeastern rural part of the state. Boyda’s 2006 upset victory was considered by many to be a fluke, but Democrats insist they plan to target this district again in 2010. After all, Boyda resisted any assistance from the national party for her re-election bid — a decision that she later told the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that she regretted.

State Sen. Laura Kelly (D) announced in October that she would run against Jenkins. Her candidacy got rave reviews in the local press, but it’s still unclear whether a Democrat can win this district unless it’s a fluke like Boyda’s victory. Kelly is by far the best candidate that Democrats could have found, but the district might just lean too far to the right for the party to compete and win here.

3rd district
Incumbent: Dennis Moore (D)
6th term (56 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans try to target Moore in just about every election, and every cycle they come up short. The Democrat’s district voted marginally for President Barack Obama with 51 percent in 2008, but George W. Bush won by double-digit margins in 2004 and 2000. Moore appears to have a lock on the Kansas City-based district despite its conservative bend, and it will take a top-tier challenger in a good Republican year to come close to knocking him off.

National Republicans are in touch with two of the announced candidates, businessman John Rysavy and former state Rep. Patricia Lightner, but they say they are still speaking with other potential candidates about running. State Rep. Kevin Yoder would be their top choice, but sources say he is unlikely to run. Former state Sen. Nick Jordan, the 2008 GOP nominee, has also not ruled out running again.

4th district
Open seat: Todd Tiahrt (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Republican

Tiahrt’s bid for Senate has left the door open for several Republicans to run in this Wichita-based district. At least two state lawmakers and two businessmen with significant personal resources are in the race already, and Republicans caution that more candidates could join the primary before the filing deadline.

State Sens. Jean Schodorf (R) and Dick Kelsey (R) start out with a small advantage in the race because they currently hold elected office. A recent poll released by Kelsey’s campaign showed him and Schodorf with a small lead over the other candidates, but the vast majority of voters were still undecided.

Kelsey posted impressive fundraising numbers at the end of September. He reported $239,000 in receipts, although $223,000 of that came from his own wallet. Schodorf, who is still officially in the exploratory phase, reported raising no money so far for her race.

Former Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo has had consistently strong fundraising since he got into the race in April, raising $351,000 so far for his campaign. None of that total is from Pompeo himself, although the former aviation company executive is in a position to self-fund part of his campaign.

The most recent addition to the field is businessman Wink Hartman (R), who is well-known in the district because of his ties to Hartman Oil Co. and Hartman Arena. Although this is his first foray into politics, Hartman could have an edge in the district because of his name and various local businesses.

Local operatives say state Sen. Susan Wagle (R) is still considering a campaign, although others in the district say she has already ruled it out.

Any Democrat running in this district is considered an underdog in the general election. President Barack Obama lost the district by an 18-point margin to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and a Democrat has not held the seat since Tiahrt defeated then-Rep. Dan Glickman (D) in 1994.

Although many national Democrats initially dismissed state Rep. Raj Goyle’s candidacy, he raised more than a few eyebrows when he raised more than $400,000 in his first fundraising quarter in the race. It’s going to be tough to beat a Republican in this traditionally conservative district, but if anyone has the means to do it, it could be Goyle.

Missouri


Filing deadline: March 30 | Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

Open seat: Kit Bond (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

This highly competitive race almost certainly will pit Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a member of Missouri’s most prominent Democratic political family, against Rep. Roy Blunt, a member of the state’s best-known Republican dynasty.

Carnahan is the daughter of a former governor and a former Senator and the sister of Rep. Russ Carnahan (D), who represents a St. Louis-area district. She doesn’t face serious opposition in the Democratic primary and has kept a low profile in recent months as she concentrates on raising money for her bid.

Blunt, whose son Matt was the state’s Republican governor from 2005 to 2009, is the former Republican Whip who has kept a high profile on Capitol Hill as a party voice on health care policy.

Blunt faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Chuck Purgason, a legislator from southern Missouri who is waging a low-budget campaign.

In the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, Blunt outraised Carnahan $1.3 million to $1.1 million, mainly because Blunt raised a lot more from political action committees. As October began, he had $2.3 million in the bank to Carnahan’s $1.8 million.

Missouri’s history of competitive elections ­— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) edged Barack Obama by 0.1 point in the state’s 2008 presidential balloting ­— points to a Carnahan-Blunt showdown being very competitive.

House

4th district
Incumbent: Ike Skelton (D)
17th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

For the longest time it seemed that Republican strategists would wait for Skelton to retire before they’d make a serious run at a district in western and west-central Missouri that has a decided conservative bent but that Skelton has dominated for more than three decades.

Yet Republicans now have two serious candidates who are vying to unseat Skelton, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee who turns 78 in December. They are state Sen. Bill Stouffer, a farmer who represents territory in the northern part of the district, and former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who promoted a 2004 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that passed overwhelmingly.

Hartzler reported $224,000 in third-quarter receipts, of which $109,000 came in the form of personal contributions. Stouffer raised $203,000, all of it from individual donors.

The third Republican, computer consultant James Scholz, is not as well-known as Stouffer or Hartzler.

GOP strategists see Skelton as vulnerable in part because of his votes for the economic stimulus bill and a cap-and-trade climate change bill.

Skelton appears to be taking the challenge seriously. He raised $334,000 in the third quarter of 2009, compared with $90,000 in the third quarter of 2007.

7th district
Open seat: Roy Blunt (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Safe Republican

This area of southwestern Missouri is so staunchly conservative — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took 63 percent of the vote there, his best showing in the state ­­— that Blunt’s successor will no doubt be chosen in the August primary three months before an uncompetitive general election. The Democrats don’t even have a candidate yet.

Of the six Republicans presently seeking the seat, the top tier consists of Billy Long, an auctioneer, and state Sens. Jack Goodman and Gary Nodler.

Long hails from Springfield, the district’s population center, and leads the GOP field with $452,000 in receipts through the end of September. He’s raised more than either Goodman or Nodler and has spent a smaller share of his receipts than either state Senator.

Goodman represents a district south of Springfield on the Arkansas border. Nodler’s state Senate district lies west of Springfield on the Kansas border.

Of the other three Republicans in the race, the best-known is Darrell Moore, the top prosecutor in Greene County, which includes Springfield.

Nebraska


Filing deadline: Feb. 15 for incumbents, March 1 for non-incumbents | Primary: May 11

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)
6th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

After holding Terry to a career-low re-election percentage last time — and boosting Barack Obama to a district victory in the presidential contest — national Democratic strategists and local Omaha-area activists are targeting Terry and arguing he is vulnerable to a high-profile challenge from state Sen. Tom White (D).

With three years of service in Nebraska’s unique unicameral Legislature, White is more politically seasoned than two-time Democratic nominee Jim Esch, a lawyer who took 45 percent of the vote against Terry in 2006 and then 48 percent in 2008.

Yet White will have to prove that 2nd district voters are ready to elect their first Democratic House Member since then-Rep. Peter Hoagland was defeated for re-election in 1994. And he will need to show that the unusually close 2008 race wasn’t solely the result of a tough political environment for Terry’s Republican Party — and the unprecedented push by an Obama campaign in Omaha that, leading up to the election, had three busy field offices jam-packed with volunteers.

White has a background as a civil rights attorney and says he has a good relationship with Omaha’s black community. He describes himself as pro-labor union and anti-abortion-rights, and he says he has problems with the cap-and-trade climate change bill the House passed this spring.

Low-key in manner, Terry may not have emblazoned his name on the minds of some district voters, but he also hasn’t given offense to many of them. It doesn’t hurt that he has a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, which he has used to promote Nebraska interests such as corn-based ethanol as an alternative fuel and expansion of Internet service in the state’s sprawling rural areas.

North Dakota


Filing deadline: April 9 | Primary: June 8

Senate

Incumbent: Byron Dorgan (D)
3rd term (68 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

North Dakota, where Dorgan is heavily favored to win a fourth term, has long presented a political anomaly. The state is one of the Republican Party’s most consistent strongholds in presidential contests, but an underlying political populism has helped Democrats hold both Senate seats and the state’s only House seat simultaneously since 1986.

GOP officials — after failing to recruit a top-tier candidate for any of the state’s Congressional seats in recent years — have been making a pitch to popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) to try to entice him to challenge Dorgan in 2010. Hoeven initially said he’d have a decision by Labor Day, but there is still no word from the governor, whose term does not expire until 2012.

Both Hoeven and Dorgan are widely popular in the state, and should Hoeven run, it would “pit two political giants against one another,— in the words of the Grand Forks Herald. But many observers are skeptical that Hoeven will ultimately pull the trigger, and Dorgan should cruise to re-election unless he does.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Earl Pomeroy (D)
9th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

In a state as Republican as North Dakota, Pomeroy is always vulnerable in theory. But Republicans have not been able to put that theory into practice. Their lone candidate so far is Paul Schaffner, a Bismark insurance salesman and former North Dakota State University linebacker who has never run for office before. Kevin Cramer, a former state Republican Party executive director who lost to Pomeroy twice in House races in the 1990s, was considering a third bid to unseat him but decided in September to forgo the race.

South Dakota


Filing deadline: March 30 | Primary: June 8 | Runoff: June 29

Senate

Incumbent: John Thune (R)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Democratic activists would love to make a serious run at Thune, a thorn in their side since his narrow 2004 upset of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D). At the least, Democrats would like to keep Thune from running up a big margin that would burnish his image as a Republican rising star with possible interest in a 2012 presidential bid and emerging national profile.

But Thune has sought to deter any Democratic threat by building up his campaign treasury — he reported $5.5 million in the bank at the end of September — even though the Democrats lack any significant challenger. His toughest prospective opponent, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D), decided in July to run for re-election. The state party is trying to lure attorney Matt McGovern, grandson of former Sen. George McGovern, into the race, but he would face an uphill battle.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D)
4th term (68 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Herseth Sandlin burst onto the scene in 2002 and has settled in as a very popular figure, winning three re-election contests easily despite the state’s Republican lean.

This year, she was urged by many Democrats to run in the 2010 open gubernatorial race, or to stage what would be a difficult challenge to Sen. John Thune (R). But she announced in July that she had decided to run again for the House.

In 2010, however, she will have to deal with something that she hasn’t faced since her special and general election victories in 2004 against state lawmaker Larry Diedrich: a tough GOP challenger. Chris Nelson, South Dakota’s popular two-term secretary of state, and state Rep. Blake Curd both announced in early October that they would run for the GOP nomination, and party officials think either could be formidable. State Rep. Shantel Krebs (R) is also exploring a campaign.