Midwest: President’s Senate Seat Is in Danger of Flipping

Illinois


Filing deadline: Passed
| Primary: Passed

Senate

Open seat: Appointee Roland Burris (D) is not seeking election

Outlook: Tossup

It’s doubtful that another Democrat running for Senate has had a rougher time in 2010 than Alexi Giannoulias. The state treasurer survived his primary with 39 percent of the vote — only 5 percent more than his closest competition — after being in the race for almost a year. After the primary, Giannoulias was already damaged from the millions in negative advertising spent against his candidacy.

When things couldn’t get much worse for Giannoulias, the bank his family owns was taken over by federal regulators in April. The takeover will cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. almost $400 million. Giannoulias ran on his experience with the bank when he ran for state treasurer in 2006 and has told reporters he would like to serve on the Senate Banking Committee.

Moderate Rep. Mark Kirk escaped any serious Republican primary challenge, but his 57 percent of the vote total on Feb. 2 is far from overwhelming. More importantly, Kirk’s visible swing to the right to the primary could hurt him in the long run in the general election.

Since the primary, public polls show either a tied race or Giannoulias trailing Kirk by single digits. In a traditionally Democratic state like Illinois, that’s not a good sign for a statewide candidate. At the end of March, Kirk also had more than twice as much in the bank as Giannoulias, with $3 million compared with the Democrat’s $1.2 million. Illinois is an expensive state, and Republicans will be willing to spend a lot of money to win the trophy of a Senate seat that President Barack Obama used to occupy.

Watch out for the White House in this race for clues as to how well Giannoulias is doing. Given that Obama used to hold the seat and Giannoulias considers him a personal friend, the White House should play a role — but so far administration officials have kept their distance from the Democrat. If you see the White House and national Democrats getting involved, then they believe Giannoulias has a chance.

Giannoulias’ saving grace is the nature of the state: Illinois voted for Obama with 62 percent, and Democrats have a hold on every statewide office. But given the state of Giannoulias’ campaign, there is no doubt this will be one of the most negative and competitive races of the 2010 cycle.

House

10th district

Open seat: Mark Kirk (R) is running for Senate

Outlook: Tossup

The North Shore suburban Chicago seat is one of the most competitive in the state. Kirk held on to the seat for five terms, even though Democratic presidential candidates have won it handily. President Barack Obama won the district with 61 percent in 2008.

For the third cycle in a row, Democrats have nominated marketing consultant Dan Seals to run for the seat. Seals barely defeated state Rep. Julie Hamos in the early primary, but he has not emerged as damaged for the general election as other Illinois primary winners. In fact, the thing that is working against Seals the most is his track record: If voters have rejected Seals twice already in heavily Democratic years, are they likely to vote for him in a year that is expected to be good for Republicans in Illinois?

In fact, if the national mood favors Republicans, their nominee, businessman Bob Dold, could be the favorite for the seat come fall. By all accounts, Dold ran a strong primary campaign and defeated the early frontrunner, state Rep. Beth Coulson, and another wealthy businessman. Dold continues to be boosted by strong fundraising — a very important factor in this district, which is part of the expensive Chicago media market.

Although it would be difficult to consider this House district a bellwether, it will certainly give an indication of how Illinois is voting. Because while the 10th district is hardly a microcosm of the state as a whole, if voters elect a Republican to this House seat, the GOP will likely win in many other places.

11th district

Incumbent: Debbie Halvorson (D)

1st term (58 percent)

Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans should be able to make a run at this seat given that President Barack Obama won it with only 53 percent of the vote. However, their candidate — Iraq War veteran Adam Kinzinger — has been lackluster so far.

Republicans were initially excited about Kinzinger, but his campaign has struggled. His campaign only obtained “contender” status with the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program in February, even though he was one of the first two candidates that the committee endorsed this cycle. Kinzinger also had just $299,000 in the bank compared with Halvorson’s $1.3 million campaign account at the end of March. Money matters in this district, which includes parts of the Chicago media market.

A poll conducted for Kinzinger earlier this year showed him poised to defeat Halvorson, but that’s hard to believe given the state of Kinzinger’s campaign. Halvorson defeated a well-funded Republican by 24 points in 2008.

If Halvorson loses re-election, then it is a really bad year for Illinois Democrats.

14th district

Incumbent: Bill Foster (D)

2nd term (58 percent)

Outlook: Tossup

There’s no doubt that this will be a much tougher re-election for Foster than his special election or his 2008 bid, in which he defeated dairy magnate Jim Oberweis by a hefty 16-point margin. This district has voted for Republicans in the past, but Foster performed better than President Barack Obama in the 2008 by a few points — proof that voters really disliked Oberweis.

Oberweis, however, was damaged from a particularly negative primary and several losing bids for other offices. Republicans did well this cycle to avoid a nasty primary between state Sen. Randy Hultgren and attorney Ethan Hastert, the son of former Speaker Dennis Hastert, Foster’s predecessor. Hultgren won in an upset, and Ethan Hastert has been supportive of his candidacy ever since.

Although this district has changed a lot in recent years, it is still very competitive for Republicans, which makes Foster the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in Illinois this cycle.

Indiana


Filing deadline: Passed
|
Primary: Passed

Senate

Open seat: Evan Bayh (D) is retiring

Outlook: Leans Republican

Two distinctly different candidates are seeking Bayh’s seat in what should be Indiana’s most competitive Senate balloting in nearly two decades.

Former Sen. Dan Coats, the Republican nominee, has re-entered political life in Indiana a dozen years after leaving the Senate. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the Democratic nominee, is a relative newcomer to national politics, having served two terms as the Congressman from the state’s southwestern corner.

Coats showed some early rust on the campaign trail and came under fire from Democrats and his Republican primary opponents for pursuing a post-Senate career as a lawyer and lobbyist. Coats said he wanted to return to public life to help solve the country’s most pressing problems.

After winning the five-candidate primary with just 39 percent of the vote, Coats quickly secured the support of his intraparty foes and said the primary made him a better candidate. Democrats suggested that Coats’ victory was underwhelming for someone of his stature.

Ellsworth’s campaign has been lower-profile because he didn’t have to run in the May 4 primary; Bayh’s 11th-hour retirement announcement precluded anyone from qualifying for the ballot. A committee of Indiana Democratic officials was set to nominate Ellsworth on May 15.

Early polls give Coats a double-digit lead over Ellsworth, but both sides say that the race will tighten in the coming months as Ellsworth becomes better known.

House

2nd district

Incumbent: Joe Donnelly (D)

2nd term (67 percent)

Outlook: Likely Democratic

GOP strategists wax enthusiastic about state Rep. Jackie Walorski, who they say is the kind of candidate who can attract support from party establishment figures as well as tea party activists.

Walorski’s campaign was quick to note that her raw vote total in this month’s primary exceeded the combined total of the three candidates who sought the 2008 nomination against Donnelly. She surely will give Donnelly a much tougher race than Luke Puckett, who emerged as the GOP nominee in 2008 after poor candidate recruitment.

Walorski has criticized the new health care law and Donnelly’s vote for it. Donnelly backed the measure after securing guarantees that he said would bar federal funds from paying for abortions.

4th district

Open seat: Steve Buyer (R) is retiring

Outlook: Safe Republican

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita essentially earned a berth in the 112th Congress in January by winning a 13-candidate primary this month in the 4th, a rock-ribbed Republican area that includes part of Indianapolis and its suburbs as well as more rural territory north and south of Indiana’s capital city.

8th district

Open seat: Brad Ellsworth (D) is running for Senate

Outlook: Tossup

With Ellsworth leaving his seat open after two easy House wins, the southwestern 8th could again host a highly competitive race reminiscent of close contests in the 1980s and 1990s that earned the district the nickname the “Bloody Eighth.”

Democratic officials say that their nominee, state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, is a centrist whose political profile is not unlike Ellsworth’s. Van Haaften is a former county prosecutor who also opposes abortion and gun control.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has already begun criticizing Van Haaften’s votes on tax issues in the state Legislature and promoting its nominee, heart surgeon Larry Bucshon. Democrats say that Bucshon is hardly a prepossessing political figure after winning an eight-candidate primary this month with less than one-third of the vote.

9th district

Incumbent: Baron Hill (D)

2nd term (58 percent; previously served three terms)

Outlook: Leans Democratic

For the first time in a decade, voters in this competitive southeastern district won’t be choosing between Hill and Republican businessman Mike Sodrel in the general election.

With voters sending signals that they prefer the fresh to the familiar, Republican strategists weren’t disconsolate that Sodrel lost a primary earlier this month to Todd Young, a lawyer and Marine Corps veteran who began campaigning for the seat 15 months ago.

Young is running on a conservative platform. He has differences with Hill on the stimulus, climate change and health care measures, all of which the Congressman supported and Hill opposed.

Michigan

Filing deadline: Passed
| Primary: Aug. 3

House

1st district

Open seat: Bart Stupak (D) is retiring

Outlook: Tossup

Stupak’s retirement is a game-changer, forcing Democrats to work a lot harder if they’re going to hold the seat in this rural swing district, which in 2008 went for Democrat Barack Obama but in two previous White House elections gave bigger margins to Republican George W. Bush.

Democrats are pinning their hopes on state Rep. Gary McDowell, who like Stupak is against abortion and can neutralize one of the hot-button issues important to social conservatives of both parties.

The Republican candidates are surgeon Dan Benishek; former Torch Lake Township Trustee Tom Stillings; state Sen. Jason Allen; Linda Goldthorpe, an attorney who home-schools her sons; and Don Hooper, the GOP nominee in 2006. Benishek is the early fundraising leader among the GOP contenders.

The district has tended to favor socially conservative lawmakers who pay attention to the local jobs picture. Geography could also be a factor in a district that includes Michigan’s picturesque but isolated Upper Peninsula.

2nd district

Open seat: Pete Hoekstra (R) is running for governor

Outlook: Safe Republican

A large field of contenders is vying to succeed Hoekstra in this western Michigan district. They are: state Sen. Wayne Kuipers, former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, businessman Bill Cooper, food company co-founder Field Reichardt, semi-retired Sheriff’s Department Officer Edward Schendel, businessman Chris Larson and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jay Riemersma.

Riemersma, who worked for the Family Research Council after retiring from the NFL, has been endorsed by Republican Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator, current Fox News contributor and potential 2012 presidential candidate. He became the campaign’s early cash leader with a combination of strong fundraising and $200,000 of his own money.

Cooper also is self-funding, to the initial tune of $150,000.

The Republican primary will be worth watching as a tug-of-war between GOP conservatives and moderates. Reichardt, for instance, is campaigning as “a Jerry Ford Republican” who doesn’t think centrist is a dirty word, while Schendel calls himself a “tea party Republican.”

On the Democratic side, 2008 nominee Fred Johnson, a history professor, is making another try; he lost to Hoekstra by almost 30 points. His primary opponent is Lake County Commissioner Nicolette McClure. Either would be a heavy underdog in the fall.

3rd district

Open seat: Vernon Ehlers (R) is retiring

Outlook: Safe Republican

The suspense in this district isn’t whether a Republican will win, but which Republican will succeed Ehlers.

The GOP nomination may come down to which of the candidates primary voters believe is most likely to succeed at bringing down taxes, reducing federal regulation and pushing for repeal of the new federal health care law.

To help voters distinguish one fiscal conservative from another, money will matter. The early cash leaders were state Rep. Justin Amash and former Kent County Commission Chairman Steve Heacock; also vying for the nomination are state Sen. Bill Hardiman, Air Force veteran Bob Overbeek and attorney Louise Johnson.

Two Democrats have filed to run: attorney Pat Miles, who primed the pump for the race with $50,000 of his own money, and former Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue.

7th district

Incumbent: Mark Schauer (D)

1st term (49 percent)

Outlook: Tossup

Republicans have represented the area covered by the 7th district for most of its history.

Former Rep. Tim Walberg is trying to restore the seat to the GOP column in a rematch of the 2008 race. But first, he has to get through the primary against real estate executive Marvin Carlson and lawyer Brian Rooney, whose brother, Tom, is a Congressman from Florida.

Rooney put $240,000 of his own money into the campaign, and both he and Walberg have earned mid-tier “contender” status in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program for promising challengers.

Whoever wins can count on a lot of support from Washington; national Republicans went up with radio ads in February, attacking Schauer for supporting the economic stimulus package that President Barack Obama pushed into law.

Schauer, a seasoned candidate with strong fundraising skills, is ready for a fight. He raised $2.3 million in his winning campaign, and so far this cycle has generated $1.9 million, compared with $567,000 for Walberg, $541,000 for Rooney and $40,000 for Carlson.

9th district

Incumbent: Gary Peters (D)

1st term (52 percent)

Outlook: Likely Democratic

Peters has a clear path to renomination, but Republicans are headed toward a primary to determine who will try to reclaim what traditionally had been a GOP seat.

Competing for the nomination are Republicans Paul Welday, a longtime political operative and Congressional aide; Anna Janek, a Ron Paul presidential campaign volunteer who’s active in local party politics; retired Judge Richard Kuhn; and Andrew Raczkowski, a military veteran and former state Representative who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.

Peters has accumulated a formidable $1.7 million campaign treasury, but in this suburban Detroit district — home to the headquarters of bankrupted Chrysler Corp. — what matters most on Election Day may be the local jobs picture, and how voters view the Obama administration’s economic stimulus efforts.

13th district

Incumbent: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D)

7th term (74 percent)

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Though Democrats are not likely to lose this seat, the prospects for Kilpatrick are less certain.

She won her 2008 primary with just 39 percent of the vote in a contest in which the Congresswoman’s support of her son was an issue. Two years later, disgraced ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick — who was convicted of obstruction of justice and now awaits sentencing for a probation violation — is still an issue.

The best-funded primary challenger, state Sen. Hansen Clarke, had been one of Kwame Kilpatrick’s mayoral opponents in 2005. Clarke now is campaigning as someone who can provide a break from Detroit’s corrupt past. Kilpatrick is trying to campaign on her record as a lawmaker, not as the ex-mayor’s mother. Her slogan: “This is who I am. This is what I do.”

If Hansen’s message resonates, Kilpatrick will need all of the financial muscle provided by incumbency to win renomination, and the early dollars are on her side. Her cycle-to-date fundraising tops $374,000, compared with Clarke’s $73,000.

Minnesota


Filing deadline: June 1
| Primary: Aug. 10

House

6th district

Incumbent: Michele Bachmann (R)

2nd term (46 percent)

Outlook: Likely Republican

Look for this to become one of the most expensive races in the nation. Bachmann is so well-known as a high-profile and highly quotable voice of conservatives that money will flow easily both to her campaign and to her Democratic opponent, whoever that turns out to be.

The primary will determine whether Bachmann runs against Tarryl Clark, the party-endorsed candidate, or physician Maureen Reed, who is presenting herself as the middle-of-the-road candidate who can win independent votes.

Clark, the state Senate assistant Majority Leader, has been better-funded than Reed, but Reed has said she intends to put $250,000 of her own money into the campaign kitty. That would give both challengers seven-figure bankrolls, though Bachmann is still far ahead of them both.

The suburban district generally favors Republicans, and it gave the GOP’s Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) 53 percent of the vote for president in 2008. That was much larger than Bachmann’s winning margin, giving the opposition party hope that the right candidate could tap into anti-incumbent sentiment and appeal to voters who want a change.

Ohio


Filing deadline: Passed
| Primary: Passed

Senate

Open seat: George Voinovich (R) is retiring

Outlook: Tossup

Few races will provide a clearer test of whether Republicans will be hampered by an association to former President George W. Bush and his policies than the contest for the seat Voinovich is giving up after two terms.

Rob Portman, a former House Member who served Bush as a top trade and budget official, was tagged by Democrats as an “architect” of Bush-era policies long before Portman was nominated without opposition in the Republican primary.

Among those making this argument is Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who won the Democratic primary last month 56 percent to 44 percent over Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Portman and his Republican allies counter that Fisher has a middling record as Ohio’s “jobs czar” and the No. 2 to Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who faces a tough re-election race.

Democrats begin the general election race at a major disadvantage in fundraising. Fisher, who didn’t put away Brunner until late in the campaign, had less than $1 million in his campaign account as of mid-April, compared with $7.6 million for Portman.

Polls have consistently shown a too-close-to-call race in this quintessential partisan battleground.

House

1st district

Incumbent: Steve Driehaus (D)

1st term (52 percent)

Outlook: Tossup

A favorable political climate for Democrats in 2008 aided Driehaus’ 5-point win over Chabot in a Cincinnati-centered district that will again host a highly competitive race between the same two contestants.

With more African-American residents than most districts, Ohio’s 1st is the kind of place that the Democratic National Committee and other surrogate groups will target to boost voter turnout.

The two candidates differ on a cap-and-trade climate change bill as well as the new health care law, which Chabot opposed and Driehaus supported.

Democrats say Chabot has vulnerabilities in a 14-year voting record that mostly lined up with the priorities of his party.

15th district

Incumbent: Mary Jo Kilroy (D)

1st term (46 percent)

Outlook: Tossup

Kilroy and former state Sen. Steve Stivers will square off again two years after their open-seat contest produced an extraordinarily close result that took weeks to confirm Kilroy as the victor.

What advantages from incumbency Kilroy accrues could be offset by a smaller and older turnout this fall.

Republicans have criticized her voting record, which is mostly in harmony with the positions of the Democratic leadership. She sided with the leadership in supporting the federal stimulus, cap-and-trade and health care initiatives.

Democrats already have renewed attacks from the 2008 campaign about Stivers’ previous work for the banking industry. And they’ve suggested that Stivers has tried to curry favor with tea party activists by taking policy positions that are out of the mainstream of the Columbus-area 15th district.

Kilroy and Stivers spent almost $5 million between them in the 2008 election, and all signs point to a rematch that will be even more costly. The two candidates were essentially even in cash on hand as April began, with Kilroy at $848,000 and Stivers at $831,000.

16th district

Incumbent: John Boccieri (D)

1st term (55 percent)

Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans are eager to reclaim this Canton-area district, where Boccieri’s impressive victory two years ago ended a long reign of GOP representation.

As expected, Jim Renacci, a businessman and former small-city mayor, won the May 4 GOP primary with the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee. But Democrats portrayed Renacci’s modest 49 percent to 40 percent win over Matt Miller, a former county commissioner who was making his third bid for the seat, as a sign of weakness.

Democrats say Renacci has baggage from some of his business operations and by his firm resistance a few years ago to an assessment of his state income tax liability. Boccieri has referred to Renacci as “a millionaire CEO” who “made his fortune off the government and taxpayers.”

Renacci says his background includes creating jobs as well as balancing budgets in the public and private sectors.

Republicans have hit Boccieri for shifting from opposition to a preliminary health care bill to support for the final version that was signed into law. Boccieri said the final product was imperfect but an improvement from the status quo.

18th district

Incumbent: Zack Space (D)

2nd term (60 percent)

Outlook: Leans Democratic

Space still awaits a Republican opponent two weeks after an eight-candidate Republican primary yielded an exceptionally close outcome between state Sen. Bob Gibbs, the favored candidate of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and former Ohio agriculture director Fred Dailey, whom Space trounced in 2008.

Gibbs declared victory last week when a final but unofficial count of votes had him leading by 164 votes out of more than 52,000 cast — a margin of three-tenths of a percentage point. While his lead isn’t quite large enough to avoid an automatic recount, that process almost certainly will confirm him as the winner.

Gibbs isn’t waiting to initiate a general election campaign against Space. He has several challenges. Most of his state Senate district lies outside the 18th, so he’ll need to continue to boost his name recognition in a mostly rural district that covers more than 6,800 square miles in east-central and south-central Ohio.

And he could use some more campaign funds. Gibbs had just $96,000 in his account three weeks before the primary election, compared with more than $1.3 million for Space.

Republicans will continue to attack Space’s vote for a global climate change bill that called for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases. But the Congressman did buck his leadership in opposing the final version of the health care overhaul.

Wisconsin


Filing deadline: July 13
| Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Incumbent: Russ Feingold (D)

3rd term (55 percent)

Outlook: Likely Democratic

The Republican field has only begun to settle in part because former Gov. Tommy Thompson waited until mid-April to announce that he wouldn’t pursue a Senate campaign after long flirting with the idea.

Thompson’s exit cleared the way for Dick Leinenkugel, a former brewing company executive, and businessman Ron Johnson to jump in the race. Johnson’s very late entry is mitigated somewhat by his significant personal wealth.

They join a GOP field that for months has included real estate investor Terrence Wall and little-known businessman Dave Westlake. Wall is the stronger of the two.

Thompson sitting out the race may have deprived Wisconsin voters of a marquee tossup race, but this is still a contest worth watching. Feingold’s political history and recent surveys suggest he has the advantage but not an overwhelming one.

House

7th district

Open seat: David Obey (D) is retiring

Outlook: Leans Democratic

Obey’s unexpected retirement announcement early this month threw Democrats for a loop and set up what should be the most competitive House race northwestern and central Wisconsin has seen since he was first elected in 1969.

Wisconsin’s 7th has a generic Democratic lean like the state at-large. But a good political environment for Republicans and a big head start by Sean Duffy, a county prosecutor who initiated a campaign against Obey last fall, give the Republicans a better chance at winning the seat.

Democratic officials felt compelled to rally around one candidate rather than let multiple candidates duke it out in a potentially fractious primary just seven weeks before the general election. The choice of the Wisconsin Democratic Party is state Sen. Julie Lassa, who has more than a decade of legislative experience. She’ll get the backing of EMILY’s List, the influential organization that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

On the heels of Lassa’s announcement, Duffy aired his first television advertisement, a spot that indicts “Washington politicians” and promises to work to create jobs in Wisconsin.

8th district

Incumbent: Steve Kagen (D)

2nd term (54 percent)

Outlook: Leans Democratic

A beneficiary of two election cycles that strongly favored Democrats nationally and in Wisconsin, Kagen will have to fight to win a third term in a historically Republican area of northeastern Wisconsin.

There’s no clear favorite in a crowded Republican primary in which the candidates are competing for scarce campaign funds. Reid Ribble, who owns a roof construction company, raised $131,000 in his first quarter of fundraising, but his combined take in the past two quarters was less than that.

Another major contender for the GOP nomination is Marc Trager, a radiologist who also serves as a supervisor in Door County, northeast of Green Bay. Trager raised less than Ribble through the end of March but had slightly more left to spend.

Assemblyman Roger Roth, a nephew of former Rep. Toby Roth, and former state Rep. Terri McCormick also are in the mix for the GOP nomination.