Plains: Kansas Is Hotbed of Activity in the Heartland

Iowa


Filing deadline: Passed | Primary: June 8

Senate

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

Grassley is one of Iowa’s most durable politicians, having held office continuously since Dwight Eisenhower was president, and his huge margins of victory owe to his popularity as well as to his weak and underfunded Democratic opposition.

Democrats are promising their strongest challenge yet to Grassley in the form of Roxanne Conlin, a trial lawyer who has party backing in the primary against former state legislators Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen.

Two recent polls suggest that Conlin could make the race competitive. A Rasmussen Reports survey out May 3 had Grassley ahead of Conlin 53 percent to 40 percent, while a Research 2000 poll released May 6 pegged the Senator’s lead at just 49 percent to 40 percent.

House

3rd district

Incumbent: Leonard Boswell (D)
7th term (56 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Boswell has had a steady but not ironclad grip on a district in and around Des Moines. He hasn’t topped 56 percent of the vote in each of the past four elections and probably won’t this year.

After a poor GOP attempt to supplant the Congressman in pro-Democratic 2008, Republican enthusiasm for defeating Boswell this year is manifest in a field of seven candidates running.

The leading candidate appears to be Jim Gibbons, a financial analyst who was previously a championship wrestler and coach with Iowa State University.

It’s hard to see how Gibbons loses the GOP primary, given his superior fundraising and backing from some GOP luminaries in Washington. His toughest opponent seems to be state Sen. Brad Zaun, a former suburban mayor who began the race with an edge in name identification but hasn’t raised much money.

Dave Funk, an aviation consultant, has secured support from some tea party activists.

Kansas


Filing deadline: June 10 | Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

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

Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran are locked in a fierce and competitive fight for the GOP nomination, which will decide who the next Senator from the Sunflower State will be.

Moran is viewed as having a small advantage right now, although that could easily change in the next couple of months.

First of all, Moran has a financial advantage: He had $3.5 million in the bank at the end of March compared with Tiahrt’s $1.5 million. Kansas is a relatively cheap state in which to run a statewide ad campaign, so that financial edge should go far. It’s important to note that Tiahrt raised slightly more than Moran in the first quarter of 2010 but not nearly enough to put a dent into Moran’s cash advantage.

Perhaps more importantly, Moran has a simple geographical advantage. Because his western district has more Republicans in it than any other in the state, he starts out with a larger base of voters who know him.

Public polls reinforce these advantages for Moran for the most part and give him a lead in the race. However, much will be decided in the growing area around Johnson County, which includes suburbs of Kansas City. Republicans in that region are a growing population, but parts of the county include more moderate voters compared to the rest of the state. What’s more, it’s still unclear how the competitive primaries in Tiahrt’s and Moran’s districts will affect both Senate candidates’ chances.

Even though Moran might have a few advantages, this primary is still undecided.

House

1st district

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

This is the safest Republican seat in the state, so the race to watch here is the GOP primary. And like many Republican contests this cycle, it’s a crowded race.

State Sen. Jim Barnett (R) is likely the best-known candidate in the district given that he has already run statewide before. However, given that polling has been scarce so far, it’s unclear just how much of an advantage that gives him.

State Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) has been the most active candidate in the race when it comes to proving his conservative credentials, touting endorsements from conservative leaders and the Club for Growth. He also has the most money in the bank with $531,000. That cash will go a long way in western Kansas.

The third GOP candidate in the race, Rob Wasinger, is a former chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Wasinger has not run the best campaign so far and has to overcome a hurdle with voters because he moved back to the district just before the campaign.

There’s a self-funding candidate in the race as well, realtor Tracey Mann, who could also become a player.

Even though Barnett and Huelskamp have advantages in this race, it’s still anyone’s game.

3rd district
Open seat: Dennis Moore (D) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

This became the most competitive district in the state after Moore announced his retirement. Democrats were left scrounging for a candidate until the Congressman floated his wife’s name as a possibility.

A few weeks later, Stephene Moore announced she is running for her husband’s seat. She has a tough campaign ahead of her, but many of the staffers who helped her husband have lined up behind her.

Republicans almost had another divisive primary on their hands until 2008 GOP nominee Nick Jordan suddenly dropped out of the race in April, leaving state Rep. Kevin Yoder as the de facto nominee. The two well-known Republicans could have been headed for another resource-draining and bloody primary, which is why party insiders sought to clear the contest and unite behind one candidate. Although several other Republicans have announced campaigns, none of them appears to so far have strong campaigns or fundraising to give Yoder a good challenge.

The Yoder-Moore race should be highly competitive. The district has a conservative bend and slightly favors Republicans, a fact that is not reflected in Congressman Moore’s recent re-election margins. Still, President Barack Obama carried the district by 3 points in 2008, a consolation that gives Democrats some hope they can hold the seat despite the national political environment. But it will be difficult.

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

Even though this Wichita-area district could be competitive in some cycles, it will be hard for a Democrat — even a well-funded one like state Rep. Raj Goyle — to win it in a year that is expected to produce a GOP wave.

Although several Republicans have filed to run, the frontrunners in the primary are businessman Wink Hartman and Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo. Both candidates can self-fund their bids, although Hartman is the only one to loan his campaign any money so far.

Hartman, in particular, is well-known around the district because of his oil company and other local buildings named after him. Pompeo, however, has been more active in GOP circles.

Goyle has made a splash with his extraordinary campaign fundraising. He reported $817,000 in the bank at the end of March, which is an incredible sum for a Democrat in this district. Nonetheless, it will be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win this GOP-leaning seat this cycle.

Missouri


Filing deadline: Passed | Primary: Aug. 3

Senate

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

It has been known for many months that the November matchup would be between Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R), who quickly assumed frontrunner status in their respective primaries.

With Carnahan a shoo-in over two little-known Democrats and Blunt highly likely to beat state Sen. Chuck Purgason and seven lesser-known primary hopefuls, the two principals have been sparring with one another for months.

A close race is expected in a state where the 2008 presidential balloting was exceptionally close and statewide races frequently are decided by single digits.

The polls have seesawed between Carnahan and Blunt for most of the past year, though Blunt has held a small but consistent edge in the most recent surveys. Carnahan acknowledges this is a result of Republicans tying her to the national Democratic Party; Blunt’s campaign is linking her to President Barack Obama and referring to Carnahan as “Rubberstamp Robin.”

Carnahan says she’ll gain the upper hand in the race after apprising voters of Blunt’s links to lobbyists and his past tenure as a House GOP leader.

House

4th district

Incumbent: Ike Skelton (D)
17th term (66 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

After years and years of conceding this Republican-leaning swath of western and west-central Missouri to Skelton landslides, Republicans are actually waging a serious campaign to unseat the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, now in his 34th year in the House.

The two leading Republican candidates are state Sen. Bill Stouffer and former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Stouffer is touting his background in farming and represents some counties in the northern part of the 4th where Skelton traditionally has done well. Hartzler has close ties to social-issue conservative activists.

Stouffer’s fundraising started strong but trailed off sharply in this year’s first quarter, and Hartzler banked more money than he did by the end of March.

Skelton is taking the race seriously. In the first three months of this year, he raised $434,000 and had $1.2 million in cash on hand as April began; two years ago, those figures were $162,000 and $538,000, respectively.

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

The GOP primary is the operative election in this southwestern, Springfield-area district, which often votes more Republican than any other district in the state. All of the major candidates are conservatives.

Auctioneer Billy Long has raised nearly twice as much money as his next-best-funded opponent, state Sen. Jack Goodman, and is running on a platform that includes support for term limits and opposition to earmarks and bailouts.

Goodman represents a collection of counties south of Springfield. Gary Nodler, a state Senate colleague who’s also seeking the seat, has his base in some counties west of the city.

The fourth major Republican candidate, Darrell Moore, is the prosecuting attorney in the county that includes Springfield.

Democrats aren’t making a serious effort to win this seat.

Nebraska


Filing deadline: Passed | Primary: Passed

House

2nd district

Incumbent: Lee Terry (R)
6th term (52 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

With $460,000 in his campaign account as April began and his inclusion on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” list, state Sen. Tom White is a serious opponent for Terry. He just may be running in the wrong year.

This race would be a tossup if Democrats could replicate the strong turnout for Barack Obama in the Omaha area, which delivered an electoral vote to Obama and nearly led to Terry’s defeat against a second-tier opponent. But the drop-off in Democratic turnout and a stepped-up enthusiasm in GOP ranks will complicate White’s effort to unseat Terry.

White expects to benefit from what he sees as an anti-incumbent and anti-Washington political environment. Though he’s one of the best-funded Democratic challengers in the nation, White will largely be on his own against Terry and will run with little to no aid from national Democrats, whose top priority is shoring up the party’s many vulnerable incumbents.

North Dakota


Filing deadline: Passed |
Primary: June 8

Senate

Incumbent: Byron Dorgan (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

North Dakota has topped the list of Senate seats most likely to shift in partisan control ever since popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) announced that he would run to succeed Dorgan, whose retirement announcement in January was a surprise.

State Sen. Tracy Potter (D) has gamely submitted his name for consideration by North Dakota voters, but he is a sacrificial lamb against Hoeven.

House

At-large

Incumbent: Earl Pomeroy (D)
9th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Politically secure in his past few races, Pomeroy almost certainly will have a close race reminiscent of contests of his early House days.

After subpar candidate recruitment in 2006 and 2008, Republicans have a good candidate in state Rep. Rick Berg, who raised eyebrows after raising $476,000 in the first three months of this year, including $100,000 from the candidate himself. Three Rasmussen Reports surveys, including one in late April, put Berg narrowly ahead of Pomeroy.

The Congressman seems to recognize he’s seeking re-election in a tough cycle and has already begun to emphasize his political independence. Earlier this month, he aired a television ad in which he said he “told the president and Congressional leaders ‘no'” on a climate change bill that Pomeroy said would raise electric rates.

Republicans point out that Pomeroy sided with the Obama administration in voting for the new health care law, something that is not popular with constituents back home.

North Dakota is a relatively cheap state when it comes to TV airtime, so expect Republicans to dump a fair amount into a media campaign to oust the Congressman.

The GOP’s ability to defeat veterans such as Pomeroy will likely be the difference between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) come January.

South Dakota


Filing Deadline: Passed | Primary: June 8 | Runoff: June 29

Senate

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

Democrats would have loved to exact some revenge on Thune after his narrow defeat six years ago of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. But with Thune sitting on a war chest that topped $6.5 million as April began, and aided by a good environment for Republicans in the normally GOP-leaning state, not one Democrat bothered to file to oppose him. That means the telegenic Thune can put more time into this effort to raise his national profile ahead of 2012, as he is viewed as a dark-horse presidential contender.

House

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

Herseth Sandlin has been a popular figure back home, topping two-thirds of the vote in her past two election cycles.

She’ll face tougher competition this cycle from any of the three Republicans who are running. South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson hasn’t raised much money but has name recognition as a statewide elected official, and early polls show him running close to the incumbent.

State Reps. Blake Curd and Kristi Noem are boosting their name recognition ahead of the primary and have already aired television advertisements to promote their conservative credentials.

Herseth Sandlin has survived tough battles before, and Republicans know she won’t be easy to beat. But, given the political climate, if the GOP can’t topple her this year, it’s safe to say they might consider giving up trying.