Plains: Will 2010 Be a Democratic Wipeout in Dakotas?

Posted October 1, 2010 at 11:21am

Iowa


Senate

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

Grassley was first elected to the Iowa legislature in 1958, and ever since he has cultivated a loyalty among Iowans as he climbed the political ladder. He won his first election to the Senate in 1980 by defeating Sen. John Culver, the father of the current governor.

Democrats thought they finally had a chance to topple the aging Senator when they nominated Roxanne Conlin in June. As a former president of the American Trial Lawyers Association, she had a national fundraising network already in place, and by the end of June she had loaned almost $550,000 to her campaign. In ads she has portrayed herself as “one tough grandma” and urged viewers to show Grassley the door.

But while polls in the spring showed her close to the incumbent, more recent polls have shown Grassley well ahead, and in an environment that favors Republicans it’s likely he’ll stay ahead.

Conlin’s only previous run for office came when she lost the gubernatorial election to Republican Terry Branstad in 1982. Iowa has never elected a woman to the Senate, and it seems unlikely to happen this year.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)
2nd term (57 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Ophthalmologist Mariannette Miller-Meeks is challenging Loebsack again after losing to him in 2008. Circumstances have changed in the past two years: Though she garnered only 39 percent of the vote last time, a poll taken in mid-September showed the rematch tied, with 13 percent of voters still undecided.

Miller-Meeks won all but one of the district’s 16 counties in the June primary.

This isn’t a swing district; it’s territory that decidedly favors Democrats. President Barack Obama carried it with 60 percent in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won it with 55 percent four years earlier.

Loebsack was first elected to Congress in 2006 when he upset 30-year Republican Rep. Jim Leach in that cycle’s Democratic wave. It’s too soon to tell if the growing Republican wave will be large enough to sweep someone like Loebsack out. If it does, Republicans will have a comfortable House majority in the 112th Congress.

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

Boswell is a perennial Republican target: He hasn’t gotten more than 56 percent of the vote in a general election since before the 2002 redistricting, and the margin of victory is likely to be close this year.

State Sen. Brad Zaun was somewhat of a surprise winner in the June Republican primary. The former mayor of Urbandale, Zaun has never lost a race.

But Zaun has stumbled since his primary win. An August story revealed that he came to an ex-girlfriend’s home late at night, pounding on her windows and calling her names while he was mayor, prompting police to ask him to leave her alone. And Boswell has highlighted a Zaun quote questioning the use of taxpayer dollars for disaster relief instead of personal responsibility for cleaning up.

A poll taken Aug. 31-Sept. 3 for the conservative American Future Fund showed Boswell ahead of Zaun 49 percent to 38 percent. The poll’s error margin was 3.6 points.

Kansas


Senate

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

The bitterly fought primary between two longtime Republican Congressmen essentially decided who would be the next Senator. Rep. Jerry Moran beat Rep. Todd Tiahrt, 50 percent to 45 percent, in the Aug. 3 primary, and he doesn’t need to wait until November to start preparing to move to the other side of the Capitol.

The two men sparred mostly over their overlapping and similar tenures in the House. Tiahrt worked to portray himself as the true conservative in the race and got the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Moran, on the other hand, got the support of Sens. Jim DeMint and John McCain. He criticized Tiahrt’s service on the Appropriations Committee and promised to rein in government spending. Moran maintained a lead in polling throughout the race, at least partially because of the large base of Republican support from the “Big First” western Kansas district he represents.

College administrator Lisa Johnston is the Democratic nominee, but Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since the Great Depression.

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

After winning the Republican primary in August, state Rep. Tim Huelskamp is the prohibitive favorite to represent this expansive western Kansas district in the next Congress.

But the primary was no cakewalk. Huelskamp raised the most money and got the support of the anti-tax Club for Growth. But state Sen. Jim Barnett, a doctor who ran against then-Gov Kathleen Sebelius in 2006, had strong name recognition. Wealthy real estate developer Tracey Mann and Rob Wasinger, the former chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), were also seen as contenders. Still, Huelskamp finished with 35 percent of the vote.

Democrat Alan Jilka, a former mayor of Salina, was unopposed in his primary. But in a district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried with 69 percent of the vote in 2008, his candidacy is unlikely to have much of an effect.

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

Despite this being the only swing district in Kansas, this race is looking more and more likely to be an easy win for the Republican nominee, state Rep. Kevin Yoder.

Moore announced he would retire in November 2009, and a couple months later his wife announced she would seek her husband’s job. A longtime obstetric nurse, Stephene Moore had a unique perspective on abortion issues and the health care debate. She got the endorsement of the Blue Dog Coalition, of which her husband is a member.

Yoder cruised to a fairly easy victory in the nine-candidate primary, winning with 44 percent of the vote.

Following the primary, Yoder was promoted to the top tier of the NRCC’s Young Gun’s program. During August, Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Young Guns co-founder Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) visited the district on Yoder’s behalf. Health and Human Services Secretary and former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius campaigned with Moore.

In a more favorable year for Democrats, the party might be able to fight to hold this seat. But given that Democrats are going to have to spend heavily to try to save Democratic incumbents in their effort to preserve their majority, this was an easy seat for them to write off early.

4th district
Open seat: Todd Tiahrt (R) lost the Senate primary
Outlook: Safe Republican

Former Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo came out on top in a nasty primary to replace Tiahrt, and despite a spirited challenge from state Rep. Raj Goyle, he is likely to win in November.

Pompeo had to hustle to defeat businessman Wink Hartman and moderate state Sen. Jean Schodorf. Pompeo and Hartman lit up the airwaves trading accusations throughout the summer.

Pompeo got 39 percent of the vote, Schodorf got 24 percent and Hartman got 23 percent.

Hartman later considered running as a Libertarian, and Pompeo dodged a bullet when he decided against it.

Goyle is an impressive candidate and his fundraising has been strong. In another cycle, this race might be in play for Democrats. But this year — with no competitive gubernatorial or Senate race at the top of the ticket — it’s not.

Missouri


Senate

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

In one of the marquee Senate races this cycle, Rep. Roy Blunt (R) has sparred with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) for more than a year. Polls often show the race between the two political family dynasties within the margin of error.

Both candidates have tried to make the contest about national issues. Carnahan has dubbed Blunt “the very worst of Washington” in commercials, while Blunt is calling her “Rubberstamp Robin.”

Carnahan has tied Blunt, the former House GOP Whip, to lobbyists. The Missouri Democratic Party created a website on D.C. insiders and grouped Blunt with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Reps. Duke Cunningham (Calif.) and Tom DeLay (Texas), who left Congress amid scandal and ethical clouds.

Blunt, on the other hand, has tied Carnahan to national Democrats’ policies, highlighting her support for the stimulus and health care reform.

By mid-July, the candidates had raised more than $15 million, and Blunt had a slight cash on hand advantage.

Right now, Missouri appears to be one of two GOP-held seats Democrats have some chance of winning in November. Their prospects here look better than they do in Kentucky, but given the conservative underpinnings of the state, Blunt has to be viewed as the slight favorite to hold the seat for Republicans.

House

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

Skelton was first elected in 1976 and last dropped below 60 percent of the vote in 1982 after redistricting forced him to face another incumbent. Nonetheless, Skelton prepared for a tough fight in 2010, raising almost $2 million by mid-July for his battle against Republican Vicky Hartzler.

A former state Representative, Hartzler was named to the top tier of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program in mid-September. Known for her conservative views on social issues, Hartzler served as a spokeswoman for the Missouri Coalition to Preserve Marriage leading up to a 2005 referendum on same-sex marriage. She and Skelton shared an endorsement from Missouri Right to Life.

Skelton has emphasized his power as Armed Services chairman, promoting his work on behalf of veterans and the district’s two bases. He touted endorsements from a former commander at Fort Leonard Wood and the VFW and questioned Hartzler’s willingness and ability to do the same kind of work.

At this point, Democrats think Skelton is likely to hold on. But if the size of the expected GOP wave grows larger near Election Day, incumbents like Skelton are going to find it difficult to hang on.

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

Auctioneer and realtor Billy Long won the crowded Republican primary in August with 37 percent of the vote.

He is all but certain to succeed Blunt, the former House Republican Whip, in this safe Republican district. Long may also be one of the more colorful characters in the next freshman class.

The Democratic nominee is lawyer Scott Eckersley, a onetime aide to then-Gov. Matt Blunt (R), the Congressman’s son. Eckersley has tried to distance himself from his party label, and he got the support of businessman Michael Wardell, a Republican candidate who got less than 1 percent of the vote in the GOP primary.

Nebraska


House

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

Terry’s Omaha-based district is the most competitive in Nebraska — but that’s not saying much in this conservative state.

Democrats caught Terry off guard in 2008, when President Barack Obama’s field operation targeted the district’s electoral college vote. Terry tried to take advantage of Obama’s momentum in his district by encouraging Obama-Terry voters in ads. In the end he won with just 52 percent of the vote, his lowest re-election percentage.

In November Terry faces Democratic state Sen. Tom White, who was included on the DCCC’s initial list of Red to Blue members, but who has a difficult climb given the national environment.

White is trying to tie Terry to federal deficits and specifically his vote for the bailout. Vice President Joseph Biden campaigned with White in late September. White has never run as a Democrat before since Nebraska’s Legislature is nonpartisan, and he has portrayed himself as an independent decision-maker.

North Dakota


Senate

Open seat: Byron Dorgan (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Republican

Gov. John Hoeven (R), who was first elected in 2000 and has been re-elected with more than 70 percent of the vote twice since, is the prohibitive favorite to replace Dorgan. It’s the first time a Senate seat has been open in North Dakota since Sen. Quentin Burdick (R) died in office in 1992.

State Sen. Tracy Potter, who has represented an area in and around Bismarck since 2007, is the Democrat in the race.

House

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

While a recent poll taken for Pomeroy showed a tied race, most previous polls showed former state Rep. Rick Berg with a small lead.

Berg, the former Majority Leader in the state House, has represented Fargo since 1985. He was named to the top tier of the NRCC’s Young Guns program after he won the state party’s endorsement at its March convention.

Pomeroy has tried to neutralize the baggage of being a nine-term Congressman in an anti-incumbent cycle by pointing to Berg’s lengthy career in the state Legislature. At the same time he has promoted his positions on the Ways and Means and Agriculture committees. Berg has criticized Pomeroy’s support for the stimulus, the bailout and health care reform. Pomeroy’s health care vote in particular has been highlighted by Republicans and outside groups in advertising.

Pomeroy, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, aired an ad in late September that connected him to President George W. Bush as Bush signed Medicare Part D into law.

Pomeroy has been targeted in difficult election cycles before, but this will be his toughest test yet — and it’s not one that even Democrats are convinced he’ll be able to pass.

South Dakota


Senate

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

Thune came to the Senate in 2005 heralded as a rock star after defeating Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004. Six years later, Democrats weren’t even able to field a Democrat on the ballot, allowing Thune to focus his attention elsewhere as he looks ahead to a possible 2012 presidential run.

The Republican Policy Committee chairman has campaigned for a number of Republicans around the country, especially during the August recess. His stock seems sure to continue to rise after November.

House

At-large
Incumbent: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D)
3rd full term (68 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

State Rep. Kristi Noem (R) represents Herseth Sandlin’s most serious challenge since she won her first full term in 2004.

Republicans haven’t able to recruit a top challenger against Herseth Sandlin, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, before now. It didn’t help the GOP’s cause that 2006 and 2008 ended up being big Democratic wave elections. The Congresswoman’s previous two winning margins belie just how vulnerable she could be in the right environment against the right candidate.

Noem, a rancher who was first elected to the state House in 2006, has emphasized her credentials as a fiscal conservative. She has tried to paint the incumbent as tainted by her time in Washington — especially highlighting the fact that she is married to a lobbyist, former Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas). Noem has also criticized Herseth Sandlin for her vote to elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Speaker and is attempting to tie her to national Democratic leaders in general.

Herseth Sandlin has countered by portraying herself as an independent voice in Congress, holding up the her vote against the health care bill as evidence she is not in lock step with her party.

Noem has had problems of her own. The late August revelation that she has nearly 30 traffic violations over the past 20 years was damaging.