Todd: Nine House Races Obama Will Be Watching, or Should Be

Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:58am

President Barack Obama last week told a radio audience that “my name may not be on the ballot, but our agenda for moving forward is on the ballot,” in what was a candid moment for a politician clearly on his way to the woodshed.

[IMGCAP(1)]Once the returns stream in Tuesday night, his spinners will no doubt take the opposite tack, but you can be sure that there are a handful of places where they know the president has more on the line than a Congressional ally’s political hide.

On a night with a remarkable 100-plus House races in play, Candidate Obama ought to keep checking his BlackBerry for updates on nine Democratic incumbents, whose races have a great deal of bearing on his own re-election.

The first are the president’s three pets — freshmen Democratic Reps. Betsy Markey (Colo.), John Boccieri (Ohio) and Tom Perriello (Va.), who hosted him in Charlottesville on Friday.

Obama has mentioned the three by name as a group on the trail multiple times, imploring Democrats to rally around the trio of freshmen, all of whom voted down the line for his signature initiatives despite the marginal nature of their districts.

Obama has attempted to make the three into victims, claiming they are getting “hammered every single day” in their districts — when the truth is a bit more balanced and the president’s friends are also doing ample hammering. Pro-Perriello liberal interest groups have spent $2.2 million on TV ads on his behalf, for example, compared with the $1.8 million spent by conservative groups against him. In Boccieri’s case, labor unions have helped him with $1.4 million on TV, countered by $1.3 million from pro-business groups against him.

All three of the president’s pets represent swing districts — where he outperformed Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s 2008 tally and broke almost even with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 — winning 48 percent or 49 percent. Obama no doubt carries the burden of potential defeat for these three because, in all three cases, they exemplify the class of freshmen who entered Congress on his coattails and face an exit by the whiplash of his agenda.

Perhaps more significantly than the numbers from these districts in 2008 is the electoral real estate they occupy — Colorado and Virginia were two of Obama’s four significant pickups from the previously permanent red/blue presidential grease board, and Ohio is always the most important presidential battleground.

It’s well-documented that Obama has never quite won over the Rust Belt voters like you find in Boccieri’s northern Ohio district — they voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton, they were a tough pool for Obama against McCain, and polls say they have been cool to the agenda of the former college professor ever since. And plenty of Obama apologists will be writing off the church-going Southerners in Perriello’s district should he falter on Tuesday, in defiance of the boss’s highlighting that race this week.

But Markey’s constituents present no easy excuse for Obama. And neither do the denizens of six other embattled Democratic incumbents in districts that are demographically and politically similar: suburban and exurban jurisdictions full of the mid-scale, two-income families who decide presidential elections.

Nevada’s 3rd: Rep. Dina Titus (D) in the Las Vegas suburbs is trailing Republican Joe Heck by most accounts. Perhaps no district in America has been hit as hard in the foreclosure crisis, and thanks to the prominence of Harry Reid, no other media market in America is as acutely aware of everything Washington has done in the past two years to try and address it. View this one as a middle-class referendum on Keynesian crisis management.

New Mexico’s 1st: Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) is locked in a tossup race with Republican Jon Barela in Albuquerque. New Mexico is now a perennial presidential target, carried by both Bush and Obama after the expense of much effort in both cases. The state has three districts: a Santa Fe-centered Democratic bastion in the north, a Republican oil patch stronghold in the south, and this battleground in metropolitan Albuquerque. Obama won here with 60 percent. Heinrich has been a loyal Democrat, never bucking the president on anything that mattered. A Republican victory here, coupled with an expected GOP rout in the gubernatorial race, ought to scare Democrats good.

Ohio’s 15th: Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) trails in a suburban Columbus seat where Obama got 54 percent and Kerry got 49 percent. It’s perhaps the most volatile Congressional district in the most important presidential state. Polls don’t look good for the Democrats today, and if the ballyhooed “Obama surge voters” on the campus of Ohio State University are indifferent on Tuesday, Kilroy is a goner.

Florida’s 24th: Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D) has surprisingly trailed an under-funded Republican challenger from the start, despite representing an Orlando-area district where Obama got 49 percent two years ago. Republicans have to win Florida to win the presidency; if this seat snaps back to a lopsided GOP win, that’s a sign they can.

Pennsylvania’s 8th: Patrick Murphy represents a leafy suburban tract just outside Philadelphia, a job he earned by defeating then-Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick in the anti-Bush din of 2006. Fitzpatrick is back on the ballot this year and leading in the anti-Obama hurricane by all accounts. Obama won 54 percent in his own race here in 2008 and George W. Bush lost it both times. If Republicans are to have a shot at taking Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in 2012 — always an elusive but important GOP objective — it starts in districts like this.

Arizona’s 5th: Rep. Harry Mitchell, another junior Congressman who has eagerly backed the administration down the line, is perhaps the strongest candidate Democrats could have ever fielded in this suburban seat on Phoenix’s east side. Mitchell, a former Tempe mayor, may be the only Member of the House with a statue of himself in his hometown. Polls show his race with Republican David Schweikert to be one of the tightest contests in the country. Democrats have made Arizona a major priority in the past few cycles — an effort retarded only somewhat by an Arizonan on the national GOP ticket — and their ability to hold this seat will be a gauge of their progress.

In the age of cable television news, American political campaigns are evergreen. The next one will not wait for the president to regroup. He will start it next Tuesday night when he reacts to the mid-term rebuke certain to come.

Obama should watch the actions of Americans in these nine swing districts closely. They will be watching him to see how he receives his lesson.

Brad Todd is a Republican media consultant who creates advertising for Senate, gubernatorial and House candidates, including the opponent of John Boccieri. Todd is a lead consultant for the National Republican Congressional Committee and has produced advertising for the NRCC’s independent expenditure arm.