Column: The Public Eye: A Pocket Guide to Supporting Democrats for Congress

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 07, 2006

Unless Democrats win control of either the House or the Senate, nothing is going to change in Washington. There will be no meaningful shift in Iraq, ethics, or economic policy until there is real debate on Capitol Hill. The good news is that the Dems have a reasonable shot at winning a majority of House seats. 

According to veteran D.C. prognosticator, Charlie Cook, there are 36 House seats in play. In order to prevail, the Democrats will have to hold onto 11 shaky seats and win 15 of the 25 tenuous GOP seats. Here’s my look at how the Dems are doing in close races. 

Anti-War: Rather than treat all Democratic candidates equally, I’ve clustered them into two groups: anti-war and incomprehensible. To gain the BB anti-war rating a candidate must say something about Iraq such as, “I was always against the war” or “We need a detailed plan for withdrawal.” 

Francine Busby (California, 50th) is running for the congressional seat vacated by convicted Republican congressman Duke Cunningham. The special election is on April 11th and the runoff will likely be on June 6. This is a slightly Republican district and the race leans Republican (according to Cook). 

Joe Courtney (Connecticut, 2nd) is facing Republican incumbent Rob Simmons in a district that leans Democrat. This race is a toss up. 

Tammy Duckworth (Illinois, 6th) is competing for an open congressional seat, where incumbent Republican Henry Hyde is retiring. Duckworth is a retired Army pilot who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. The district leans GOP, as does the race. 

It’s unusual for an incumbent Democrat, in a solid Dem district, to be challenged by a grassroots revolt. Nonetheless, in the September 12 primary, Congressman Albert Wynn (Maryland, 4th) will receive stiff competition from community activist Donna Edwards. Wynn voted for the invasion of Iraq and continues to support Bush’s position. Edwards just announced; she can be reached at 

Diane Farrell (Connecticut, 4th) is running against Republican incumbent Christopher Shays. The district leans Democrat, but the race leans Republican. 

New Mexico Attorney General Patsy Madrid (New Mexico, 1st) is running against ultra-conservative incumbent, Heather Wilson, in a slightly Democratic district. The race is a toss up. 

Lois Murphy (Pennsylvania, 6th) is running against Republican congressman Jim Gerlach in a district that leans Democrat. This race is a toss up. 

Joe Sulzer (Ohio, 18th) is one of a set of Democratic hopefuls running for the seat of embattled incumbent Bob Ney, who’s caught up in the Abramoff corruption scandals. The district leans Republican, but the race is seen as a toss up. The primary is on May 2. 


Incomprehensible: Turns out that it’s easy to garner the incomprehensible rating. The candidate’s web site simply avoids talking about Iraq, or says something so vacuous that I can’t figure out where they stand. I’ve listed the candidates involved in tight races alphabetically. 

In Georgia’s 12th district, Democratic incumbent, John Barrow, is running in a radically gerrymandered district. Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean (Illinois, 8th) faces well-financed Republican opposition in what has historically been a GOP enclave. Incumbent Chet Edwards (Texas, 17th) is facing his usual stiff opposition in a gerrymandered district that is more Republican than it was before. 

Popular local sheriff Brad Ellsworth (Indiana, 8th) is facing GOP incumbent John Hostettler in a district that leans Republican. Baron Hill (Indiana, 9th) is running to retake the seat he lost to Republican Mike Sodrel in a district that leans Republican. 

Ron Klein (Florida, 22nd) is facing GOP incumbent Clay Shaw in a slightly Democratic district. Nick Lampson (Texas, 22nd) is facing whoever the Repugs chose to replace the despicable Tom DeLay. 

In Georgia’s 8th district, Democratic incumbent, Jim Marshall, is running in radically gerrymandered district. In Colorado’s 6th district Ed Perlmutter is the likely Democrat to oppose Republican Rick O’Donnell in an open seat. In Colorado’s 3rd district incumbent John Salazar is favored in a Republican leaning district. 

Heath Shuler (North Carolina, 11th) is running against incumbent Charles Taylor in a District that leans Republican. Democratic incumbent John Spratt (South Carolina, 4th) is facing his usual tough fight in a district that leans Republican. 

In Ohio’s 6th district Charlie Wilson is the likely Democratic candidate for a seat now held by Democrat Ted Strickland in a slightly Democratic district. 

If your big issue is Iraq, then you should go to the websites for the eight anti-war candidates and take a look at them. If you simply want the Dems to win, then all the candidates merit your attention. 

In a couple of months, I’ll take another look at the House races. In the meantime, please let me know about candidates that I’ve overlooked or misplaced. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. He can be reached at