Column: The Public Eye: Campaign 2006: Sweet 16 Congressional Races

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday June 13, 2006

Democrats appear to be gaining momentum in their bid to wrest control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans. According to veteran D.C. prognosticator, Charlie Cook, there are now 46 House seats in play. 

That’s an increase of ten over his previous forecast. In order to prevail, the Democrats will have to hold onto 10 shaky seats and win 15 of the 36 tenuous GOP seats.  

Judging from the results of last Tuesday’s hotly contested election to replace disgraced Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham in California’s District 50, Democrats have their work cut out for them. Despite running a strong race, the Dems’ candidate, Francine Busby, lost by 4 percent. (In 2004 Bush carried the district by 10 percent.) Repugs felt that they had to retain this seat and lavished more than $5 million on Brian Bilbray’s campaign, outspending Dems 2:1.  

Here’s a look at sixteen races where Democrats have good shot at taking a Republican Congressional seat: 

• Arizona 8th district: Republican Jim Kolbe is retiring. A Sept. 12 primary will determine the final opponents. They’re likely to be conservative Republican Randy Graf against Democrat Gabrielle Giffords or Patty Weiss.  

• California 11: Democrat Jerry McNerney is running for the Congressional seat occupied by ultraconservative Republican Richard Pombo. The district leans Republican, but there is great dissatisfaction with Pombo. McNerney has a real shot, but may be too liberal for the district. At least that’s what Repugs will claim in what promises to be the most expensive California Congressional contest. 

• Colorado 7: Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is vacating this seat and running for Governor. The August 8th primary will determine whether Democrat Peggy Lamm or Ed Perlmutter runs against Republican Rick O’Donnell.  

• In Connecticut two Republican Congressman are vulnerable in Districts that have traditionally voted Democrat. In the 2nd district, incumbent Rob Simmons is getting stiff opposition from Democrat Joe Courtney. In the 4th district, incumbent Chris Shays is having trouble with Diane Farrell. Cook rates both races as toss ups. 

• Florida 22: Incumbent Republican Clay Shaw will face a Democratic opponent selected in the September 5th primary, probably Ron Klein. 

• Illinois 6: Ultraconservative Republican Henry Hyde is retiring. The contest will pit Republican Peter Roskam versus Tammy Duckworth, a retired Army pilot who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. While this is a slightly Republican district, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who meets Duckworth would vote for her opponent. 

It’s an indication of the trouble the GOP is having that two of their Indiana seats are vulnerable. In the 8th district, incumbent John Hostettler is getting the race of his life from County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth. In the 9th district, incumbent Mike Sodrel is having a tough time with Democrat Baron Hill. The Dems may well win both races. 

• Iowa 1: Republican Jim Nussle is retiring to run for Governor. Democrat Bruce Braley will face Republican Mike Whalen in a district that leans Democrat. 

• Kentucky 4: Republican Geoff Davis is facing stiff competition from the former Democratic incumbent Ken Lucas. Although this district has traditionally voted Republican, Cook calls the race even. 

• New Mexico 1: Republican Heather Wilson is facing stiff competition from New Mexico Attorney General Patsy Madrid. Polls show that this interesting race is a dead heat. 

There’s a lot going on in Ohio in this election. The 6th district Representative was Democrat Ted Strickland, who’s running for Governor. Now, Democrat Charlie Wilson is favored over Republican Chuck Blasdel. In the 18th district, incumbent Republican Bob Ney is under investigation for his relationship with Jack Abramoff; Democratic challenger Zack Space is running an unexpectedly strong race. 

• Pennsylvania 6: Republican Jim Gerlach appears to be falling behind Democratic challenger Lois Murphy. 

• Texas 22: Republican Tom Delay resigned. The contest will pit former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson versus a Republican candidate to be decided by Texas Repug bosses and an independent candidate, former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman. 

For the Democrats to win control of the House, they have to take all of these seats, or pick off a couple from the more than two dozen other races where their candidate has a shot at unseating a Republican incumbent. They also must protect contested Democratic seats in Georgia, Jim Marshall (8) and John Barrow (12), Illinois, Melissa Bean (8), Iowa, Leonard Boswell (3), Louisiana, Charlie Melancon (3), South Carolina, John Spratt (5), Texas, Chet Edwards (17), Vermont, where Independent Bernie Sanders is running for Senate and Democrat Peter Welch is favored, and West Virginia, Mollohan (1). 

Democrats have a reasonable chance of regaining the House, but it’s far from a slam-dunk as the Busby loss illustrates. 


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