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

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday September 19, 2006

Democrats continue to gain momentum in their bid to wrest control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans. According to veteran DC prognosticator, Charlie Cook, there are now 46 House seats in play. In order to prevail, the Democrats will have to win 15 of the 36 tenuous GOP seats. And hold onto 10 shaky Democratic seats. 

Here’s the latest look at 16 races where Democrats have good shot at taking a Republican Congressional seat: 

Arizona 8th district: Republican Jim Kolbe is retiring. The Sept. 12 primary determined that conservative Republican Randy Graf will battle Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. She’s favored. 

California 11th: Democrat Jerry McNerney is running for the congressional seat occupied by arch-conservative Republican Richard Pombo. The district leans Republican, but there is great dissatisfaction with Pombo; the most recent poll shows him trailing his opponent by several percentage points. This promises to be the most expensive California Congressional contest. Pombo has a 4:1 advantage in terms of “cash-on-hand.” 

Colorado 7th: Republican incumbent Bob Beauprez is running for Governor. Democrat Ed Perlmutter won the Aug. 8 primary and will run against Republican Rick O’Donnell. Perlmutter trails O’Donnell in the money race. 

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. So far, both Democratic challengers are keeping pace with the incumbents in terms of fundraising. Some experts say that these races will be affected by the turnout for the Lamont-Lieberman Senatorial contest: Republicans may go to the polls for Lieberman. Who wins will depend upon which party turns out their vote. 

Florida 22th: Incumbent Republican Clay Shaw will face Democrat Ron Klein. This promises to be a very expensive race. 

Illinois 6th: 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, Duckworth has run a strong campaign. The race continues to be even. 

It’s an indication of the trouble the GOP is having that three of their Indiana seats are vulnerable. In the 2nd district challenger Joe Donnelly is neck and neck with incumbent Chris Chocola. 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. Ellsworth has raised much more money than his opponent. Hill is holding his own. Donnelly is behind. The Dems might pick up two here. 

Iowa 1st: Republican Jim Nussle is retiring to run for Governor. Democrat Bruce Braley will face Republican Mike Whalen in a district that leans Democrat. This is another close race that the Dems may win. 

Kentucky 4th: Republican Geoff Davis is facing stiff competition from the former Democratic incumbent Ken Lucas. Although this district has traditionally voted Republican, the last poll showed Lucas ahead. Davis has a 2:1 money advantage. 

New Mexico 1st: Republican Heather Wilson is facing stiff competition from New Mexico Attorney General Patsy Madrid. Polls show that this interesting race is a dead heat. Wilson has had fundraisers with Bush and Cheney. Nonetheless, Madrid remains close in “cash-on-hand.” 

New York 24th: Republican incumbent Sherwood Bohelert is retiring. Democrat Michael Arcuri has run a strong campaign against Republican Ray Meier. 

North Carolina 11th: Former pro-football quarterback Heath Shuler is challenging Republican Charles Taylor. Shuler has the lead in both money and the polls. 

There’s a lot going on in Ohio in this election. In the 18th district, incumbent Republican Bob Ney unexpectedly abandoned his reelection bid because of persistent rumors about his relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While Republicans fumble to find a replacement for Ney, Democratic challenger Zack Space is running an unexpectedly strong race. 

Pennsylvania 6th: Republican Jim Gerlach appears to be falling behind Democratic challenger Lois Murphy. So far, she’s raised more money than he has. 

Texas 22nd: Republican Tom Delay resigned, or so he thought. However, the courts determined that his name must stay on the ballot. The big winner will be former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson. 

Virginia 2nd: Republican incumbent Thelma Drake is running a terrible campaign. She may lose to Democratic challenger Phil Kellam even though she’s raised more money. 

The eight Democratic Congressional incumbents who face tight races are: Jim Marshall (Ga.-8), John Barrow (Ga.-12), Melissa Bean (Ill.-8), Leonard Boswell (Ia.-3), Charles Melancon (La.-3), John Spratt (S.C.-5), Chet Edwards (Texas-17), and Alan Mollohan (W.V.-1). In Ohio 6th, Charlie Wilson is ahead in the competition to keep a Democratic seat. In Vermont, Democrat Peter Welch leads the race to keep the seat being vacated by Bernie Sanders. 

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Democrats will pick up seats. Whether they will win enough to wrest control from the GOP is likely to come down to two things: money and national security. Republicans will spend lots of money to retain the seats where their incumbents are threatened. 

Polls show that President Bush’s only strength is national security: the perception that he is “strong on terrorism.” Could it be that Osama bin Laden will step forward to help Dubya at the last moment? 


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