Midwest & Great Plains

In my third blog preview of next Tuesday's elections, we move into the Congressional battlefield that is the Midwest and Plains states.  Simply put, this could get ugly for Democrats.

In our previous two installments, we have seen how multiple seats could be up for grabs in states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Virginia - and really the list goes on and on.

OHIO - Like Pennsylvania and Florida, this is a bellwether state for 2010.  Barack Obama won this state in 2008, but it was not a blowout by any means, as much of the state was actually Red.  The troubles for Democrats begin in OH-1, where Rep. Steve Driehaus is in a rematch with former Rep. Steve Chabot (R).  This seat was in trouble long before the campaign heated up, as national Democrats abandoned Driehaus, who has been down in the polls by double digits in a district that is centered in Cincinnati.

Another seat that the GOP is eyeing is OH-6, where Rep. Charlie Wilson (no, not the Charlie Wilson that had a movie made about him) could be in deep trouble in this district that runs along the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio.  Democrats thought that Wilson would ride out this election year, but have watched as he's slipped into dangerous territory in recent weeks.  It also hasn't helped that opponents dredged up his divorce, which included reports of spousal abuse.

Along with Driehaus, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15) is another Democratic freshman from Ohio in deep trouble this election.  This is also a rematch of 2008, a race that Kilroy barely won after a recount, so it should not be surprising that it could move from Blue to Red in the suburbs to the west of the state capital of Columbus.

OH-16 is our next stop, where another freshman Democrat, Rep. John Boccieri, is fighting to save his seat.  Boccieri isn't apologizing one bit for supporting the Obama agenda, but Republican Jim Renacci has shown strength in the polls in this eastern Ohio district that was held for years by Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH).

OH-18 is to the south of Boccieri, where Rep. Zack Space (D-OH) also seemed to be doing okay in his bid for a third term in office.  Then, the bottom started to fall out against state Sen. Bob Gibbs.  Space won re-election two years ago with 60% of the vote, but with the wind in his face this time, Democrats worry that he may be reaching the end of the line.  This is another good opportunity for the GOP.

OH-13 is a classic example of a seat that should go to the GOP, but because of personal issues involving their candidate, it may not.  This district in the suburbs of Cleveland had all the signs of a party switch, but Rep. Betty Sutton's forces decided to go after Tom Ganley (R) over ethical questions involving his auto dealership business.  A variety of stories have put Ganley on the defensive and actually put this seat back in the "Lean Democrat" territory.

In statewide races, Ohio Democrats may also suffer.  Gov. Ted Strickland (D) has narrowed the gap in the polls against former Rep. John Kasich (R), but Kasich has a strong edge among Independent voters.  Meanwhile, the Senate race seems to have been over for a few months, as former Rep. Rob Portman (R) is expected to easily defeat Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

It could be an ugly night for Democrats in the Buckeye State.

MICHIGAN - Michigan is my nominee for sleeper GOP state on Election Night.  What I mean by that is that so much attention has been focused on other states, that few realize the gains that Republicans could make with a large enough wave.

The main attraction here is the Governor's race, where Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is term-limited after eight years.  Into the vacuum rode Rick Snyder, a political neophyte who was a computer company executive.  He has campaigned hard on the fact that he is a novice and has led in many polls by 20 points or more.  My thought is that a big win for Snyder can only mean good things for Republicans down the ballot.

The gains might start for Republicans in MI-1, a sprawling district that covers all of the Upper Peninsula and a big, northern chunk of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  This seat is held by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who opted not to run for re-election after brokering a controversial health reform law compromise dealing with abortion coverage.  This race has been close for weeks, with one poll showing the it is a 2 point race.

Like other states, Michigan Democrats have a freshman Congressman who might be on the ropes next Tuesday, as Rep. Mark Schauer (D) is in a rematch with former Rep. Tim Walberg (R).  Schauer won this seat 48.8%-46.5% two years ago, when he had Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.  Both parties have poured large amounts of money into this district, with sits in south central Michigan along the borders with Ohio and Indiana.

In MI-9, Democrats are trying to defend another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Gary Peters, who defeated GOP Congressman Joe Knollenberg by a sizeable margin two years ago.  For trivia buffs, this is the district that Dr. Jack Kevorkian ran in, getting 2.6% of the vote as an Independent in 2008.  Like other Democratic freshmen, Peters has a much more difficult political environment to deal with this year, as Republicans hope a GOP tide can wash him out.

One more seat that deserves mention is MI-15, home to Rep. John Dingell (D), who was elected in 1955 - the Dean of the House - to replace his father, who had died in office.  About six weeks ago, Dingell put out the call to supporters for help, realizing that he might be in trouble.  Dingell won two years ago with more than 70% of the vote, but Republicans still think they have a longshot chance of winning.  Former President Clinton campaigned here for Dingell last weekend.

INDIANA - Two years ago, Barack Obama did the unthinkable, as he won a narrow victory in Indiana, painting that state blue for the first time in years.  There won't be a repeat this year, as Democrats find themselves under assault at all levels.

The Senate race went from being competitive to a lock for Republicans on the day that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) announced his retirement.  Bayh has not earned many friends in the party, as he has been sitting on $13 million in campaign funds, instead of giving money to other Democrats in the Hoosier State.  This seat should go to former Sen. Dan Coats (R), who has been well ahead in the polls over Rep. Brad Ellsworth.

The troubles for Democrats start in the northern part of the state in IN-2, which is held now by Rep. Joe Donnelly, who won this seat in 2006.  Two years ago, he garnered 67% of the vote.  In 2010, he's in the fight of his life against state Rep. Jackie Walorski.  Some blue counties in the far north of the state are Donnelly's big hope.

Republicans have a much better chance of winning two other seats, including the one being vacated by Rep. Ellsworth for his Senate run.  IN-8 runs down the western border with Illinois, all the way to the southwest corner of the state in Evansville, and had some hints of blue in 2008.  But many experts think this seat is only going one way on Election Night, and that's to the Republicans.

Next door in IN-9, Rep. Baron Hill is another Blue Dog Democrat who is on the ropes in 2010.  Hill's district runs along the Ohio River, and had only two counties vote for Obama in 2008.  While Hill has raised a good chunk of money, it may not be enough to offset the political environment in Indiana, which is not running in the favor of Democrats.

ILLINOIS - The big prize in Illinois is a Senate seat that holds a major piece of symbolism, as this is the seat held by Barack Obama before he was elected President.  Neither major party candidate has given voters a good feeling, as both Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and Alexi Giannoulias (D) have had ethical issues pop up.  For Kirk, it was an overblown military record.  For Giannoulias, it was his ties to Chicago politics and a family bank that ran aground and was seized by federal regulators earlier this year.  Late polls have been trending towards Republicans in both the Senate race and the battle for Governor.

In House races in Illinois, Democrats actually have a bright spot here, as they have a chance to win back the seat of Senate candidate Mark Kirk (R).  Kirk's IL-10 district in suburban Chicago has always been a target for Democrats, as Dan Seals is trying to win an open seat for his party against Republican Bob Dold.  It's one of the few chances for Democrats to chalk up a win next week.

Other than that, it's a broken record in Illinois for Democrats, as freshmen lawmakers are under the gun in the Land of Lincoln as well.  IL-11 is a perfect example, as some think Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D) should just start cleaning out her office on Capitol Hill right now, because she is in that much electoral trouble.

Down the road in IL-14, Democratic Congressman Bill Foster is also feeling the heat.  He won this seat in a special election to replace Rep. Dennis Hastert, the former GOP Speaker who resigned after his party was booted out of power.  Foster has raised a bunch of money, but state Sen. Randy Hultgren has been lurking in this race.

And there's more.  In IL-17, which runs along the Mississippi River for a huge swath of the state, Rep. Phil Hare (D), who was elected in 2006, is also up against a difficult re-election bid.  Political know-it-alls think Hare is likely to go down to defeat, though if Democrats could get enough turnout, they might be able to save him.

But if the wave is huge, then you might want to watch IL-8, to see if Rep. Melissa Bean can hang on to her seat, which she won in 2004.  But since that was a Republican year, she's not really on Super Red Upset Alert right now.

MISSOURI - When Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) announced his retirement in January of 2009, many thought it was the start of a stampede for Democrats, which would get them well over 60 seats in the Senate.  My, how times have changed.  Instead of losing this seat, Republicans look like they have locked this one down with Rep. Roy Blunt, who has held a steady lead in recent months.

In the House delegation, there seems to be only one Democratic seat in danger, that's Rep. Ike Skelton, a veteran Democrat who is chairman of the House Armed Services panel.  Skelton has been on Red Alert for some time, and may yet pull out a victory, but there is no guarantee in his district, which covers a big swath of west central Missouri.  I think John McCain won every single county in Skelton's district two years ago.

IOWA - Democrats are trying hard to avoid a GOP buzzsaw at the polls next week in Iowa, which will be hosting a bevy of Republican candidates in coming days - not for the 2010 elections - but for the 2012 Presidential election.  (You mean you aren't ready for that??)

It looks like a guy that I went to high school with will no longer be Governor of Iowa after these elections, as Democrat Chet Culver (son of the former Senator) is down in the polls to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).  In the Senate race, Sen. Charles Grassley (R) will win re-election without breaking a sweat.

The House races are a bit more interesting, as three different Democrats could be under the gun on election day.  We will start in IA-1, which is in east central Iowa, where Rep. Bruce Braley (D) is the Congressman.  He's attracted a lot of attention, but seems to be keeping his head above water.  Whether he survives in a really big, GOP wave, that's the unknown.

Next on the Watch List is Rep. Dave Loebsack in IA-2, a district in southeastern Iowa.  Loebsack is one of those Democrats elected in 2006 who are trying to survive this year's GOP attack.  For now, his seat seems to still be in the Democratic category, but again, that could depend on the size of the GOP wave and/or how well Gov. Culver does in his race.

The last possible switch is in IA-3, where Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) is under the gun.  Boswell is one of those that I refer to often, as a lawmaker who always seems to be a target, and yet always seems to win re-election.  Boswell first won this seat in 1996, so he has weathered some tough elections, but not a wave election of the other party.  We'll see if he's up to it or not.

WISCONSIN - Two years ago, Wisconsin was painted blue from Kenosha in the southeast through Madison, Green Bay and Eau Claire.  The map may look very different in 2010, as Democrats are struggling in races for Governor, Senate and the U.S. House.

The Governor's race pits former Rep. Tom Barrett - now the Mayor of Milwaukee - against Republican Scott Walker  If this race were being run in 2008, Barrett would win easily.  But it isn't, and so Langer is the favorite in the polls for the GOP, sporting a double digit lead.

In the Senate race, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has been in trouble for months in his bid for a fourth term in office, as he runs against political novice Ron Johnson, who decided to get into politics as he grew more and more disenchanted with policies of the Obama Administration.  Johnson has been solidly ahead in the polls, though Feingold has tried to fight back by demanding to know how Johnson would cut the budget.  Most expect this race will be a GOP pickup in the Senate on Election Night.

The unfriendly playing field of this year's elections also extends to several of Wisconsin's seats in the House, most notably WI-7, which has been in the hands of Rep. David Obey (D) since he was elected back in 1969.  The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee shocked a lot of people by announcing his retirement in May, but it may well be that he knew what was coming down the pike.  Local prosecutor Sean Duffy is the favorite in this race for the GOP.

Also in big trouble, Rep. Steve Kagen from WI-8, a district that covers the northeastern part of the state, including Green Bay.  Kagen was elected in 2006, and is another sophomore who may encounter serious problems on Election Day.  He won two years ago with 54% of the vote in a year where he had big help on the top of the ticket.  This year, things could be very different as Republican Reid Ribble may take this seat for Republicans.

One longshot for the GOP is WI-3, located in the west central part of Wisconsin.  In 2008, it was all blue, and very good for Rep. Ron Kind (D), who won with over 63% of the vote.  Elected in 1996, Kind has weathered the storm of good years for the GOP, but he has never faced a wave election.  We'll see if he can survive this one or not.

MINNESOTA - Minnesota has been getting a lot of headlines this year, but it's not clear if there will be a lot of change in the Congressional delegation from the North Star State in 2010.

The marquee race is for Governor, where former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton (D) is trying to win, and has been leading in the polls.

As for the House, there are two or three seats that people have talked about being in play this year, but it's not clear that Republicans will pick up any ground in Minnesota.  There have been some rumbles about MN-1, where Rep. Tim Walz (D) has some Republicans dreaming.  And then there is MN-8, where veteran Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) saw a poll come out a few weeks back that indicated he could be in trouble.

If there is a big enough GOP wave, you might see some Democrats lose here, but Republican gains are likely to focus on other states in the Midwest.

NORTH DAKOTA - Republicans might be able to win a Dakota Daily Double, as both states are threatening to turn bright Red in the 2010 elections.  

The troubles in North Dakota began at the beginning of the year, when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) announced that he would not run for a fourth term in the Senate.  Republicans saw an opportunity, and the GOP locked up this seat when popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) announced his candidacy.  This race has never been close and won't be when the votes are tallied.

The GOP boost at the top of the ticket is also raising questions about Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), a Blue Dog Democrat who has been able to survive a number of tough election years - but like many of his colleagues, 2010 may be too much for him.  Pomeroy is being challenged by state Rep. Rick Berg, who has been up as many as ten points in recent polls, though Pomeroy was up by one in a new poll out today.

Pomeroy's latest TV ad says it all: "I'm not Nancy Pelosi.  I'm not Barack Obama.  I'm Earl Pomeroy."  We'll see if it works.

SOUTH DAKOTA - Just to the South, Republicans are also enjoying a resurgence, as Sen. John Thune (R) will win re-election easily.  For you trivia buffs, it was Thune who knocked off Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle back in 2004.

As in North Dakota, Republicans have taken aim at the sole House seat in South Dakota, and could see victory on Election Night, as Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) has been running behind in some polls - 5% in a recent survey.  Sandlin hasn't done anything wrong - she was a high profile opponent of health reform - and has spearheaded Blue Dog criticism of liberal spending plans.  She won two years ago with over 67% of the vote.  But it might not matter, as the voters are looking for change from Sioux Falls to Rapid City.

NEBRASKA - First, let me say that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is not up for re-election this year, so there isn't much of a headline coming out of the Cornhusker State.

Republican Gov. Dave Heinemann is expected to cruise to victory, as well as all three GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House.  If that holds, Nebraska will win the prize for the state Congressional delegation that has the least change in 2010, with Oklahoma coming in second.

KANSAS - When people tell me that the country is way more partisan and divided now than ever before, I usually scrunch up my nose and say things like "Bleeding Kansas" to indicate that I don't exactly agree with that view.  Those two words won't be used to describe the races for House and Senate in the Sunflower State - because it's advantage GOP.

The Governor's race should be won by Sen. Sam Brownback (R); Brownback's Senate seat is expected to go to Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who should win it easily.

In the House, Democrats could lose the only seat they have in the 4-member delegation from Kansas, as the wife of Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS) looks increasingly like she won't be replacing him in the U.S. House.  T In my third blog preview of next Tuesday's elections, we move into the Congressional battlefield that is the Midwest and Plains states.  Simply put, this could get ugly for Democrats. In our previous two installments, we have seen how multiple seats could be up for grabs in states like Pennsylvania, ...

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