The Political Expendables
A baker’s dozen of potential upsets in this fall’s House matchups.


Jim Geraghty

By some counts, the GOP has a shot at 103 currently Democratic seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year.

You have probably marveled at Florida GOP House candidate Allen West’s speeches on YouTube. You’ve been amused to learn about the offbeat biography of Sean Duffy – MTV reality-show star, world-champion lumberjack, and a successful district attorney. You’ve chuckled at the thought of Jon Runyan plowing through New Jersey Democrat John Adler the way he used to plow through defensive lineman. And when North Carolina’s Bob Etheridge attacked that kid who asked him whether he supports the Obama agenda, you probably noticed how Renee Ellmers answers questions in a pleasant, informative, and non-strangulating manner.

But with so many promising Republican challengers this year, a bunch of potential upsets are flying well under the radar. And with the political environment going from bad to worse for Democrats, it is increasingly likely the night of November 2 will include some winners that almost no one saw coming. If you’re searching for some of these long shots who are looking shorter these days, here is a dirty baker’s dozen of GOP challengers to keep an eye on. They’re underfunded, unrecognized, rarely mentioned, and given no chance . . . and they may just win anyway.

1. Ed Martin vs. Russ Carnahan, Missouri’s 3rd District.

Reasons the challenger should have no chance: It’s a D+7 district on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Russ Carnahan won with 66 percent of the vote in 2004. The Carnahan name is supposed to be magic in Missouri politics, and his sister Robin is running for Senate.

Reasons the challenger has a chance: Robin Carnahan’s lousy polling indicates that the family name doesn’t carry the weight it once did. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has already declared that Martin is “giving Carnahan the toughest general election campaign of his congressional career.” A recent poll puts Martin within striking distance, 39 percent to 48 percent.

2. Rob Cornilles vs. David Wu, Oregon’s 1st District.

Reasons the challenger should have no chance: Wu, first elected in 1998, won 71 percent of the vote in 2008; the last “serious challenge” to Wu, in 2004, held him to 58 percent. This is a D+8 district.

Reasons the challenger has a chance: The local press notes that President Obama’s approval ratings this district are not great: 50 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval. Cornilles’s campaign conducted a poll of the district and found their man trailing modestly, 40 percent to 46 percent. Like Obama, Wu has been touting the recovery; Cornilles is hitting him for claiming a recovery that the district doesn’t feel and accusing Wu of “mailing five direct-mail pieces at taxpayer expense through the congressional franking privilege.” Cornilles trails Wu in cash, but has raised more than $607,000 and has $256,000 in cash on hand.

3. Scott Sipprelle vs. Rush Holt, New Jersey’s 12th District.

Reasons the challenger should have no chance: Holt, elected in 1998, won 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and usually performs around that level.

Reasons the challenger has a chance: For some reason, the DNC felt the need to run ads defending Holt’s vote for the health-care bill. Sipprelle — a Princeton-based venture capitalist — had $490,000 in cash on hand as of June 30 and has committed to match at least the first $1 million in donations to his campaign. New Jersey was a reliably Democratic state until Chris Christie’s win last year; now Obama’s approval rating is even with his disapproval rating — 47–47 in Quinnipiac — and Holt remains one of the most liberal members of Congress. Christie won four of the five counties whose parts make up Holt’s district.