In late July, my discussions with Republican strategists and conservatives who were closely watching the 2010 House races yielded a list of “The Underfunded 20”: GOP challengers who had favorable conditions such as a conservative-leaning district, or strong issues to run on, but who needed enough cash to ensure their chances of victory weren’t swept away by a deluge of negative ads.
Mid-September is a good time to revisit that list, salute a few candidates for improving their standing, remind folks of the ones who still need help, and spotlight another handful who could be on the verge of key victories.
Many campaigns will bristle at any analysis that suggests they don’t need additional funds, but there’s a lot of momentum behind Rick Crawford in Arkansas’s 1st district, Cory Gardner in Colorado’s 4th congressional district, Adam Kinzinger in Illinois’s 11th district, Randy Hultgren in Illinois’s 14th district, Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania’s 11th district, and Rob Hurt in Virginia’s 5th district. This isn’t to say all of these races are foregone conclusions or even easy GOP wins, but all have received good polling news in recent weeks and are sliding down the “needs help now” scale. A strategist closely watching the races in Illinois made the argument that Bobby Schilling’s surging bid against incumbent Phil Hare in that state’s 17th district — now classified a toss-up by most race-watchers — probably will come down to the district’s political environment and anger over high unemployment, rather than the spending race. (If you listen carefully, you can hear Schilling supporters cry, “Hit the donate button anyway!”)
Here are the 13 members of the original Underfunded 20 who still belong on a list of important GOP challengers who need every bit of help they can get:
Martha Roby, Alabama’s 2nd district: The DCCC released a poll showing Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright ahead by nine percentage points; on the other hand, this is Alabama, and the district has an R+16 rating on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. One of Bright’s ads emphasizes that he voted against Obamacare and will “repeal what’s wrong with it,” but he hasn’t signed on to legislation to repeal Obamacare, nor has he agreed to support defunding Obamacare. Also, he’s running on his “conservative values” and insisting he “stands up to Nancy Pelosi,” but he voted to make Pelosi speaker, and, come January 2011, he’s another vote to keep her speaker.
David Harmer, California’s 11th district: There aren’t a lot of competitive House races in California; Charlie Cook calls this race the state’s one true toss-up, as the district is one of the few where Republican and Democratic voters are registered in roughly equal numbers. Other race-watchers are starting to put this one in the “toss up” category as well, and the American Action Forum poll put Harmer ahead of incumbent Jerry McNerney by a point.
Jackie Walorski, Indiana’s 2nd district: The American Action Forum poll had Walorski down by only two percentage points, but in an environment where so many GOP challengers are overtaking entrenched Democratic incumbents, it would be nice to see a little more oomph in her poll numbers. Incumbent Joe Donnelly is one of those sad, desperate Democrats, the kind who seems to think that if he runs commercials hitting against Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama enough, voters will forget which party he’s in. He also seems to think that if he wavers on voting for Pelosi, this fairly conservative Indiana district will trust him.
Larry Bucshon, Indiana’s 8th district: This ought to be a friendly district for Republicans, but Bucshon faces a Democratic non-incumbent, Trent Van Haaften, who is running as a “tough prosecutor who will take Hoosier values to Washington.” This is the seat currently held by Democratic Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth; it would be a shame for Republicans if another moderate-sounding Democrat beat a doctor driven into politics by Obamacare.
Todd Young, Indiana’s 9th district: This is the district represented by Rep. Baron Hill, who banned cameras from his town-hall meetings because “usually the films that are done end up on YouTube in a compromising position.” The comment, of course, ended up on YouTube. Young has an effective ad on that. GOP challengers in all three of these Indiana districts should get a bit of a boost from Dan Coats’s winning the Senate race by a wide margin. A poll in June showed Hill vulnerable but Young still a bit behind.