The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Looking Hard at the Districts of Phil Hare and Shelley Berkley


Few predictions have generated more “Jim, you must be gargling with Maker’s Mark again” responses than my assessment that defeating Illinois Democrat Phil Hare is roughly as difficult as beating the St. Louis Rams. (Actually, the discussion here is whether I’m “on amphetamines” or whether  I’m “retarded.”)

If someone wants to argue that Hare doesn’t belong among the most absolutely vulnerable Democrats, fine, but anyone who thinks he’s a safe Democrat is, I suspect, extraordinarily mistaken.

For starters, let’s take a look at the jobless rate in some of the cities in Hare’s district.

Sterling: 12.5 percent in March 2010, 13.7 percent in February; it was only 7 percent in November 2008, the last time Hare went before the voters (and with no Republican opponent).

Rock Island: 10.2 percent March 2010, 10.8 percent the previous month; 5.5 percent in November 2008.

Quincy: 8.9 percent in March 2010, 9.7 percent in February; 5 percent in November 2008.

Springfield: 9.3 percent March 2010, 10.1 the previous month; 5.9 percent in November 2008.

Decatur: 13.8 percent March 2010, 14.6 percent the previous month; 7 percent in November 2008.

Illinois’s unemployment rate is increasing faster than the national rate, and the counties in Hare’s district have pretty bad foreclosure rates (although Chicago’s is worse).

While March saw a bit of improvement, in most cities in Hare’s district, unemployment is close to double what it was the last time he faced the voters. This is not a circumstance where an incumbent can use the old Ed Koch slogan, “How am I doing?” Yes, this is a district gerrymandered to include a lot of Democrats. But even partisan Democrats who are out of work for long stretches can get dissatisfied with their incumbents and think about staying home or voting for the other guy.

Then there’s the matter of those polls conducted by Hare’s campaign but never released. What could they have shown? How good could they possibly have been for Hare if he’s decided to keep them under wraps, even after needling from GOP challenger Bobby Schilling? 55–45? If it were, say, 57–43, wouldn’t Hare have released them to show he’s still in fine shape?

Late last year, a poll found only 40 percent inclined to reelect Hare; in March, another poll found Hare leading Schilling 39 percent to 32 percent, a not-quite-so-daunting margin.

Of course, Hare can always rely on his raw charisma, charm, and dashing good looks to carry him to victory:

Then there’s the listing of Rep. Shelley Berkley, Democrat of Nevada, where one commenter objects, “This list actually had Shelley Berkley listed as vulnerable in the inner city Las Vegas district.  Does this guy realize that the current NV-01 isnt even close to being like the district that she won in 1998 and John Ensign represented for four years in the 1990′s?”

Yes, Berkley’s district is most of Las Vegas – where the unemployment rate is 13.8 percent, was 13.9 percent last month, and was only 7.9 percent in November 2008. (Las Vegas unemployment has been 13 percent or higher for 8 of the last 9 months.) And then there are the epic troubles of Las Vegas homeowners: “highest foreclosure rate in the nation, 80 percent of homeowners ‘underwater’ on their mortgage, half of homes with 25 percent or more negative equity, 16 percent of homeowners delinquent on their mortgage.”

The Republican challenger to Shelley Berkley will have the simplest and most compelling of messages: “It’s time for a change.” Berkley will have to offer some argument that no one could possibly do her job better than she has so far, and that better times are just around the corner.

And this isn’t even getting into the top-of-the-ticket effects, from Harry Reid and Rory Reid in Nevada and Alexi Giannoulias and Pat Quinn in Illinois.

Tags: Bobby Schilling , Phil Hare , Shelley Berkley


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