Politics & Policy

The Ten Races That Matter Most

An election-night checklist.

Every election brings at least one or two wonderful shockwaves, and, with them, an equal number of heartbreakers. Which ones should we look out for this year?

Here I try to select for conservatives a list of the congressional and Senate races that have the most at stake for promoting growth and free markets. Here are the top races to keep an especially close eye on during election night:

1. Oklahoma Senate: The federal budget is out of control, and there are too few senators today who believe in less government and advocate the elimination of worthless and obsolete federal agencies. What is needed in the Senate is a warrior for fiscal restraint; Tom Coburn will be just that. He will tie the Senate up in knots, if that’s what is needed, to stop the passage of fiscally reckless spending bills. Coburn will be a free-market conservative version of John McCain in the Senate. He is every lobbyist’s worst nightmare, because he can’t be bought. Coburn was the fiscal conscience of the House of Representatives. He received five “A” grades from the National Taxpayers Union and he kept his three-term-limit pledge in the House. His opponent, Brad Carson, is a slick-talking Bill Clinton type.

2. South Carolina Senate: Jim DeMint is one of the most pro-free-market and principled men in Congress. He has received the prestigious lifetime “Taxpayer Hero” citation from Citizens Against Government Waste. He has earned “A” grades from the National Taxpayers Union in four of the five years he has served in Congress. DeMint promised to serve three terms in the House, and he did. He was one of the 25 Republican heroes who voted against the fiscally irresponsible Medicare-expansion bill last year, even though he was told that it would hurt his chances of winning the Senate seat. He is the author of the most comprehensive proposal for Social Security personal accounts in the U.S. House. He is for eliminating the income tax. What’s not to like?

3. South Dakota Senate: If you want to kill the beast, you cut it off at its head. Tom Daschle has been a thorn in the side of pro-growth conservatives for years. Defeating Daschle is key to the free-trade agenda, judicial appointments, and the elimination of the death tax. John Thune is no great shakes on fiscal issues; he compiled a weak voting record for a Republican during his time in the House. But beating Daschle would be the ultimate election-night prize.

4. Colorado Senate: We all know that Pete Coors is a woeful debater. But he’s a strong supply-side pro-growth candidate with deep roots in the conservative movement. In a Congress filled with too many career politicians and lawyers, Coors would bring a much-needed businessman’s perspective to Capitol Hill. The Democrats have nominated a popular Hispanic state attorney general, Ken Salazar, who is masquerading as a centrist. In reality, Salazar is a Kerry Democrat who wants to repeal the Bush tax cuts, renew the death tax, and who opposes tort reform.

5. Colorado District 4: Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave is under attack from a multi-millionaire, left-wing activist who has spent more than $600,000 in TV ads to defeat her. The assault on Musgrave centers around her social-conservative stands (she is the lead sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment); she draws fire for her staunch fiscal conservatism, too. These assaults have made her vulnerable. She is an indispensable free-market conservative in the House, and her defeat would be a real blow. She was another of the 25 Republican heroes who voted against the fiscally irresponsible Medicare-expansion bill last year. She took on the powerful Republican chairman of the Transportation Committee when he wanted to raise the gas tax. We can’t let deep-pocketed liberals run our champions out of town.

6. Texas District 17: Thanks to redistricting in Texas, most of the close House races this year are deep in the Lone Star state. The GOP has a great opportunity in this race to knock out a huge migraine in the U.S. House: Congressman Chet Edwards. Arlene Wohlgemuth is just the lady to do it. Wohlgemuth is a state representative who cut billions of dollars out of the Texas budget. Edwards, on the other hand, got four “F” grades in the past five years from National Taxpayers Union. The Democrats are ferociously fighting to hold on to this seat and have poured $1.7 million into the race, with a good chunk coming from lawyers, lobbyists, and unions. It would be sweet to defeat that unholy trinity of donors.

7. Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico does not have a floor vote in the House. But Luis Fortuno could become quite influential in the Republican caucus. If he wins, he will be the first-ever resident commissioner to caucus with the Republicans, and he could become one of the GOP’s stars in the House. He is solid on all the key economic-growth issues, and, better yet, understands and can explain them in English and Spanish. He could become a very valuable asset for Republicans in future election campaigns as the GOP reaches out to Latino voters.

8. Texas District 2: Judge Ted Poe has become a bit of a national folk hero for his unusual approach to retribution for criminals, known as “creative sentencing.” (Liberals hate it.) As noted in news accounts, his sentences have included requiring “murderers to hang pictures of their victims in their jail cells, auto thieves to give their cars to victims, and minor offenders to read books from a court-approved reading list.” He is obviously an independent and creative thinker–skills that Congress desperately needs. This is another district with a liberal Democratic incumbent (four-term Rep. Nick Lampson) endangered by the newly drawn congressional-district lines. It would be nice to retire Lampson early.

9. Cathy McMorris in Washington: State Rep. Cathy McMorris is young, attractive, articulate, and a fierce bulldog in supporting smaller government and lower taxes. In short, she is exactly what the GOP needs in Congress to counteract liberal Democrats like House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi. McMorris is running against a Democrat with nearly unlimited money to spend out of his own pocket. If she wins, don’t be surprised if someday she becomes the first woman Speaker of the House.

10. Texas District 4: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has helped engineer one victory after another for free-market conservatives over the years. He has also run the strongest whip operation in the House in decades. That explains why he is under increasing fire for trumped-up ethics violations. He is despised by liberals not because his actions have been illegal, but because he’s been completely effective at neutering the Left. Now several left-wing groups are dumping money into his district to defeat him. That isn’t likely to happen; in fact, despite the deluge of dollars working against him, don’t be surprised if DeLay gets well over 60 percent of the vote.

With control of the House and Senate at stake, each of these races takes on heightened importance. These are contests with clear ideological distinctions. The idea of a United States Senate with Tom Coburn and without Tom Daschle would be like Christmas come early. These are my top ten; let me know if you have your own favorites.

Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.

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