Dems target GOP panel chairmen in 2012

House Republican chairmen have vowed vigorous oversight of the Obama administration, but for eight of them, there are political risks involved.

Of the 20 House panel chairmen, eight represent districts won by President Obama in 2008: Reps. Buck McKeon (Calif.), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), David Dreier (Calif.), Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Dave Camp (Mich.).

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Several chairman scoffed at the notion they would ease up on Obama because he won their districts more than two years ago.

But in their effort to win back the House, Democrats are homing in on the 61 Republicans who represent Obama-won districts. And while most of the eight committee chairmen are not considered primary targets in next year’s election, Democrats are anxious to make them sweat.

It’s not easy to defeat panel chairmen, who typically are among the best fundraisers. But it happens.

During the last cycle, three Democratic House chairmen lost: Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), John Spratt (S.C.) and Jim Oberstar (Minn.). Republicans also captured the seat of former Appropriations Committee David Obey (D-Wis.), who did not seek reelection.

Those losses stung Democrats, and they want payback. 

House GOP ChairmanHome District2008 Presidential Election
Buck McKeon, Armed ServicesCalif. 25Obama 49%
McCain 48%
Paul Ryan, BudgetWisc. 1Obama 51%
McCain 48%
Fred Upton, Energy and CommerceMich. 6Obama 54%
McCain 45%
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign AffairsFla. 18Obama 51%
McCain 49%
Dan Lungren, AdministrationCalif. 3Obama 49.3%
McCain 48.8%
Mike Rogers, IntelligenceMich. 8Obama 53%
McCain 46%
David Dreier, RulesCalif. 26Obama 51%
McCain 47%
Dave Camp, Ways and Means Mich. 4Obama 50%
McCain 48%
It will be an uphill climb to oust the current Republican chairmen, all of whom won their reelection bids in 2006 and 2008, huge years for House Democrats. Among the eight, Democrats have most targeted Lungren and Dreier in recent cycles.

In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a [committee] chairman or not. We’re not going to be distracted by personalities. It’s going to be driven by the numbers, driven by our message, driven by our ability to mobilize.”

Jennifer Crider of the DCCC said, “The DCCC is targeting the 14 districts that were won by both President Obama and Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] as well as the 47 additional districts that were won by President Obama.” 

Kerry did not win any of the eight chairmen’s districts in 2004. 

The DCCC last week sent out a list of 10 districts that it is targeting in the election over the issue of Social Security reform. 

Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, was included in that list, as were freshman GOP lawmakers who now represent districts held previously by Democratic committee chairmen or subcommittee chairmen. They include: West Virginia Rep. David McKinley; Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold; Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta; Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek; and Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy. 

Ryan will soon be releasing his new budget plan for fiscal 2012, which is expected to call for reforms to popular entitlement programs.

Despite the political pressures, none of the eight GOP chairmen has showed any signs of easing up on Obama.

Upton, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, has taken on the president’s healthcare reform law, Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules and policies coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama won Upton’s district by nearly 10 percentage points.

Meanwhile, Dreier has pushed Obama on trade issues and Ryan has accused the president of not leading on entitlement reform. 

Camp, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said, “I’m not running against President Obama [in 2012].” 

He noted many people vote differently for president than they do for their representative in the House.

He said he does not consider the political calculations of holding oversight hearings that could be viewed as too aggressive by some of his constituents.

“We have oversight, but I view oversight as shining a spotlight on government activities and making them public," Camp said. "But our oversight is: ‘Are these programs working? Are these taxpayer dollars being used effectively?'"

Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) represents a district that Obama lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by two percentage points. 

Asked whether Obama’s standing in his district plays any role in how he handles panel hearings, Kline responded, “No. I can’t imagine that it would. I think that’s a silly road to go down.”

Kline added that the demographics of many districts will likely change due to redistricting this cycle.

Others point out that Obama is not popular as he was in 2008 or early 2009. Many political analysts say the 2012 presidential election will likely resemble the tight races of 2004 and 2000, not the blowout of 2008.

Rutgers University political science Professor Ross Baker said, “Most people would recognize that 2008 was a very unusual presidential election. After a series of very close elections, that wasn’t close, and Obama had very substantial coattails.”

He added, “If they survived 2008, they will probably survive 2012.”



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