Months after last health vote, many Dems in tougher reelection races

Thirty-two House Democrats are in tougher reelection races than they were when the lower chamber passed healthcare reform last fall.

The gloomier political climate for Democrats has made it more challenging for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants to attract the 216 votes necessary to pass a health reform bill this month.

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Seventeen Democrats who were not on the radar screen of campaign handicappers in November are now in competitive races, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Meanwhile, the races of 15 Democrats have become tighter, increasing the chances the GOP could win them.

Of the 32 Democrats, 25 voted in favor of the House healthcare bill on Nov. 7.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama said, “I don't know how [healthcare reform] plays politically, but I know it's right.”

While Obama is not up for reelection this year, congressional Democrats are clearly weighing the political impact of their votes in the 2010 midterms.

The latest Gallup Poll found 48 percent opposed Obama’s healthcare proposal.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), considered a heavy favorite to win his seat last fall when he voted yes, is now in a toss-up race. Mollohan has not said how he will vote this year.

The reelection races of Democratic Reps. Baron Hill (Ind.), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Dina Titus (Nev.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.) and Glenn Nye (Va.) have moved from the lean-Democratic column to tossup since November. Of these five Democrats, only Nye voted no last year.

David Wasserman of the Cook report noted that GOP candidate recruitment has intensified significantly from last November. 

Only three Democrats who were deemed to be in competitive races in the fall have seen their reelection chances improve, according to the Cook report.

Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) has gone from being in a toss-up race to being in the lean-Democratic category. As Republicans have struggled in recruiting a top-notch candidate in North Carolina’s 8th district, Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) has been upgraded from the lean-Democratic category to likely-Democrat. And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who was being targeted by Republicans earlier this cycle, is now expected to cruise in his reelection bid.

Bright and Kissell, however, are firm “no”s on healthcare reform. They both opposed the House bill in 2009. Wasserman noted that Bright and Kissell do not toe the party line, adding that Bright is viewed as a nonpartisan legislator and Kissell has a reputation of being an outsider.

The Hill’s whip list on healthcare has 37 Democrats planning to vote no or are likely to vote no. Thirteen of the 37 are not on Cook’s House competitive race list. One of them, Rep. Marion Berry (Ark.), is retiring, and two other “no” votes, Reps. Artur Davis (Ala.) and Charlie Melancon (La.), are running for higher office.

The other 10 are Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

There are dozens of Democrats who are publicly undecided, according to The Hill’s whip list, and more than half are in competitive reelection races.

Some Democrats looking over their shoulders, such as Reps. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Tim Walz (Minn.) and Bruce Braley (Iowa), are expected to vote yes.

Many non-incumbent Democrats running for Congress also are skeptical. The Hill last week reported that of the 26 leading Democratic House candidates, only one would commit to voting for the Senate healthcare bill if and when it comes to the House floor.

This article was originally published at 12:16 p.m.