Dark horse races to watch in 2010

If you had told Reps. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) or Terry Everett (R-Ala.) two years ago their seats would be won by Democrats in 2008, they probably would have laughed at you.

Except that none of them is in Congress anymore.

The big Democratic waves of the last two cycles have brought with them several seats that seemed implausible to switch at this point in the off-year. But even that far in advance of the 2010 contest, a few unlikely targets have emerged.

The Hill takes a look at the Top 10 dark-horse races to keep an eye on:



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1. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)

McCaul was technically a lower-tier Democratic target in 2008, but that was really only because his opponent, former TV judge Larry Joe Doherty (D), was raising money like gangbusters. Doherty really didn’t have the right profile, and he wound up losing by a pedestrian 11 points — the exact margin of the presidential tally in the district. Now, Democrats have another big-money candidate, with businessman Jack McDonald raising $300,000 in the first quarter. We’ll see if he has the right profile, but the fact that he is vice chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce suggests he might. The party has already put McCaul near the top of its target list.



2. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.)

Republicans had hoped that Assemblyman Van Tran’s (R) candidacy might tempt Sanchez to avoid a tough reelection race and run statewide, as she had entertained. But even with Sanchez opting for reelection instead, the national GOP has high hopes for Tran. He has a solid profile, and the district has notoriously low turnout, making anything possible with a strong organization. Still, it’s going to be difficult beating anyone who is coming off a 69 percent performance the previous cycle, and that’s exactly what Sanchez is doing.



3. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.)

Completely unheralded GOP nominee Lee Zeldin turned in the second-strongest performance for any Republican challenger in New York in 2008, taking 42 percent against Bishop. This time, Republicans are interested in the race and have someone who could be more formidable: businessman Randy Altschuler. It should be noted that, while much of New York swung for President Obama, this Suffolk County district stayed swing, with Obama winning it just 51-48. Unlike other Democrats in such swing districts, though, Bishop isn’t a Blue Dog.



4. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)

Democrats tried to mount a late charge in 2006 against National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), and they could do it again in 2010 against current NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only took this suburban Dallas district 53-46 in the 2008 presidential race, and the heavily Hispanic areas have grown at a faster pace than the white areas. Sessions’s district is actually probably more fertile ground than McCaul’s, but Democrats might not have as good a candidate. Attorney Grier Raggio (D) has an exploratory committee, but it’s not clear who else might emerge.

 

5. Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s (D-Hawaii) seat

Abercrombie is running for governor and leaving an open seat that Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou has been eyeing for more than a year. Djou filed for the 2010 race three years early with the idea that Abercrombie would return home to run for governor, and so far it has all panned out pretty well. Expect Democrats to crowd their mid-September primary, while Djou has time to raise money and get ready for the month-and-a-half-long general election. This district went for John Kerry by just six points in 2004, which is a more apt comparison than its native son Obama’s 70-28 win last year.


6. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.)

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If Republicans can land state Del. Terry Kilgore (R) for this race, look for it to enter the realm of possibility. Boucher has survived in a very tough southwest Virginia district thanks to his incumbency and his constituent service, but it has been a long, long time since he’s faced a real threat. Kilgore would bring a big name to the race as the twin brother of 2005 gubernatorial nominee and former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R). But he’s got to run for reelection this year, first, so we probably won’t know for a while whether he’s really interested. This seat went 59-40 for McCain.



7. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.)

Did we mention Wayne Gilchrest? Like Gilchrest, Boyd is a centrist facing a potentially damaging intra-party challenge, with term-limited state Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson (D) cueing up a primary. Gilchrest lost to a party-line Republican, who then lost to a Democrat in the general election. Should the more party-line Lawson defeat or severely wound Boyd, the door could open to a Republican — potentially businessman Charles Ranson. Though the Blue Dog Boyd won this district by 24 points last year, it went for McCain by nine points. There is some pressure on Lawson to switch to a statewide race, though, and if he does, Boyd is probably a shoo-in.



8-10. Reps. Vic Snyder, Mike Ross and Marion Berry (D-Ark.)


All of these districts went for McCain by double-digits in 2008, and none featured a GOP challenger. Republicans hope to change that in 2010, and Snyder looks to be their best target. Businessman French Hill (R) could raise big money for the contest and would be a good bet to outspend the notoriously late fundraiser (Snyder raised nothing in the first quarter and just $7,000 in all of 2007). Ross’s and Berry’s districts are a little more rural and lean a little more conservative than Snyder’s, but recruiting there could continue to be a problem. Arkansans didn’t like Obama, and with the right anti-Obama Republicans, this trio could be in trouble.