By Aaron Blake - 11/20/09 11:00 AM EST
Thirteen current and former members of the House are running for Senate, and that means lots of opposition research for their opponents.
Running statewide often presents different challenges from running in one’s home district, so while Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) might have done things one way in their House districts, their Senate races are forcing them to re-evaluate their stances.
Kirk has already said he would switch his vote on cap-and-trade from earlier this year; Sestak is looking like more of a liberal crusader every day in his primary with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.); and Simmons has said he has changed his positions on cap-and-trade and the union-organizing Employee Free Choice Act.
The dance is a familiar one for candidates, but it’s even more stark this year, since Republicans have recruited eight current and former House members to run for Senate. Most of them come from swing districts that required pragmatic voting, and most of those members face Republican primaries.
While Sestak has run to Specter’s left in the primary, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has the field largely to himself on the GOP side. As the recently resigned head of the conservative Club for Growth, Toomey has made a point of showing his more centrist positions while running in a blue-trending state.
But his opponents are prepared to hit him with his votes in favor of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, the war in Iraq and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Should he face Sestak, Toomey will fight back with the congressman’s recent support for cap-and-trade, which is a risky proposition in coal-producing Pennsylvania. In fact, four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation opposed it.
Cap-and-trade also looms large for Kirk in his primary with developer Patrick Hughes. After casting his vote in favor of the bill, Kirk said he would vote against it as a senator with a statewide constituency — a good illustration of the balancing act he and others face.
In the general election, Kirk could face attacks from the Democratic nominee on his votes against President Barack Obama’s stimulus, budget and other proposals. Democrats feel the attacks are more potent since Illinois is a blue state and Obama’s home state.
Another centrist member who could face heat for his recent votes with Republicans is Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who despite representing a district that went 62 percent for Obama has voted with Republicans on healthcare and the stimulus. Democrats this week cited Castle’s healthcare vote as the reason a poll showed potential Democratic candidate Beau Biden taking his first lead on Castle.
The other Northeastern Republican running for Senate, Simmons, has been drawn to the right in his primary with former WWE CEO Linda McMahon and former Ambassador Tom Foley.
Democrats will go after Simmons’s votes that they say allowed the current economic crisis, including the 2005 bankruptcy bill and other deregulation measures.
Simmons will probably welcome that fight against Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is trying to salvage his own record. In addition to cap-and-trade and EFCA, Republicans have Simmons’s past opposition to partial-birth abortion bans.
Fellow former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a less serious primary, but Democrats will use his time as Bush’s trade representative and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director. They will also paint him as someone who voted against anti-outsourcing legislation and for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The last Republican running in a competitive state, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), will be forced to fend off attacks that, as a former member of GOP leadership, he is a Washington insider. To drive this point home, Democrats will reference his support for earmarks, the bank bailout and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which some on the left credit with the too-big-to-fail phenomenon.
On the Democratic side, Republicans will hit Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) for his votes for the stimulus package, the budget and the bailout, which could be powerful in red Louisiana. But Melancon has departed from his Democratic colleagues on some key issues, like cap-and-trade, Guantánamo and the healthcare bill.
Other Democrats running for the upper chamber have been more party-line.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) has found that his vote on the healthcare bill might be a liability, but for a different reason. In his Senate race, pressure to oppose the Stupak amendment has led him to say he would change his vote to no if the same bill came back to the House.
Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) has been one of the most full-throated supporters of the healthcare bill and one of the biggest opponents of the abortion-restricting Stupak amendment. Republicans think the state’s small-government conservatism doesn’t jibe with his votes for the stimulus and Obama’s budget.
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) has remained an almost straight party-line voter in 2009, despite running for Senate in a swing state. Meek comes from a heavily Democratic district in the Miami area and has stayed true to his left-leaning voting record on the major issues of the day.
In contrast to Meek, another Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) member, Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), has made a sharp right turn with his votes since launching his campaign for governor. Most recently, he was the only member of the CBC to vote against the healthcare bill.