Leaders aid faltering incumbents, hopeful challengers

House Republican leaders have lent their political cachet and fundraising networks to a dwindling number of challengers and incumbents still locked in competitive races.

Barring a series of spectacular upsets, Republicans will keep control of the House largely due to redistricting in Texas, where they expect to pick up at least four seats.

But they are also defending five tough seats because of incumbent retirements, and Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) is in a difficult battle.

Republicans, speaking on background, expect to gain two or three seats.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) and Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) have campaigned for Crane, an 18-term lawmaker and 1980 presidential contender, in recent weeks and are worried that if they lose his district, they won’t be able to win it back any time soon.

Since Oct. 20, Hastert has crisscrossed the country, campaigning for Reps. Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Sam Graves (Mo.), Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.), and Ralph Hall (Texas). Hastert and Chief of Staff Scott Palmer also flew to Bangor, Maine, last week to discuss the intelligence reform bill with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Hastert, Pryce and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) have aided a handful of challengers, including Dave Reichert, a Washington state sheriff, Melissa Brown, an eyedoctor running in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Geoff Davis, who is running against George Clooney’s father, Nick, in Kentucky. Candidates Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania and Greg Walcher in Colorado also have called in the political heavies.

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) has thrown his clout behind GOP candidates in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and New York’s 27th Congressional District. Reynolds suffered two defeats in special elections this year, but they were negated after two incumbents switched parties.

Blunt and Pryce were campaigning and could not be reached for comment.

Blunt has campaigned and raised money for Reps. Jerry Weller (Ill.), John Carter
(Texas) and freshman Bob Beauprez (Colo.). Blunt has traveled to New York to campaign in the two open seats vacated by Reps. Jack Quinn and Amo Houghton.

From his district in southwest Missouri, he’s traveled north to help Jeanne Patterson, who is seeking to replace Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.).

Pryce has campaigned for Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.) and challengers Kris Kobach in Kansas and Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania.

Cantor has focused his efforts in 14 congressional races around the country, and in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District where state Rep. Thelma Drake is vying for retiring Rep. Ed Schrock’s (R-Va.) seat. Drake’s campaign stumbled last week when a GOP mailing accused her opponent, David Ashe, a U.S. Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq, of “weakening the war on terror” because he was supporting Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid.

“When you bring a member of leadership, it’s a rallying point,” Cantor told The Hill. “It’s a chance to bring attention to the race and, for me, it’s an opportunity to reach out to Jewish voters.”

Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) has not released his travel schedule, said Jonathan Grella, DeLay’s press secretary. In an e-mail, Grella wrote that DeLay, who was handed three letters of rebuke from the House Ethics Committee in the span of two weeks, has remained in Texas.

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