History, climate work against Rep. Kagen

Incumbent Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen is fighting for his political survival in a seat viewed by Republicans as a must-win on Election Day.

In a year when polls consistently demonstrate a general frustration with entrenched Washington politicians, Kagen has to contend with a potential GOP wave election, as well as the history of his district.

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The longtime allergist is running for his third term in a GOP-leaning district, facing tough odds: No Democrat has ever held the Wisconsin 8th congressional district more than two consecutive terms.

According to political science Professor Dave Wegge of Wisconsin’s St. Norbert College, who has written of the challenges that Democrats faced historically in Wisconsin’s 8th, Kagen has an uphill climb against GOP challenger and political neophyte Reid RibbleReid James RibbleKeep our elections free and fair Setting the record straight about No Labels With Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas' MORE.

“I think that it’s a real difficult task for Steve Kagen to overcome the overall context of the election, with economic conditions the way they are, the level of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Debate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Is Joe Biden finished? MORE’s popularity, and then do all of that in the context of [Kagen’s] running in a Republican district,” Wegge told The Hill in an interview.

Republicans feel confident that Ribble, a longtime roofer, will win the seat. The GOP needs to win at least 39 additional seats to regain control of the House.

Nonpartisan political handicapper Charlie Cook ranks Kagen’s race as “Leans Republican” — a change made a little over a week ago from the previous ranking of “Democratic toss-up.”

Republican campaign operatives point to a recent decision by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) as a sign that Democrats view Kagen’s seat as a lost cause.

Democratic aides familiar with the decision not to spend additional money on media in Wis.-08 deny the GOP claim that they are abandoning Kagen.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) is confident that Kagen is in a "strong position," however.

“The DCCC constantly makes adjustments based on the level of outside group activity in a district. Based on our assessment on the level of TV advertising in the district, Steve Kagen is in a strong position. We are fully invested in Steve Kagen’s voter contact efforts and remain confident he will win on election night,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Democratic aides highlighted a recent $750,000 infusion of cash into the race by outside labor organization the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for advertising that will benefit Kagen’s reelection effort. They also point to Vice President Biden’s fundraising trip to Wisconsin on behalf of Kagen on Friday as a sign of national Democratic Party support for the embattled veteran.

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) operatives say Biden’s Friday evening trip to Milwaukee, outside of Kagen’s Appleton-based district, was a “consolation prize.”

“With House Democrats abandoning Steve Kagen, Vice President Biden’s visit appears to be a consolation prize meant to smooth over any ruffled feathers. Kagen’s support for the Obama-Biden agenda is what imperiled his hope at reelection in the first place, so the vice president’s trip to Wisconsin serves as a nice coda for Kagen’s political career,” NRCC regional spokesman Tom Erickson told The Hill.

As of the latest campaign filings, on Oct. 15, Kagen had $393,304 cash on hand, compared to Ribble’s $317,626. For Ribble, the jump in cash came after winning a contested primary on Sept. 14.

The NRCC has spent close to $300,000 in the race thus far, compared to just over $110,000 from the DCCC.

Kagen, a multimillionaire, won his seat in an open election in 2006, when Democrats took control of the lower chamber. He has voted with his party on contentious legislation such as the economic stimulus bill, cap-and-trade and the healthcare law.

Though President Obama won the district in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote, his Republican predecessor former President George W. Bush carried the district in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote.

Professor Wegge said that though Kagen’s odds aren’t great, there’s still a chance he could make history this year.

Wegge explained, “I wouldn’t rule it out that he could win, but I think that you have to say it’s going to be difficult for Kagen to win this one.”