Top Ten Races

by: Mike Lux

Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 17:39


( - promoted by Mike Lux)

Cross-posted on Huffington Post

Every year, there are certain political races that become really important symbolically and substantively in terms of the impact that an election cycle has on the country's politics. In 1994, the fact that Republicans took out Speaker Foley and the giant presence of Gov. Cuomo added to the huge symbolic weight of their victory. In 1998, the fact that we took out both D'Amato and Faircloth, the two leading architects of the Whitewater investigation strategy for the Republicans, had a huge impact on the interpretation of that election. In 2004, Thune's victory over Daschle became a symbol of the total GOP victory that year, and had a bigger impact on Capitol Hill politics than any Congressional or Senate election in years. In 2006, the stunning primary loss of Lieberman changed the way politicos in D.C. perceived the emerging progressive coalition. So far this year, the Donna Edwards primary landslide and the loss of Hastert's seat in the special election have carried big weight among the chattering classes.

Even beyond these highest profile races, though, there are slightly less seismic races that matter in the nature of how politics is viewed and how power flows. In 2006, Jim Webb's victory, fueled by the Macaca video, signaled an important new trend in politics. The combination of Webb, Tester, and Sherrod Brown winning victories on sharply populist themes created some real fear in corporate interests. Key committee chairs going down can change power dynamics dramatically, for good or bad, in Congress- for example, Pombo losing in 2006 made enviro members of Congress more aggressive.

So I thought it would be worth coming up with a list of the 10 most important races for this cycle outside of the Presidential. I factored in symbolic weight, elections that could bring people in who would be true progressive leaders, taking out especially bad conservatives, the importance of the race in terms of Presidential politics, the competitiveness of the race, potential longer-term importance (for example, beating George Allen and Rick Santorum last cycle took out two potentially strong Republican Presidential or VP candidates for 2008), and special reasons that might make media pundits and political insiders sit up and take notice.

Here's my list, and I'll be interested in other races you think should be on:

Mike Lux :: Top Ten Races
1. Franken/Coleman. No other new member of Congress next year would get more attention than Franken, and there would be no more powerful symbol of how much politics is changing than an openly progressive basher of the right-wing beating a mealymouthed so-called moderate and party-changer who actually votes with the hard-line Republicans on everything that matters. Plus Minnesota is an important swing state Presidentially, so Franken doing well would help Obama win here.

2. Burner/Reichert. An up-from-the-grassroots progressive, linked closely to the netroots movement, taking out a staunch conservative in a classic swing district? Nothing would be sweeter, or a better symbol of progressive resurgence. Of all the House races, this also goes to the top of the list because of Darcy's authorship of the Responsible Plan to End the War. We need to win this one.

3. Lunsford/McConnell. I know, I know, Lunsford's not our kind of Democrat. Howie Klein is going to be really mad at me for putting him on the list. But there is just nothing like taking out the other side's leader for shaking a party to its core. In all the carnage of 1994 and 2004, nothing freaked out Democrats more than losing Foley and Daschle. And McConnell is a particularly effective leader for them. Even if Lunsford turns out to be a Lieberman, it would still be worth it to take down McConnell.

4./5. (tie) Allen/Collins and Merkley/Smith. In my mind, these races are very similar: really solid progressives in leaning blue states with a slightly uphill chance to take out a pretend moderate Republicans. If the Democratic tide is rising, I think we can win both of these.

6. Begich/Stevens. Taking out "Mr. The Internet is a Series of Tubes," Taking out "Mr. Bridge to Nowhere," Taking out perhaps the single biggest example of Republican corruption now that DeLay is gone...It would be one of the biggest and best stories of the year.

7. Feder/Wolf. This one may surprise you, because VA-10 is a very tough district, and Judy- while being a remarkable candidate and raising a ton of money- is a ways from the top of the DCCC targeting. VA is a really important state in Presidential politics, though, and winning upsets in the DC market gets lots of national media attention and shakes people up (see Donna Edwards). But I mostly have her on this list because of Judy's savvy knowledge and passion on health care- if she is in the Congress, it improves our odds dramatically of getting a good universal health reform bill passed. Given her knowledge, skill, and connections, she would be one of the highest impact freshman members of Congress of all time.

8. Kilroy/Stivers. Ohio is the most important Presidential state in the country, and Obama needs to win the Columbus region big in order to win it. The other big reason to include this one is that it would be another GOP Congressional leader's district we'd be taking, adding to the DeLay and Hastert seats we already won (and hopefully will win again). If we end this cycle having picked up three of the top four old Republican leaders' districts from a couple of years, that will be a huge story symbolizing true sea change.

9. Slattery/Roberts. Beating the top Republican on Intelligence, the guy who has stood in the way on so many moments of accountability on intelligence issues would be a huge blow to the Republican security apparatus. And since it's Kansas, between Obama's roots and the inevitable What's the Matter with Kansas conversations this would provoke related to Thomas Frank's book, the symbolism would be huge.

10. Kleeb/Johanns. I made my case earlier as to why I think this is a winnable race. In fact, I think it's a better shot for us, a better shot at a 60th seat, than NC or TX, which are far more expensive states to get our message out in.

I have set up an ActBlue page where you can go and support any of all of these candidates, so if I've convinced you, give it a go.  Helping them now will really make an impact to show their strength when the June 30 FEC filings are made public.


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Top Ten Races | 18 comments
well (4.00 / 2)
It may not be that likely, but beating McConnell would be awfully symbolic.

On the more likely side, I'd vote for Democratic victories in Alaska.  Stevens and Young are basically openly corrupt.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.


Agree about Darcy Burner and Judy Feder (4.00 / 5)
They are both really worth supporting, as well as being significant races in their own right, Judy for health care and Darcy for Iraq.

And Lunsford/McConnell, for the reasons you say.  Not so enamored of Franken.  Wins by Allen and Merkley would be nice, but that significant?  I dunno. Kleeb would be bigger.  But:

If Betsy Markey can succeed in taking out Marilyn Musgrave in CO-04, that might set anti-gay politics back a bit, so I'd rank that as pretty significant.  Musgrave, like Richard Pombo last time, is also attracting money from environmental groups because of her ties to big oil.

Dumping at least one of the South FL Three (Ros-Lehtinen in FL-18 and the Diaz-Balart brothers in FL-21 and 25) would be a big break with the past on Cuba policy; all three would be huge.

Maybe kicking out Chris Shays in CT-04, the last GOPer in New England's House delegation.

Finally, a real long-shot.  If Andrew Rice can take out global warming denier James Inhofe, it would be a great day for the planet and would mark a very significant turning point.  Even better than taking our Ted Stevens, which would be pretty significant, and which would be a certainty if Rice were to win.


John McCain--He's not who you think he is.


I should point out that any of these (4.00 / 1)
are no more improbable than beating Geroge Allen would have seemed at this point in 2006.  (Macaca didn't happen until mid-August.)

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
All great picks. (4.00 / 2)
I'd like to suggest as well, Tom Perriello in VA-5 who spoke out swiftly and strongly against the FISA capitulation last week.

[ Parent ]
Hey there (4.00 / 2)
In response to your diary on Friday in response to my diary last Friday at Swing State Project, I posted a follow-up where I tried to quantify the right-to-left shift that would occur in hot House races.

Which dovetails nicely with the substance this post, actually, so I'll give everyone the top 5 where the greatest right-to-left impact would be felt (follow the link for details):

Cook/Rohrabacher in CA-46
Shulman/Garrett in NJ-05
Lord/Shadegg in AZ-03
Leibham/Bilbray in CA-50
Kosmas/Feeney in FL-24


[ Parent ]
Couple more (0.00 / 0)
NY-21 is an example if an open Democratic seat.  We need to get a great candidate here, not just a good one.  I suspect that several are pretty darned good.  My own choice would be Tracey Brooks, a former Senate aide, a progressive, and a woman.  She seems to hit a lot of the guidelines.  Some of the other candidates are also good here.

IL-18 is a key seat.  Aaron Schock is the next coming of Pareick McHenry or Asam Putnam.  He's 26, extremist, and has a huge following.  He's the kind of right wing nut that coukld be dangerous and could be taken out befor he starts by Colleen Callahan.


[ Parent ]
Musgrave (0.00 / 0)
I came very close to naming that one, would be wonderful.

[ Parent ]
I agree completely. (4.00 / 1)
with all of your picks, for the same reasons you mention.
I'd love to see the netroots get behind Kleeb and Franken like we got behind Webb and Tester.

It alarms me all of the defeatism I hear, especially about Minnesota, when these are winnable races with "our people" running.

As much as I want to take out McConnell, getting Lunsford elected is just a means to that end.

A Burner, or Kleeb or Franken victory wins on other levels.


This is a really good list (0.00 / 0)
I would think Noriega/Cornyn symbolically would be very high on the list -- if Rick's campaign were raising money at a much greater clip and if it looked like Texas was really nearing swing state status (which it probably isn't at, yet -- but watch out in 2012 or 2016).

Otherwise, using your criteria, I would think that Shaheen/Sununu would have to be somewhere on the list, just for pure symbolism of overturning the 2002 result in which the GOP won with a combination of fear-mongering and outright corruption (the phone jamming stuff).

As for a few symbolic House races that might really cause some big media coverage if we see a very large wave in the fall -- I'd put Perriello/Goode in VA-05 on there (replacing an Islam- and xeno-phobic cretin with a progressive devout Catholic in southern Virginia), Daniel Johnson/Patrick McHenry in NC-10 (b/c of McHenry's status in the Republican caucus), the South Florida races (which would de facto mean the end of south Florida's Cuban community voting heavily Republican if the Diaz-Balart clowns and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen are undone), Ash Madia in MN-03, Judy Baker in MO-06, Larry Joe Doherty in TX-10, Michael Skelly in TX-07, Vic Wulsin in OH-02 (these latter five races would show the bluing of far suburbs/exurbs in Minneapolis, Kansas City, Houston, and Cincinnati), and also Charlie Brown in CA-04 and Debbie Cook in CA-46. I think these will all be big stories and are various degrees of winnable.

I suspect there will be at least a handful of races (like Donald Betts in KS-04 over Todd Tiahrt) that will come out of nowhere this and be shocking upsets.  


Republican class of '00 (4.00 / 2)
Here in W.Va. the Capito/Barth WV-02 race (a DCCC Red to Blue district) is symbolic on many levels. Capito came in with Bush in '00, it's appropriate for her to leave with him.

Anne Barth, the Dem. challenger, is a savvy, hard-working, all-around great candidate. She's a 20-year Sen. Byrd staffer, most recently as his state director. As Sen. Byrd serves out what is almost certainly his last term, there is a symbolic passing of the baton there.

Capito is one those endangered species, a pro-choice Republican who tries to portray a moderate image (even as she rarely, if ever, goes against the wishes of Pres. Bush).

Finally, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is the only major Republican office holder in the state. She's the daughter of a former Rep. / Gov. Arch A. Moore, and she's the Republican party's very best hope for someday winning a Senate seat here. (Despite her dad being a convicted felon for influence peddling as Gov., he's still a popular figure in the state.) Unseating her from the house seat will be a death knell for an already weak W.Va. Republican party.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue


I'd go for bigger longshots. (4.00 / 1)
1. Perriello/Goode. This is really a test of weather a progressive faith movement candidate can win. There is a lot of organizing going on right now in the progressive faith community and there is a real opportunity to bring a huge new voting bloc into our coalition. Tom's election would be huge for that effort.

2. Kleeb/Johanns. Scott is a great, people-powered candidate. It would essentially be a win for the netroots over the Bush machine.

3. Rice/Inhofe. This is the Pombo race of 08 and it's sad that green groups don't seem to be looking at it that way. Inhofe is one of the single biggest roadblocks in the way of a new green economy. Rice ran one of the largest movement groups in Oaklahoma before he became a State Senator.

4. Begich/Stevens. This would be a big win for the 50 State Strategy. It would be a huge win for internet freedom advocates. It would be a great win overall.

5. Lord/Shadegg. Shadegg is to the right-wing of their party what Harold Ford is to the right-wing of our party. He ran a mostly symbolic leadership campaign pushing the far-rights agenda. They love him. Lord is a super impressive candidate and even if he wasn't it would be a important race.

6. Garcia/Diaz-Balart. This race is simple. It's the Cuban-American community's old guard vs a new Cuban-American outlook. If you want a more sane policy for Cuba this is the single most important race. Electing Joe Garcia would be more helpful to a better Cuba policy then any other event.

7. Lunsford/McConnell. Lunsford is a horrible Democrat but he isn't going to be in the leadership of the Republican Party. Like him or hate him Mitch is a helluva effective political operator. Knocking out the leader of the opposition is always hugely important.

8. Franken/Coleman. Obama is going to blowout McCain in Minnesota but the Senate race will be close. I'm not quite as big of fan of Al but still. Having a senator who is essentially a progressive movement icon already would be very, very good news.

9. Burner/Reichert. Outside of Donna Edwards Darcy Burner is probably the closest thing to a "netroots candidate". That's a big deal.

10. Edwards/Wynn. I know this race has happened already. But it was a huge, huge race. And I can't think of another race to put on here.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power


Can Kleeb really win? (0.00 / 0)
I think we would have to a landslide win on Obama's part for that to happen.  The odds don't look too good.

I think Franken has a good shot but first & foremost, the Democrats in his own state have to coalesce around him. They really need to GET OVER the satire and put everything in perspective.  Coleman is the true obscenity.  


Let's remember our friends, too (4.00 / 3)
We naturally tend to go after GOP seats in order to increase our majority and send a message. We tend to forget that it's at least as important to help Dem incumbents in questionable districts who went out on a limb for our causes.

I'm thinking of WI-08, where rep Steve Kagen narrowly defeated a GOP incumbent in 2006 in a district that went 55% for Bush. In spite of the risks in such a district -- the kind that so frighten Pelosi and Hoyer -- Kagen voted against both the Iraq reauthorization and the FISA atrocity. It would seem unthinkable to now reward him with indifference. He'll face a hard race in November. He needs and deserves our substantial support.


Carol Shea-Porter (0.00 / 0)
has also been a strong progressive from the frosh. Unfortunately, most of the rest have been disappointments on one or both of the Bush Dog areas.  

[ Parent ]
Beating McConnell (0.00 / 0)
would send the biggest message I think.

Taking Maine and New Hampshire would continue the process of turning the GOP into a Southern Party.  

I find the Minnesota race the least intesting of the group - maybe because I have never really liked Al Franken - which I am sure makes me a minority of one here.

I am also interested in a couple of Florida House races (including Fl-13) and FL-10 (which is an uphil fight).


Dole - Hagan (0.00 / 0)
I'm surprised not to see Dole - Hagan on the list.  

I admit that I don't know a lot about Hagan, but I know enough about Dole to want to see her gone.   She is vulnerable.   Especially, if Obama does well in NC.      


Lunsford (0.00 / 0)
Oh, Mike, I would never get mad at you.

Sure Lunsford is worse than Lieberman and worse than Zell Miller but I agree, it sure would feel great to see McConnell become an official lobbyist for China instead of one paid by the good citizens of Kentucky.

Still, I'd never vote for Lunsford in a million years no matter what. There is an alternative.

And, Mike, if Lunsford gets into office, I'll count on you to work on him and bring him towards Democratic values so he votes with the Dems on a few things now and then.


I'll do my best, Howie. (0.00 / 0)
Don't count on much, though.

[ Parent ]
Top Ten Races | 18 comments
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