It's hard to keep up with all the seriously contested House races around the country -- more seem to show up on the radar screen every week. But it's interesting to me that some of the candidates who have risen from entirely apolitical backgrounds to challenge Democrats everyone considered safe even a few months ago seem to have good political instincts.
Take Ilario Pantano in North Carolina 7, a district Democrats have held since Reconstruction. Pantano is the son of Italian immigrants, who left Goldman Sachs to re-enlist in the Marines after 9/11 and was entirely vindicated of charges brought against him by a disgruntled subordinate.
Pantano has taken on 14-year incumbent Mike McIntyre, a pleasant man with deep local roots, and has wisely not attacked him personally. Instead, he's targeted the policies of the Obama Democrats.
Or consider Chip Cravaack, former Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot who says he's spent several years as a stay-at-home dad. He's taken on 36-year veteran Jim Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in Minnesota 8, a district Democrats have held since 1946. Cravaack has shrewdly targeted some local issues and may capitalize on the fact that Oberstar received only one contribution from a district resident in the last quarter.
Polling indicates that these two Republicans, tea party types if not tea party products, are making serious challenges in districts where Democrats received 69 percent and 68 percent of the vote in 2008. Not all such challenges are successful. But some are, and they can change the political balance in Congress.
The tea party movement today, like the peace movement 40 years ago, has brought many new people into politics -- and many with sharper political instincts than their detractors in the press have been able to understand.