Yesterday Jillian and I attended an event hosted by the National Republican Campaign Committee featuring a number of Republican House candidates running in competitive districts. I caught up with a few of them:
Bobby Schilling* (IL-17): This restaurant-owning father of ten, and political newcomer, seeks to unseat Rep. Phil Hare--who became infamous for these on-camera remarks:
Schilling says the latest polls he's seen are very close. One shows him behind by a handful of points, another puts him ahead. Not bad for a campaign that has not run a single radio or TV ad yet, nor sent out general election mailers. That will all change soon, Schilling says, and you'd better believe the clip linked above will feature prominently in his on-air push. "I was concerned that we might peak too soon [when the clip first went viral], but it's not stopping. It's still building," he said. Schilling may also benefit from Bill Brady's coattails, especially since Brady hails from downstate.
Mike Kelly (PA-03): When Northwestern Pennsylvanians voted for Kathy Dahlkemper in 2008, they thought they were electing a pro-life, limited government conservative. After tallying "yes" votes on the stimulus, card check, and Obamacare, Dahlkemper convinced many voters in her district that they'd been suckered. Second generation car dealer Mike Kelly's bid to replace her is going swimmingly, he says, with polls showing him opening a double-digit advantage over the incumbent. "Polls are important for our credibility, but I never look at them and feel at ease. I'm running like I'm behind," he said. Kelly said voters in his district are right to feel betrayed. "[Dahlkemper] is from Erie, but she votes like she's from San Francisco. People feel abandoned. The seductive environment in DC has turned her into something other than what she ran as," he said.
Tim Walberg (MI-07): "So far, so good," says the former Congressman, when asked how he's faring in his attempt to regain his old seat. Unions, PACs, and the DCCC have hit Walberg with nearly $2 million in negative ads so far, yet they haven't managed to push Democratic incumbent Mark Schauer's re-elect number above 40 percent in the polls. Walberg, a self-described "true constitutional conservative who supports limited government, and who's never voted for a tax increase," sits seven points ahead in this race, according to the latest poll. Why? "My opponent has morphed into a Nancy Pelosi lookalike, which is not a pretty picture, except for people living in San Francisco," he said, referencing Schauer's support for Obamacare, the stimulus, and Cap and Trade.
Jon Runyan (NJ-03): "I'm a Giants fan," was probably not the wisest thing for me to say to this towering ex-lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles and Michigan Wolverines, who could crush me with two fingers. Runyan is enjoying strong support from popular NJ Governor Chris Christie as he tries to unseat vulnerable Democrat John Adler. Adler narrowly won this Republican district in 2008 with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, but Runyan predicts it won't happen again this time. "When you think of New Jersey, you think of taxes. John Adler was a tax and spend liberal as a state senator, and he's doing the same thing down here [in DC]," he said. Shifting to football, I ask if the 3rd district is Eagles country. "No, not in a lot of Ocean County," he said. "It's mostly Giants fans. I get it all the time: They tell me they're Giants fans, but then say 'but we're still behind you.' I also sometimes get Democrats who are Eagles fans who say they're going to support me."
Dan Benishek (MI-01): This general surgeon didn't even have an active campaign website when Rep. Bart Stupak caved on Obamacare and sold out the pro-life cause. Benishek was Stupak's only declared opponent at the time, and his "phone started ringing off the hook," after the infamous sellout press conference. Within a week, Benishek had acquired tens of thousands of facebook friends, and now holds a large lead in the open seat race (Stupak decided to retire). He's running on a simple platform, which he calls the "4 R's": Read it (as in, the legislation, before voting on it), Reduce it (taxes, spending), Repeal it (Obamacare), Reform it ("bring government back to the Constitution"). Imagine that.
Randy Hutgren (IL-14): We've covered this race before. Hultgren is up against freshman Congressman Bill Foster, a liberal Democrat, in the old Dennis Hastert district. Foster often plays the "I'm undecided" game leading up to controversial votes, but unfailingly ends up slinking into the House to vote with Nancy Pelosi. Hultgren feels "confident" about his poll position (up 7), but continues to "work hard." Another plus? He actually travels the district, unlike Foster, who "nobody sees."
*Note: I interviewed Schilling on Wednesday, rather than at the NRCC event.