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GOP Running Up the Score in Big Ten Country - Part II

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Let's analyze the midterm election landscape within college football’s Big Ten conference—a region that may hold the key to potential Republican takeovers of the houses of Congress.  Yesterday, we covered Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan.  Today, the remaining five states:

MINNESOTA (Golden Gophers)—

Governor:  Two-term Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty  is term-limited and cannot run for re-election this year (he’s rumored to be considering a presidential run), and the race to succeed Pawlenty is wide open.  Undistinguished former Senator Mark Dayton is the Minnesota Democrats' (DFL) gubernatorial nominee, facing off against Republican State Representative Tom Emmer.   Polls show an extremely competitive race, with Independent candidate Tom Horner muddying the waters a bit. But it’s in the land of 10,000 lakes that Democrats see their best opportunity to gain a Big Ten country Governorship.

Senate: Neither Stuart Smalley nor the Twilight Acolyte is up in 2010. 

House: Democratic incumbent Tim Walz is expected to win re-election in MN-01, but his district voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and was controlled by Republicans from 1994-2006.  If a righteous wave is building, Walz could be a political casualty.  His opponent is Republican State Representative Randy DemmerMichele Bachmann has ranked near the top of the DCCC’s target list ever since she squeaked out a 2006 victory in MN-06.  After another close call in 2008, Democrats hoped 2010 might finally be the year to knock Bachmann off, but recent polling shows her ahead by 9 points.  Two other Minnesota DFL sitting members may be sweating more than usual this year: Betty McCollum in MN-08, and Jim Oberstar in MN-08.  Republicans consider both of those races to be outside shots for upsets.

Projection: Minnesota, hats off to thee.  Of all the Big Ten states, you’re the most likely to provide an electoral silver lining on the Democrats’ otherwise dark cloud.

NEBRASKA* (Cornhuskers)—

*Note: Nebraska will leave the Big XII and join the Big Ten next season. When they do, the Big XII will field ten teams and the Big Ten will have twelve. This math may only make sense to Nancy Pelosi.

Governor: In what promises to be another GOP waltz, incumbent Governor Dave Heineman holds a massive lead over Democrat Mike Meister.

Senate:  Neither seat is up this year, yet the DNC is pumping cash into the state.  Why?  Sen. Ben Nelson (D) is so deeply unpopular for his Obamacare vote, Democrats are already trying to salvage his 2012 re-election bid.  He’ll need the help: getting booed out of restaurants by generally uber-nice Nebraskans is a pretty blatant red flag. 

House: Nebraska is not a battleground state in 2010.  The only House race that appears to be remotely close is Omaha’s NE-02, which Barack Obama won in 2008, but Incumbent Republican Lee Terry looks like a lock for re-election.

*Projection: Nebraska will largely hold the status quo.

OHIO (Buckeyes)—

Governor: Stick a fork in Democratic Incumbent Ted Strickland, he’s almost done.  Absent an unforeseen political earthquake, say hello to presumptive Republican Governor John Kasich, of Fox News fame.

Senate: If Strickland is toast in the gubernatorial race, Democrat Lee Fischer is getting burned to a crisp in head-to-head polls against Republican Rob Portman.  Portman is the former OMB director under President Bush, and is considered by many conservatives to be a significant upgrade from outgoing GOP Senator George Voinovich. 

House: Republican pick-up opportunities abound in the Buckeye State.  In order: OH-01 features a rematch of Rep. Steve Driehaus’ (D) 2008 victory over longtime Republican Congressman Steve Chabot.  Chabot is favored to regain his old seat.  Rep. Charlie Wilson is hanging on for dear life in OH-06 with Republican Bill Johnson hot on his tail.  Polls show a statistical dead heat.  In what is typically a reliably Democratic district, Rep. Betty Sutton (D) can’t seem to raise money and is consequently in real danger of being upset in OH-13 by car dealer Tom Ganley, her Republican challenger.  In OH-15, Democratic Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s days in Congress may be numbered, as her opponent, Steve Stivers (R) leads in several polls.  Another endangered Ohio Democrat is OH-16’s John Boccieri.  Boccieri played a convincing Hamlet during the Obamacare debate, only to end up voting with Nancy Pelosi, and Republican Jim Renacci wants to make Boccieri pay the price.  Charlie Cook rates the contest a toss-up, so any little factor could make the difference—like six Boccieri donors getting indicted in recent weeks.  Another tight Ohio battle is being waged in OH-18, where Rep. Zach Space (D) is trying to withstand an onslaught from Republican state lawmaker Bob Gibbs, which, admittedly, is an unfortunate name for a Republican candidate to have these days.

Projection:  Can you hear that chant emanating from DNC headquarters?  “O-H! Oh-No!”  Republicans romp through the Buckeye Grove, netting the Governorship, holding a Senate seat, and gaining 3-5 House seats.

PENNSYLVANIA (Nittany Lions)—

Governor:  Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell is term-limited, leaving his position up for grabs.  Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato (D) is trying desperately to be the one who grabs it, but polls show the Governorship is likely out of his reach.  Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett has built a strong and enduring poll lead, which he’s unlikely to relinquish in the next few weeks.  Advantage: Corbett.

Senate: Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat-turned loser Arlen Specter won’t be on the ballot in November, but his one-time Republican primary nemesis and erstwhile Democratic primary opponent both will.  Congressman Joe Sestak (D) turned down some juicy job offers to persevere in his Senate campaign, and it paid off when he bested Specter to win his party’s nomination.  That will likely prove a pyrrhic victory, however, as Republican nominee Pat Toomey has surged ahead in general election polls and now enjoys a stable lead.  As Jim Geraghty likes to quip, Toomesday is near for Pennsylvania Democrats.

House:  The GOP could wreak some serious havoc in Keystone State House races, as eight Democrat-controlled seats look vulnerable.   In PA-03 Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper—a member of the infamous Stupak crew—is struggling mightily in this pro-life district against Republican auto dealer Mike Kelly, who holds a double-digit lead.  PA-04 Rep. Jason Altmire, a sophomore Congressional Democrat, is fighting to hang on against Republican Keith Rothfus in a district that John McCain carried by 11 points in 2008.  With Joe Sestak running for Senate, his suburban Philadelphia Congressional seat in PA-07 is open, and Democrat Iraq war veteran Brian Lentz (D) is trying to defend it against former US Attorney Pat Meehan (R).  This race was recently moved to “lean Republican” by Charlie Cook.  Another tough battle in the Philly suburbs—which have generally spelled trouble for Republicans in the last ten years—is the rematch race in PA-08.  Sitting Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy is languishing in recent polls, trailing former Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R) by double-digits.   In the Northeast corner of the state, Rep. Chris Carney (D) is trying to ward off Republican ex-US Attorney Tom Marino in PA-10’s contest—which is often discussed as a tossup despite an August poll showing a commanding Marino lead.  In PA-11, Republican challenger Lou Barletta is capitalizing on 25 year incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s ethical issues and recent racial remarks, and is favored to win the seat.  When Rep. John Murtha died earlier this year, his longtime aide Mark Critz won a special election (cunningly scheduled by Gov. Rendell on the day of a hotly contested Democratic Senate primary) to fill Murtha’s seat.  Congressman Critz will have to stave off a stiff challenge from a familiar face: Republican Tim Burns, whom he defeated in May.  In 2008, PA-17’s Rep. Tim Holden (D) easily secured re-election with 64 percent of the vote, despite John McCain carrying the district.  In 2010, Republican Dave Argall is looking to pull an upset, although this one is an uphill battle.

Projection:  The GOP reclaims both the Pennsylvania Governorship and a US Senate seat in the same year for the first time since 1994, when Joe Pa’s crew ran the table and won the Rose Bowl.   Republicans will also make major gains in the House, winning 4-6 Democrat-held seats.

WISCONSIN (Badgers)—

Governor:  Current Governor Jim Doyle (D) is not running for re-election, so Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett answered the bell to assume the role of Democratic standard-bearer in a state that has trended blue in recent elections.  He’ll be opposed by Republican Scott Walker, a Milwaukee County executive.  Walker has the political winds at his back and is running clever ads against Barrett, which has proven a potent combination: He leads comfortably.

Senate: In a race that few prognosticators projected to be a toss-up even a few months ago, incumbent Democratic Senator Russ Feingold finds himself on the ropes and getting pummeled by Republican businessman Ron Johnson.  The last few weeks have been especially punishing for Feingold, who saw his slight lead evaporate almost overnight.  The last four major statewide polls have produced an average Johnson lead of eight points

House: When David Obey decided to relinquish his powerful House Appropriations Committee post, he created a rare power vacuum in WI-07.  Seeking to fill that void is former MTV reality star, lumberjack, and District Attorney, Sean Duffy (R).   Duffy appears to have emerged unscathed from a barrage of negative DCCC ads, and leads Democrat Julie Lassa by 9 in the most recent poll.  Democratic incumbent Steve Kagen is also in a major battle in WI-08, where Republican challenger Reid Ribble, a successful roofing contractor, has pushed this race into a pure tossup status.   Democrats are also casting a worried eye on WI-03 where Rep. Ron Kind (D) is still expected to withstand a strong challenge from Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke.

Projection: Jump around, Wisconsin Republicans; it’s going to be a good year.  The Governorship, a US Senate seat, and at least one House seat will change colors—from blue to Badger Red.


Let’s check the score:  Based on the analysis above, Republicans will net at least 5 Governorships, four US Senate seats, and between 15 and 20 House seats in Big Ten Country alone this fall.  This would (a) tip the majority of nationwide Governorships into the Republican column, (b) represent 40 percent of the seats Republicans need to take back the Senate, and (c) provide John Boehner with roughly half the votes he needs to swipe the Speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi. 

The GOP is poised to score, but fourth quarter drama remains: Will the party pull its weight in other regions and push the GOP over the goal line on November 2nd, or will Republicans have to settle for a field goal?  Stay tuned.

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