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Stupak Voting Bloc Struggles Going Into Midterms

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

GRANITE CITY, Ill. – In the shadow of a U.S. Steel plant outside a shuttered Lisa’s Diner, a car garishly decorated in red, white and blue whizzes along Madison Avenue.

It is the only evidence of enthusiasm for U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello’s opponent, Republican Terri Newman, in November’s midterm election.

Democrat Costello is an 11-term congressman whose 12th District encompasses half of southern Illinois. He is one of the few “Stupak 11” members – pro-life House Democrats, led by Michigan’s Bart Stupak, who jeopardized and then saved President Obama’s health-care bill – who isn’t feeling pain for his eventual “yes” vote.

Mayor Ed Hagnauer explains that Costello is more part of the Main Street culture of this city (once known as Six Mile for its proximity to St. Louis) than of Washington.

“Jerry spends a lot of time here, he is tune with our needs and concerns,” Hagnauer said. He described the region as predominantly Catholic, conservative blue-collar Democrats.

Less than a month after the health-care debacle, Stupak announced he would not seek a tenth term in Congress, leaving his followers without cover.

“Stupak’s retirement is something of a mystery,” said House-race analyst Isaac Wood. He theorizes that Stupak realized a moderate had little place in leadership on either side of the aisle.

It’s no exaggeration to say House Democrats face an uphill climb this fall; just last week, a Gallup poll put public confidence in Congress at a ridiculous 11 percent.

Now, as Stupak fades into history, here’s how the rest of his old bloc is faring:

- Rep. Steve Driehaus (Ohio District 1) ran as a pro-life Democrat in 2008 and recently admitted his health-care vote hurts in this heavily Catholic, Cincinnati-based district. Moderate Catholics aren't his only problem; he faces a rematch with former Rep. Steve Chabot, who remains popular and is mounting a strong campaign to reclaim his seat with more cash on hand than the freshman incumbent. Driehaus trails by large margins in polls.

- Rep. Paul Kanjorski (Pa. Dist. 11) sweated out a victory in 2008 over Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, thanks largely to Obama voters in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Combine Barletta’s history of winning Democrats’ votes and Kanjorski’s flip on health care, which killed jobs in the student-loan industry near his district, and you have a clear reason why Barletta leads by an eye-popping 56 percent to 37 percent.

- Rep. Brad Ellsworth (Indiana Dist. 8) is running for the U.S. Senate against former Sen. Dan Coats. His seat will be filled in a race between surgeon Larry Bucshon, a Republican, and state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, a Democrat. Bucshon has the edge in this district which supported Republican presidential candidate John McCain with 51% of the vote in 2008.

- Rep. Joseph Donnelly (Indiana-02). When early results on Election Night 2006 showed him defeating U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola, Republicans knew it would be a bad night. This fall, Democrats could be in the same spot if Donnelly is defeated by Republican Jackie Walorski, daughter of a South Bend firefighter. Making a bleak situation worse is the Obama administration’s decision to no longer buy locally-made Humvees for the military.

- Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.-03). Her sleeper race became competitive in 2008 largely because of Obama’s strong Keystone State showing. She has not done herself any favors by voting 94 percent of the time with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a district that supported McCain (albeit barely) in 2008. Democrats cite Dahlkemper’s large cash-on-hand lead over popular car-dealer Mike Kelly – but her last opponent led her by more than 6-to-1 in cash in ’08.

- Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio-09) is safe but has been forced to spend money this year rather than doling it out to Democrats in need. Her GOP challenger, Richard Iott, is running a competitive race and has his own money to spend.

Rep. Charlie Wilson(Ohio-06). This district should favor Republicans but has been represented by a Democrat who successfully flies under the radar. Wilson’s opponent is retired Air Force officer and businessman Bill Johnson; he is running a strong campaign but has an uphill climb in a district that snakes from the Mahoning Valley along the Ohio River, down to the West Virginia and Kentucky borders.

- Rep. Solomon Ortiz (Texas-27). His opponent, R. Blake Farenthold, has minus $4,975.99 (yes, that’s negative) cash on hand. Needless to say, this race is not on anyone’s radar screen.

- Rep. James Oberstar (Minn.-08). The only way this district can be competitive is with an open seat. Oberstar’s seniority (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman) and war chest ($1.15 million at last count) should help him win, as he has since 1974.

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