Northeast Revival of GOP?

Salena Zito
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Posted: Aug 09, 2010 12:01 AM
Northeast Revival of GOP?

FISHKILL, N.Y. – Nestled slightly east of the U.S. Military Academy and just south of where the Clintons celebrated daughter Chelsea’s wedding, this tony little village may play a part in restoring Republican representation from the Northeast in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Democrat in jeopardy here is sophomore Rep. John Hall of Dover Plains.

After a midterm massacre in 2006 and the 2008 defeat of Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., not a single House Republican remained in all of New England.

The media forecast that Republicans were unelectable in New England and barely electable in the Northeast. With six of nine Northeast states lacking GOP House members, that forecast appeared true.

Yet predictions can be fraught with flaws.

Like all true-believers after a stunning victory, Democratic strategist James Carville predicted that back-to-back Democratic electoral wins meant the party was set to rule for 40 years.

Carville was as misguided as Dick Cheney was, when Cheney proclaimed President George W. Bush’s 2004 win was a mandate.

What both men failed to understand is that Americans were not voting for their parties but against the other party.

Bush won because rank-and-file Democrats did not get behind Sen. John Kerry, their party’s nominee. And Republicans lost their congressional majorities because GOP voters were so disgusted that they stayed home.

The next House majority pivots on discontent once again. Voters are striking out against Democrats – although it remains to be seen if Republicans can win on merit, too.

“In politics, brief swings are often misinterpreted as radical realignments,” says House race analyst Isaac Wood. “In reality, the pendulum swings back and forth, although each undulation is often misinterpreted as the dawning of a new era.”

New England and the rest of the Northeast is not as conservative as other areas of the country, so when the GOP finds the right candidate with the right moderate profile, it can pick up seats.

“This is basically the Democratic playbook in the South during their victories in 2006 and 2008, but in reverse,” explains Wood.

The number one issue right now is jobs, he says, which is why Democrat Hall’s seat is in play. He ran on jobs before – a problem, since jobs are scarce in his district.

Here are some other Northeast races where Republicans have a serious chance of picking up seats:

New Hampshire District 1 - Incumbent Carol Shea-Porter was elected to Congress as a grassroots, anti-war Democrat but became a Washington insider; she faced tough town-hall events last year and spent this year voting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the big issues. The primary is Sept. 14, with a handful of strong GOP candidates ready to take on Porter.

New Hampshire Dist. 2 – An open seat vacated by Democrat Paul Hodes, who is running for the U.S. Senate, this is a classic toss-up. The GOP’s chances of winning greatly improved when Republican Charlie Bass announced plans to run for his old seat. Among Democrats, a bruising primary is brewing: Both Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett have raised considerable money but they are running way too far left in a state that includes a lot of independent voters.

New York Dist. 29 – This is disgraced Democrat Eric Massa's old seat (he of the groping scandal), which makes the GOP optimistic. Look for a close one between Republican Tom Reed and Democrat Matt Zeller.

New York Dist. 24 – Another toss-up, leaning to the GOP. Incumbent Democrat Michael Arcuri faces GOP challenger Richard Hanna, who barely lost to Arcuri the last time. Arcuri has flip-flip troubles on his health-care vote, while Hanna is well-positioned this time with impressive fund-raising numbers.

Massachusetts Dist. 10 – A classic Democratic seat, this normally would be a no-brainer. Yet after Republican Scott Brown's U.S. Senate win and Rep. Bill Delahunt's retirement decision, this seat moved up on the GOP’s map. It's an open-seat race with competitive primaries for Democrats and Republicans. Of note, Brown took 60 percent of the vote here in January.

Connecticut Dist. 4 – Democrat Jim Himes severely underperformed in ousting Republican Chris Shays in 2008. (President Obama carried the district with 60 percent of the vote, Himes with only 51 percent.) While the district and the state are trending Democrat, a strong GOP environment could wipe out a freshman like Himes, who has shown zero independence from his party. State senator Dan Debicella will decisively win next week’s GOP primary but he will need to take fundraising to the next level to match Himes in New York City’s expensive media market; Himes already sits on almost $2 million in campaign cash.