Some incumbents get scant help from national party

AP News
Posted: Oct 25, 2012 4:59 PM
Some incumbents get scant help from national party

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) — Thanks for your service, and good luck.

That's what the national parties are saying to congressional veterans like Roscoe Bartlett, the Maryland Republican whose district was redrawn by Democrats to include liberal-leaning communities near the capital Beltway. National Republicans have all but abandoned his bid for an 11th House term. Bartlett, 86, is not giving up. He's says he's the most environmentally conscious Republican in Congress.

"That's not a very steep hill to climb," Bartlett said in a recent interview, acknowledging his party's record on environmental issues. "But I'm the greenest Republican, so I have a lot of characteristics that recommend me to these people."

Both parties have officeholders they've effectively thrown overboard, but not as many as in 2010. Republican and Democratic strategists point to three House campaigns where the parties clearly have declined to make independent expenditures for an incumbent in trouble — Bartlett, fellow Republican David Rivera in Florida and Democrat Larry Kissell in North Carolina.

National Republican officials who control millions of party dollars also have abandoned GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin, an 11-year House veteran thought to have a decent shot at unseating Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill until his remarks in August on "legitimate rape."

In a few other cases, the distance between party leaders and the candidate is less clear but perceptible, as the party committees scale back their spending in some districts or decline to match the resources that the other party is throwing into the race. It's a phenomenon that happens to some degree in every election, but this year it's been driven in part by once-a-decade redistricting and the occasional political scandal.

Because incumbents are generally the last group of candidates the national campaign committees abandon, being a member of this tiny caucus of the rejected carries particular sting. Democrats need to gain 25 seats to retake the House majority, an uphill battle they're not expected to win. The small number of incumbents running with little or no financial backing from their national party indicates how competitive the races are in this year's swing districts, which will make it difficult for either party to make significant gains.

"The sign that there's not going to be big swings is that Democrats are defending their own," said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "For every one of those losses, they have to find a win somewhere else. And the map is not big enough for them."

Democratic officials scoffed, pointing to the Republicans' shifting support away from tea party candidates like Bartlett and New Hampshire freshman Rep. Frank Guinta, who is facing a difficult rematch against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. Two years ago, Shea-Porter was one of the incumbents that Democrats threw overboard. Republicans have supported Guinta this year, but not in the last two weeks, federal fundraising records show.

"Republicans have a funny way of showing they're protecting the tea party majority when they're giving up on their own members," said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Officials at the NRCC noted that total spending when all outside groups are included favors Guinta, giving the NRCC flexibility to put resources elsewhere.

Bartlett has served in Congress for 20 years, representing the Appalachian portion of Maryland and some of Washington, D.C.'s outlying communities. Last year, the state's Democratic-dominated legislature remade the district by stripping out some Republican strongholds and replaced them with a bustling urban corridor that stretches along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County. Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans by about 42,000.

Linda Alban, one of the future constituents in the new congressional district, likened the move to cheating. Yet, the Democrat said she's not comfortable voting for Bartlett, saying she would have nothing to do with a member of the congressional tea party caucus.

"I don't think changing the boundaries is right, but I don't happen to support the person who's there in the first place," said Alban, a resident of the city of Gaithersburg, one of the Montgomery County suburbs added to the district.

National Republicans have offered some financial support to Bartlett, but they've declined to make any big-money independent expenditures to pay for big ad buys.

On the Democratic side, Kissell is in a similar position. The DCCC has poured more than $1 million into helping North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre win re-election, but they've declined to invest in Kissell's adjoining district, redrawn to favor Republicans, even though Republican-aligned political action committees have spent heavily there.

The committees that lead their party's congressional campaign efforts shift money into some races and out of others in the final weeks depending upon how competitive they become. Coming down the stretch in the 2010 election, the DCCC signaled that they were waiving the white flag for about 10 incumbents including Shea-Porter, Walt Minnick in Idaho, Steve Driehaus in Ohio and Steve Kagan in Wisconsin_all of whom lost.

Among Republicans, Rivera has also got little help from the national party, according to Federal Election Commission records. Rivera, a freshman, has been accused by the Florida Ethics Commission this week of committing 11 violations of ethics laws while he was a state legislator. He's also been accused of secretly funding an opponent to his current challenger, Joe Garcia, during the Democratic primary. Rivera and his campaign have denied the accusations.

The redistricting that took place in the states last year prompted several incumbents to retire. In California, Republican Reps. Jerry Lewis, Elton Gallegly, Wally Herger and David Dreier all stepped down rather than face difficult re-election battles. In North Carolina, Democratic Reps. Brad Miller and Heath Shuler stepped down after that state's Republican-led legislature drew new congressional borders.

Kissell opted to stick it out. He survived the Republican wave in 2010 that saw 16 Democrats in the South lose their seat, but the DCCC appears to view the district as unwinnable, making no independent expenditures that would help counter the more than $800,000 that Republicans have spent in the past five weeks to criticize him.