It’s hard to believe two years have already passed since 87 Republican freshman rode that stormy wave of Tea Party angst all the way to the House of Representatives.
A couple continuing resolutions, one debt ceiling showdown, and a downgrade of the U.S. government’s creditworthiness later, and some of those House freshman are finding it hard to stay seated.
No longer seen as gritty, anti-establishment change-makers, these Tea Party-backed House Republicans went through an agonizing term of partisan bickering only to come out the other end being widely perceived as part of the problem. They are the subject of attacks from the left for having voted to change Medicare, restrict protections for women, and ban earmarks that could stimulate local projects. They are simultaneously attacked from right for compromising their conservative ideology and Tea Party fealty in the hopes of being re-elected. And they are attacked by everyone else for contributing to the partisan gridlock that has largely defined the 112th Congress.
Four-fifths of the 87 House Republican freshmen are likely to be re-elected, but here is a look at some in danger of becoming one-term wonders.
1. Michigan 1st District
Tea Party favorite Rep. Dan Benishek (R), a medical doctor, defeated former state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) by 11% back in 2010. Now endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition, McDowell is back for a re-match, and looks to be doing much better than he did two years ago. McDowell has received $67,500 from building trade unions, which include iron workers, operating engineers and painters, among others, but taking into account contributions from super PACs and outside groups favoring the Democrat brings McDowell’s fundraising total to $3.7 million. In an effort to target the district’s sizable senior population, McDowell has run ads criticizing Benishek for voting to cut Medicare “to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy.” A September poll from PPP showed McDowell with a narrow lead, 44% to 42%.
2. New York 24th District
The Tea Party helped Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) eke out a win over incumbent Dan Maffei (D) in 2010 by a mere 648 votes. In yet another re-match Maffei is back to challenge Buerkle, and this time he is helped by a fundraising and redistricting advantage. Maffei has cut several ads attacking Buerkle for being too conservative, and one ad entitled “Draw a Line” focuses on a contentious bill co-sponsored by Buerkle and Congressman Todd Akin that would redefine rape as “forcible rape.” Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stumped for Maffei, saying the Democratic challenger “will bust the gridlock,” and “do what’s right for the people.” A recent Siena College poll showed the candidates dead even, 44% to 44%.
3. Illinois 8th District
Tea Partier Rep. Joe Walsh (R) (one of our House candidates to watch this year) has been in the headlines more than most of his freshman colleagues for his tendency to make incendiary comments and erupt in angry outbursts.
The Daily Beast this week even called Walsh’s intense shrieks and fiery yelps at campaign rallies, “very nearly canine.” Of course, Walsh’s most controversial remarks came when he derided his opponent Tammy Duckworth (D), a former official in the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department who lost both of her legs in Iraq, for talking too much about her service.
Just two weeks ago on a local news program, Walsh promised to end Medicare “as we know it,” and claimed that modern technology makes it entirely unnecessary to make abortion law exemptions in cases where the mother’s life is at stake. “With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance,” said Walsh. “There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”
A recent Chicago Tribune-WGN-TV poll put Duckworth ahead of Walsh by 10%.
4. New Hampshire 2nd District
Rep. Charlie Bass (R) defeated Ann McLane Kuster (D) by a slim one-point margin in 2010, but the Democrat is hoping the odds will break in her favor this time. Bass is a member of House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and as a result, has received the bulk of his campaign funding from corporate donors, who hold influence over his vote, says Kuster.
Despite Bass’s corporate ties, however, Kuster has managed to outraise him by $936,000. She also benefits from having President Obama, who won the district in 2008, at the top of the ticket. In September, Kuster released an ad criticizing Bass for his support to privatize social security, and another spot hitting Bass for supporting the Romney-Ryan plan “to gut Medicare.”
The latest WMUR Granite State poll showed Kuster taking a lead over Bass, 47% to 40%.
5. Florida 18th District
Rep. Allen West (R) (in another one of our races to watch) made his re-election prospects a bit tricky when he casually accused as many as 80 House Democrats of being members of the Communist Party back in April. The inflammatory remarks opened the door for challenger Patrick Murphy (D), vice president of Coastal Environmental Services, to attack West as a “right wing extremist.”
West’s paranoid accusations did not stop there. In an interview with Fox News Monday, West posited that state Democrats may be taking “nefarious actions” to dampen early voting turnout for the GOP. Despite being widely criticized, these aggressive attacks on the Democratic Party have turned out to be an effective fundraising tool. In this election cycle, West has collected more than $15 million, and a recent Scripps Treasure Coast poll puts West up by 9% over Murphy, 51% to 42%.
The race has been marked by particularly nasty ads, one referencing Murphy’s alcohol-related college arrest, and another attacking West’s military record, which includes assaulting an Iraqi detainee and being relieved of command.
So will today’s election be a referendum on the 2010 Tea Party House picks? The answer is likely no. The enduring feature to carry over from the 2010 election will probably not be partisan change in the House, but instead another huge freshman class numbering between 75 and 85. “More than a third of the House will have less than three years of experience when the 113th Congress is sworn in in January,” predicts the National Journal’s David Wasserman.
And will this next crop of House freshman include Tea Party heavyweights?