House freshmen in tight races: How many first-termers will be one-termers?


The 89 freshmen who roared into Washington last January are now experiencing the power, and also the perils, of incumbency. A number of them are not safe bets for reelection and some will certainly be one-termers. Of this fall's close races involving freshmen, a dozen stand out, based on the rankings of the nonpartisan political handicapper Charlie Cook.

Of them, 11 are Republicans who rode to power on the anti-Washington Tea Party wave. The remaining imperilled newcomer is Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline.

These are all bound to be expensive races where outside group spending may — as it did in many of these candidates’ races two years ago — outstrip the candidates’ hauls themselves. Many are already getting backing from like-minded organizations. In a recent release, the American Action Network announced that it's helping nine of the 11 Republicans in the tightest races with a new $1.2 million campaign. On the other side of the ideological divide, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has targeted all but one of the 11 endangered Republican freshmen in its “Red to Blue” program, including the colorful TV ad seen below that was recently launched in many of their districts. And House Majority PAC, a super PAC run by a former top DCCC executive, has already targeted all but one of the 11 Republicans.

Sunlight is taking a closer look at these races as part of our broader examination of the records of the members of the 112th Congress' House freshmen class.

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Almost all of the first-term incumbents are running against fresh faces — opponents who have never run for federal office. But there are two, GOP Reps. Jim Renacci of Ohio and Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, who are running against members who have been or are currently in Congress.

There are plenty of idiosyncrasies in these close races, though. Some of the endangered Republicans have more moderate voting records, like Reps. Robert Dold of Illinois and Chris Gibson of New York. This year, Gibson even voted against the budget offered by his party's vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Allen West stands out for his sheer amount of campaign money, largely from out-of-state. And the one Democrat on the list is actually from a very blue district but faces trouble for local reasons – he mismanaged funds as mayor of Providence.

Nan Hayworth (NY-18)

Nan Hayworth talks the fiscally austere talk of the Tea Party yet is one of the richest members of the freshmen class, according to a Sunlight analysis that will be published Wednesday. The former ophthalmologist resides in the New York City suburbs yet has taken positions — including a hard line during the debt ceiling talks — that may not be shared by constituents in her swing district which voted narrowly for President Barack Obama in 2008. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, Hayworth has been a prominent opponent of the health care law and a proponent of stripping arts of the Dodd-Frank banking sector overhaul.

Despite Hayworth's staunch opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law, ThinkProgress reported that her husband’s Westchester county medical practice actually set up an umbrella group to benefit from cost-sharing savings that it creates.

Even so, the congresswoman's voting record is moderate compared to other Republicans and does not quite put her in “the club of conservatives,” according to the American Conservative Union's voting rankings. Unlike many other House freshmen in tight races, she says she is pro-abortion rights, although she has come under fire from Planned Parenthood for some of her votes

She faces Sean Patrick Maloney, a former aide to Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer. 

She has the money advantage (her husband’s medical practice is her biggest donor, in the form of contributions from employees). But she's taken some public relations hits of late, with a spokesman resigning after posting an acidic Facebook comment and another being accused of throwing a misogynistic party in 2003.

Maloney, vulnerable to charges of carpet-bagging because only recently moved into the district from New York City, is running on a platform to cut “wasteful spending” and uses “we” when talking about helping Clinton balance the budget when he worked with him in the late 1990s.

Allen West (FL-18)

The fire-breathing GOP US Army veteran Allen West, who has become a national personality, moved to a safer district when Florida Republicans drew him a tougher map—which some have viewed as an affront, suggesting that Florida Republicans were not making his political safety a priority or possibly even that they wanted to get rid of him.

But he said “no one’s gonna lay a trap for me.” So now he faces newbie Patrick Murphy (not to be confused with the former Democratic congressman from from Pennsylvania, a one-time rising star until he was swamped by the Tea Party takeover) in a swing district just north of his former one.

The question in the race is whether West's take-no-prisoners speaking style (including his recent comment that Obama is trying to make Americans ‘economic slaves’) is too much. Political scientist Kevin Wagner told the New York Times that the Tea Party’s influence has encountered a backlash in the Sunshine State. West won in 2010 in a toss up race that went his way because of a Republican wave – but if that wave subsides, he may be in trouble in a new toss up race.

West's national profile has enabled him to raise a staggering amount of money for a congressional race – more $10 million, mostly from outside Florida. Only two other House members have raised more, and both of them are have a far bigger national profile: House Speaker John Boehner and former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Murphy, an executive at his father's contruction company, comes from money: His father donated a quarter of a million dollars to a pro-Murphy super PAC. Murphy’s strategy appears to be centered around painting West as a whacko, creating a website with some of the congressman's most controversial quotes.

Robert Dold (IL-10)

Robert Dold was already in the most Democratic district of any Republican, and redistricting made his suburban Chicago district even bluer. The freshman has an interesting profile—a overall centrist voting record who is emphasizing his bipartisanship in the race but an attachment to the conservative and unpopular Paul Ryan budget and against the economic stimulus (despite supporting specific stimulus projects).

For example: Dold sponsored legislation that would protect Planned Parenthood funding yet also signed the Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes.

Yet Dold appears to have strayed from his fiscal conservative ideology on more than one occasion. He embraced stimulus money when it was in his own district. And he was one of the freshmen who have requested the most special tariff suspension bills, depriving the government of revenue, as Sunlight reporter Ryan Sibley documented.

Also interesting is that he faces off against a Democrat who, like Dold, has an ideology that is hard to pin down. Management consultant Brad Schneider has an independent streak, having donated money to Republicans in the past like former Sen. Robert Bennett and Sen. Mike Johanns. Yet he describes himself as a progressive Democrat. He was opposed in the primary by Moveon.Org and a more liberal candidate.

Like most incumbents, he has the fundraising advantage, with about quarter of his haul coming from the Financial, Insurance, Real Estate sector. He sits on the Financial Services Committee.

Chris Gibson (NY-19)

A more centrist Republican than most of the other freshmen in tight races, Chris Gibson voted for the Paul Ryan budget in 2011 but switched to vote (only one in 10 Republicans to do so) for a bipartisan Cooper-LaTourette plan this year, which does not issue private vouchers. The Iraq War veteran spoke of wanting a bipartisan plan to reform Medicare when Governor Romney selected Ryan as his running mate.

Gibson currently has a substantial lead in polls and in cash over Julian Schreibman, an attorney in upstate New York. He calls Gibson a flip-flopper for his change of heart, saying he wants to “end Medicare as we know it.” The DCCC is also painting him as a protector of the wealthy and targeting his Medicare vote.

Gibson got a more Democratic district from redistricting but remains in swing territory.

David Cicilline (RI-01)

David Cicilline is in safe Democratic territory in Rhode Island but the former Providence mayor is in trouble anyhow. He’s unpopular for mismanaging the city’s finances, something that came to light soon after he took office in 2011.

He has a relatively small fundraising advantage over political newbie Brenden Doherty, a freshly drafted Republican running as a moderate. But that lead might be canceled out by outside groups. The former head of the state police has the heavyweight Chamber of Commerce on his side, which has already spent about a quarter of a million dollars supporting him, according to the Cicilline campaign.

Doherty is running on the former mayor’s fiscal record. Cicilline, meanwhile, is saying that his opponent wants to gut Medicare. Doherty maintains that he does not support Paul Ryan’s Medicare budget, which introduces a private voucher system in place of a government program, and wants a bipartisan plan.

Dan Benishek (MI-01)

Just as Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s running mate, the DCCC started tying Dan Benishek to the Republican vice presidential candidate's controversial Medicare budget.

The Tea Party congressman is being targeted by his opponent, and the DCCC, for his support of Medicare vouchers and for saying that “oil companies pay their fair share.” In a swing district once held by moderate Democrat Bart Stupak, Democrats hope they have another candidate in the same mold: former state Rep. Gary McDowell, who is socially conservative but already lost to the former physician in 2010.

Like in 2010, when outside groups spent at least $4.5 million on the race and made it one of the most expensive House races for those groups, they are playing again this year. The DCCC has reserved a half million in airtime for the fall. Dark money groups are also playing, or may get involved. The League of Conservation Voters, a liberal group, has been running anti-Benishek ads since last year. Two other left-leaning organizations: American United for Change and AFSCME, a union, teamed up to run a TV ad against the Tea Party Republican, which you can see below.

Outside groups on the right, including Americans for Prosperity, the American Future Fund, and the Michigan Republican Party dropped over $2.5 million on Benishek's behalf during the last go around, and may do so this time. The Chamber of Commerce already launched a TV ad to support him in May.

Joe Heck (NV-03)

Joe Heck defeated Democrat Dina Titus in 2010 with a narrow lead of 1,700 votes, and like other candidates on this list faces reelection after redistricting made his district bluer. Heck is perhaps best known for teaming with Republican Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on the Stolen Valor Act, which seeks to punish those who lie about military service. The bill has been attacked by First Amendment advocates.

But despite the criticism and newly defined district demographics, Heck may still have a shot. Heck’s campaign has so far raised almost twice as much as his Democratic opponent, John Oceguera. Heck, a former physician and state senator, receives loads of contributions from the healthcare industry and business PACs.

Meanwhile Oceguera has taken heat for collecting a firefighter’s pension at just 43 years old. In May, Oceguera gave two interviews in which he refused to take stances on any major issues, which prompted one pundit to proclaim Oceguera’s political career “all but finished.”

Those digs aside, Oceguera beat out five other contenders for the candidacy. Oceguera is likely to receive a large portion of the Hispanic vote, and now has the endorsement from Bill Clinton. The result may ultimately depend on anything the House candidates do before November. 

Jim Renacci (OH-16)

A newly-drawn, oddly-shaped district crosses four different counties in the Cleveland television market.

In a rare general election matchup of incumbents, former businessman Jim Renacci faces former labor lawyer and three-term Democrat Betty Sutton, who over her career has gotten about $1.1 million from labor, more than any other sector. His 2010 minimum net worth was the highest of any freshman member. And his spot on the Financial Services Committee has him receiving over $550,000 from the financial sector in his short career.

The race is a magnet for outside money – there has been at least $4.5 million committed or spent on the race by those groups already, according to the National Journal and campaign finance records. Among the outside groups in the mix: SEIU, House Majority PAC, the Chamber of Commerce, American Action Network and the national party committees on both sides. So far, Renacci has been the better fundraiser, besting Sutton by about $500,000.

There’s a strong contrast between the two candidates. They not only clash on the Affordable Care Act, but the auto bailout and trade deals, both crucial issues in the Rust Belt. Sutton has criticized Renacci for voting for free trade agreements, something opposed by Labor in a traditional manufacturing area.

Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-24)

Ann Marie Buerkle has a lot working against her.  She rode the Tea Party wave in 2010, and with an endorsement from Sarah Palin took New York’s 25th from one-term Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei by just 567 votes. .

Now, because of redistricting, Buerkle is running in the new 24th Congressional District, which is more Democratic than her current one. Based on 2008 voting patterns, Democrats calculate that Obama would have carried the new district with 57 percent of the vote. Despite her district’s demographics, Buerkle was ranked as the 15th most conservative member of the House by National Journal, based on her voting record, which may make winning in November difficult.

Maffei joined a lobbying and law firm as a “senior advisor” after losing, meaning he advised the shop’s lobbyists on how to advocate in Albany and Washington, D.C., a way to get around officially registering as a lobbyist. So far he has managed to best Buerkle in campaign fundraising.

While in Congress, Maffei voted with Democratic leadership 96 percent of the time.  The DCCC is already trying to help him, launching a satiric ad against Buerkle for “putting millionaires over the middle class;” Buerkle wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income levels while the Democrats want to raise taxes for families earning over $250,000.

Francisco "Quico" Canseco (TX-23)

Though he rode the Tea Party wave in 2010, Francisco Canseco faces a tougher race this year. The good news for him is that his majority Hispanic district has been redrawn in his favor, but it’s still a swing district.

State representative Pete Gallego has hammered Canseco on his conservative views, on immigration in particular. Despite his district's demographics, Canseco opposed the DREAM Act, which would grant a chance at citizenship to young people brought to this country illegally as children, and has avoided commenting on Obama's plan to enact the legislation by executive order. However, the conservative Club for Growth gave Canseco a relatively low ranking compared to other freshmen, when judging votes to cut spending and limit government.

Though Gallego spent most of his funds on the primary, he has recently received a bump from the DCCC, who named him one of its "rRed-to-Blue" candidates this year. The League of Conservation Voters is also stepping in for Gallego, announcing it would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars against Canseco because of his stance on climate change and other “anti-science” positions.

Chip Cravaack (MN-08)

After winning in a tight race against 36-year Democratic House veteran Jim Oberstar, Chip Cravaack is vulnerable in a Democratic area untouched by redistricting, after Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the GOP plan.

Now under attack from left-wing groups, Cravaack has been labeled the “Hypocrite’s Hypocrite” for voting for the Ryan budget plan and cutting Planned Parenthood funding. Though he flirted with the Tea Party Caucus, saying their values were “pretty much what my values are,” he ultimately abstained from joining. He voting record has him looking like a “moderate Republican follower.”

Cravaack’s wife works in Boston, so he’s moving his kids to New Hampshire. He plans to work in D.C. during the week, and spend one day in his district and one with his family. The plan has again prompted attacks of hypocrisy from opponents. Nolan has vowed not to bring the issue up, but there are plenty of other groups that will, including the DCCC and CREDO Super PAC

He currently outweighs his Democratic competitor Rick Nolan in campaign cash, with almost $1.5 million to his $360,000. But so far, outside spending groups have dropped about $250,000 on television and mailing efforts to oppose him. The Minnesota Democratic Party has also thrown in more than $150,000 to support Nolan. There is more spending by groups like the Chamber of Commerce, but it's impossible to know how much unless they start disclosing the information. 

Bobby Schilling (IL-17)

Endorsed by Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in 2010, Bobby Schilling won by 10 percentage points. But for this election, his district has been redrawn to make it more Democratic. In his own campaign’s poll, he had a big lead over former health care executive Cheri Bustos, but Schilling is still considered an underdog by some politicos.

According to OpenCongress, the pizzeria owner votes with the Republican party 92 percent of the time. But backed by the Tea Party in 2010, Schilling only received a 54 percent rating from Club for Growth, for his voting to cut the budget and reduce government.

He is barely holding a fundraising advantage, with Bustos out-raising him in the past three quarters. Her sharp line of attack has included criticizing him for voting to decrease the earned income tax credit for low-income households.

As for outside groups, the DCCC committed $243,000 in the fall against Schilling. House Majority PAC has hit Schilling with a radio ad already. Meanwhile, a super Pac called the New Prosperity Foundation is opposing Bustos.