Thanksgiving is only a day away, and many members of the House will be returning to their districts thankful it’s not 2012 yet. With the public registering historic levels of dissatisfaction with Congress and redistricting imperiling many of the most entrenched members, the list of vulnerable lawmakers will be particularly long next year.
But it’s the select few who, because of poor fundraising, strong early opposition, or bad luck through redistricting, stand out. So without further ado, here are the first annual Against the Grain rankings of the top House turkeys in 2012.
1. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.
Strategists often argue that the most vulnerable members of Congress are often the least prepared for a tough campaign. That maxim applies in spades to the 85-year-old Bartlett, who raised only $1,000 last quarter and finds himself running in a radically altered district that includes the liberal-leaning Washington suburbs of Montgomery County. Prominent Maryland Democrats are lining up to challenge Bartlett, and liking their chances. Don’t be shocked if Bartlett decides to retire after 10 terms, given his long odds.
2. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.
Of the four North Carolina Democrats whose careers are imperiled by redistricting, no one looks more endangered than Kissell. The two-term incumbent survived last year’s GOP wave, thanks to a weak opponent, a $1.7 million cash infusion from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the reluctance of the Republican committee to pour big bucks into the Charlotte market. But with heavily African-American parts of his district removed, Kissell will need to rely on winning over many more conservative-minded voters—a very tall task.
3. Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
Dreier is the most adversely affected by redistricting because he doesn’t have a district to run in at all. He has given no signs of running for reelection—the famously prodigious fundraiser brought in only $44,000 last quarter—and is resting his hopes on a long-shot lawsuit that would overturn the new lines. Good luck with that.
4. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Barrow survived a 2005 attempt by Republicans to redistrict him out of office, but the latest GOP redraw makes it exceedingly difficult for him to win another term. His new district no longer includes the Democratic stronghold of Savannah, and instead is dominated by rural conservatives. Only two other House Democrats currently represent districts more Republican than the newly-drawn Barrow seat, and both—Mike Ross of Arkansas and Dan Boren of Oklahoma—are retiring.
5. Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif.
Richardson is in such poor political shape that she may not even place in the top-two primary against Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., and state Assemblyman Isadore Hall. Richardson’s short career in Congress is filled with baggage: She faces a House Ethics Committee investigation into charges that she used her Hill staff for campaign events and personal errands. That, on top of numerous well-publicized financial problems, will make it difficult for her to win over new constituents against two experienced opponents.
6. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo.
Another member who lost his district thanks to redistricting, Carnahan is debating whether to challenge Rep. William Lacy Clay in a Democratic primary or run for a more-Republican open seat currently held by GOP Rep. Todd Akin. Neither option is palatable: He would be facing Clay in a majority-black district, or facing long odds in the 2nd District, likely against well-funded Republican Ann Wagner.
7. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y.
Thanks to a backlogged redistricting process in the Empire State, Buerkle won’t know the contours of her district until next year, but she does have a good idea of who her Democratic opponent will be—Democrat Dan Maffei. She defeated Maffei by just 648 votes in 2010, and redistricting could either eliminate her district or make the Democratic-leaning seat even more unfavorable for her. She’s also been a dismal fundraiser.
8. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.
Schilling has the distinction of representing the second-most Democratic district held by a Republican, thanks to new lines that made the seat even tougher to win. His saving grace: Sen. Mark Kirk and gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady comfortably carried the new district with more than 55 percent of the vote in 2010, making it a little more hospitable to Republicans than the presidential numbers would suggest.
9. Rep. Charlie Bass, R-N.H.
Being from a state that’s leaning Republican, Bass would appear to be in good shape. But Bass is doing everything to put himself in trouble. His fundraising totals have been anemic, and he’s alienated conservatives by entertaining a willingness to raise taxes. Bass is facing a rematch against Democrat Ann McLane Kuster for a seat he barely won in 2010.
10. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn.
His largely party-line voting record is at odds with the prairie populism of Minnesota’s Iron Range, a region that has traditionally seen a role for an active government. Cravaack already is facing a field of credible Democratic challengers, and if his district isn’t dramatically altered, he would be running in one of the most Democratic seats held by a Republican.
This article appears in the November 23, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.