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Politics / House Races

House Democrats Lose Old Bulls

The party loses decades of institutional memory with the downfall of big guns such as Budget Chairman John Spratt.

photo of Fawn Johnson
November 2, 2010

Updated at 10:08 a.m. on November 3.

House Democrats lost several old bulls on election night, and decades of historical memory will disappear with the defeats of John Spratt, Ike Skelton, James Oberstar, and more.

House Budget Chairman Spratt, known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the budget and his country-gentleman demeanor, lost to Republican Mick Mulvaney, even though he was endorsed by 25 mayors from across South Carolina's 5th Congressional District last week. Spratt has been in office since 1983. A little-known fact about Spratt: He used to be head of the Bearings Caucus, as in ball bearings.


Oberstar has been in Congress for 36 years and served as top Democrat on the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 1995. His loss to Republican Chip Cravaack in Minnesota’s 8th District stunned many election observers, given that just a few months ago he was expected to win. Two years ago, Oberstar was easily reelected to his 18th term with nearly 70 percent of the vote. This time, he narrowly lost with roughly 47 percent of the vote to Cravaack’s 48 percent.

Skelton lost his battle for the western Missouri district he has held since 1977 to Republican Vicky Hartzler. The loss of Skelton, a moderate who sometimes bucked party leaders on security issues and led a bipartisan panel as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, opens a powerful leadership spot on the committee at a critical time for the war in Afghanistan and for the Pentagon budget, both of which will receive intense scrutiny from lawmakers of both parties over the next several months.

Rep. Chet Edwards has squeaked through a number of tight races in his 20 years in Congress in the area surrounding George W. Bush's Texas ranch. But while surviving redistricting in the last 10 years, he succumbed this time to challenger Bill Flores.

Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, a jovial grandfatherly type, has held a powerful post as chairman of the Capital Markets Subcommittee on the House Financial Services Committee. A major player in crafting the financial-overhaul bill that became law this summer, he lost to challenger Lou Barletta.

The defeat of Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia sent telecom wonks scrambling. Boucher has chaired the Communications, Technology, and Internet Subcommittee on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He has been in the middle of negotiations on several major bills addressing Internet privacy, network neutrality, and business-to-business phone rates.

Boucher’s loss will also be lamented by environmentalists and other energy experts who negotiated the House cap-and-trade bill that passed in 2009. Boucher was instrumental in forging deals between coal industry interests and environmental groups on that bill. Many experts say his involvement in the process was a key factor in his loss.

Seven-term Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida, a prominent member of the fiscally moderate Blue Dog Coalition, lost to Republican Steve Southerland.

Other long-timers knocked off by the Republicans included Reps. Bob Etheridge of North Carolina (seven terms) and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota (nine terms).

Some old bulls survived, including former Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who was projected to win handily over his Republican challenger. But Rangel faces a House ethics trial when he returns to Washington later this month for the lame-duck session. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the irascible chairman of the Financial Services Committee, was believed to be in some danger earlier this month, but he emerged victorious without difficulty.

Billy House, Humberto Sanchez, Amy Harder, and Megan Scully contributed contributed to this article.

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