Christine O’Donnell, Delaware’s newly minted Republican nominee for the Senate, is the hottest name in politics this week — but certainly not among some GOP Senate operatives who feel she’s too flawed to win in this heavily Democratic state. In fact, Democrats on the Senate level appear to have benefited from a rash of tea party victories in the last several months.
But don’t think for a minute that this phenomenon is limited to O’Donnell or her fellow Senate Republican candidates.
To be sure, House Republicans have largely avoided the wave of tea party nominees that seems to have affected their Senate counterparts’ carefully laid plans. Surprisingly, only a handful of serious Republican establishment types have gone down to defeat in primaries at the hands of tea party challengers.
But that doesn’t mean the huge crop of viable Republican candidates this cycle is without flaws.
Quite the contrary. Some of these recruits are career politicians, like state legislators or law enforcement officials. But most, though, are businessmen or physicians who never before thought about running for Congress. And as Democrats peel back the layers, they’re finding dirt on several of these newbies.
Take South Dakota. A few weeks ago it was revealed that GOP state Rep. Kristi Noem, the party’s nominee to face Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., had collected 20 speeding tickets in the span of 20 years. Democrats also reveled in the fact that she had a few warrants issued for overdue fines.
Prior to that revelation, Noem was flying high; but ever since, she appears to have lost momentum. Herseth Sandlin, meanwhile, appears to have caught a second wind and battled back into a contest some began to write off for Democrats.
In New York’s 1st District, which takes in far eastern Long Island, Republicans believe they have a fairly good shot at knocking off Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop. Their nominee, businessman Randy Altschuler, has a $1.5 million war chest and Republicans view this swing district as ripe for a change.
But Democrats are excited about facing Altschuler, as he founded a business called Office Tiger that outsourced thousands of jobs. He was attacked mercilessly in the primary — yes, the GOP primary — on this by his rivals but still won with 45 percent in a three-way contest.
If he thought Republicans treated him badly, Democrats will be twice as harsh. Just minutes after he declared victory in his primary earlier this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Altschuler for Office Tiger’s work. “It’s painfully clear that Randy Altschuler only cares about his bank account, not jobs on Long Island,” said DCCC spokesman Shripal Shah.
And don’t think the candidates’ personal lives are out-of-bounds.
In the race to challenge Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, Democrats got a gift in the form of a 2001 police report. The report showed that Republican state Sen. Brad Zaun was told to stay away from his former girlfriend after she accused him of harassing her.
And just as Republicans think they had Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., on the ropes, news surfaced of a decade-old “bitter divorce” between GOP nominee Scott DesJarlais and his ex-wife, who accused him of harassment and physical abuse. DesJarlais has denied any wrongdoing.
It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to picture what those Democratic ads would look like.
Democrats argue that these are in no way isolated incidents, and say they have the goods on other candidates to put those races out of reach for Republicans. If Democrats can save a handful of seats with these attacks, it might mean the difference between a minority and a majority.
Republicans argue, though, that in a year where the economy dominates the landscape, personal issues will take a backseat to jobs and the economy. Furthermore, they believe they have a bigger weapon: House Speaker Pelosi.
Yes, we’ve been down this road before. In most of the recent special elections, ads coming from national Republicans have featured Pelosi as the boogeywoman, and some blame that strategy for costing Republicans those contests.
But strategists argue that she’s so unpopular in many competitive districts that it would be political malpractice not to use her, particularly in the South.
And that’s exactly what the National Republican Congressional Committee did in its first wave of TV ads. The committee began airing ads over the weekend against eight Democrats, and five of them — all in the South — featured Pelosi.
And why not, when many Democrats — like Alabama’s Bobby Bright, who felt the need to distance himself from Pelosi by joking that she may die before the next speaker election — are themselves scared to admit she’s their leader.
Democrats have prided themselves on running localized elections, and point to their success in special elections in 2008 and 2009 to demonstrate they can withstand what’s going to be a very good year for Republicans.
But those races didn’t happen in the current environment, and the sheer number of seats Republicans have put in play this cycle will make it difficult for Democrats to save the House, even if they have damaging information on some candidates.
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