Cook Political Report House analyst David Wasserman notes a telling indicator that the political environment in 2010 is shaping up to be favorable for Republicans: Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years.
Over the last week, three Democratic candidates touted by national strategists abruptly withdrew from their races: Solano Beach Councilman Dave Roberts (running against California Rep. Brian Bilbray), state Rep. Todd Book (running against Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt) and Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers (in the seat held by retiring Rep. Zach Wamp).
In a neutral political environment, the seats held by Bilbray, Schmidt, and the open Tennessee seat would be enticing targets for Democrats. Democrats aggressively contested the first two seats in both 2006 and 2008, and experienced unexpected success in Southern open seats over the last two elections.
But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.
The story is different on the Republican side, where recruiting hasnâ€™t been a problem lately. As I note in my story today, some of the most senior Democratic members of Congress have, for the first time in years, serious challengers.
Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who didnâ€™t even face a Republican opponent last year, now looks like he could be running against a top-tier challenger in state Sen. Jim Tracy as he vies for a 14th term in the House. Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), one of the most influential Democrats in the House, is poised to face a serious challenge from state senator Mick Mulvaney, who has quickly moved up the political ranks in South Carolina.
Two leading Republicans are already jumping in to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), while no Democrats have yet stepped forward.