2.22.2008

Movement in House races: An indictment, a withdrawal and an un-retirement

There has been a lot of movement today in House races, with 3 Republicans making news. The most important came from AZ-01, as Rep. Renzi was indicted on 36 charges of corruption, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, extortion and insurance fraud (more detail on the charges here). Renzi had been under investigation for many months now, and had already announced that he would not run for re-election next year, so this does not change that consideration.

But Renzi's indictments now opens up the possibility that the congressman might retire, creating a special election and an opportunity for Democrats to go after the seat months before the general. House Minority leader Boehner is already pressuring Renzi to resign, as the last thing the GOP wants right now is to be facing an ethics problem again. Considering the turnout difference in the past few months, Democrats have to be given an edge in such a special election. AZ-01 is a competitive seat that Democrats were already very excited to compete in, and it was at the top of their priorities list. The only Republican that the NRCC has been able to recruit for now is Syney Hay, who lost a primary to Renzi in 2002. No word for now as to whether Renzi is likely to follow suit, but we will obviously keep an eye on this seat.

Meanwhile, also in Arizona, Rep. Shadegg decided to... un-retire in AZ-03. He had announced last week that he would step down next year, in a very unexpected move. But many of his colleagues rallied to convince him to stay -- Shadegg was considered the conservative movement's candidate for Minority Leader last year -- and Shadegg has obliged: "When the conservative movement asks you to stick around, that's a pretty tough request to turn down."

I had written last week that, "This retirement is thus not important because it creates another competitive open seat... but because it says a lot about the state of disarray of House Republicans." So in that sense Shadegg changing his mind does not represent a huge loss for Democrats. This is a district that Bush won with 57%, after all, not necessarily the most friendly territory for a take-over. That said, Democrats have a candidate that they were excited about and that is very well-funded, so they were looking to capitalize on this to expand the map a bit more and push the GOP into playing defense even more, which they most likely will not be able to do now.

The third House race making news is IL-11, the swing district left open by Rep. Weller a few months ago. This is a race in which recruiting has been very uneven, with Democrats getting state Senate President Debbie Halvorson while the GOP's top choice refused to get in. The GOP primary was won on February 5th by New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann, who was not having a good race so far and anemic fundraising, prompting IL-11 to be moved up to the top of the vulnerable House races (I had already moved it to Lean Takeover in my November House rankings).

Now, Baldermann has announced he is dropping out of the race, leaving the GOP with no candidate. The primary has passed, which means that the district's Republicans can now just decide on a new nominee among themselves. This could actually prove a blessing, as the GOP now has much more time to find a candidate stronger than Baldermann -- and have the argument that that candidate won't even have to contest a primary. Given that Halvorson was already favored over Baldermann, the NRCC doesn't have that much to lose here at this point; but they definitely want to get in someone with at least some strength to not let Democrats pick up a seat with no competition.

One last note on a congressional race, this one from the Senate, as the latest Rasmussen poll from Virginia shows Mark Warner crushing Jim Gilmore, 57% to 37%. In the battle of the former Governors, the Democrat holds a clear edge and this is the most likely seat to be taken-over next year. And proof of how much of a favorite Warner is comes from the following internal: Warner leads by more among moderates (70% to 24%) than Gilmore does among conservatives (60% to 34%).

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