Election 2008

Ed Reinke/AP
Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell

Republican Incumbents Find Congressional Opponents at Their Heels

October 31, 2008 08:27 AM
by Christopher Coats
A number of Republican congressional incumbents, previously considered untouchable, have found themselves in surprisingly tight races as Election Day looms.

GOP Battles for Congress

Although national elections traditionally favor incumbents, making the prospect of mounting a real challenge all the more difficult, this year sees a large number of Republican veteran members of Congress on their way out.

Many blame a damaged Republican brand for the current GOP struggle. With the party boasting more than double the number of vulnerable congressional seats as their opponents, Congress could see as many as 60 incumbents on their way out after Election Day.

While shifts in power are hardly novel, a few incumbents previously thought to be virtually untouchable are finding themselves in surprisingly vulnerable positions, many swept up in a broader political movement.

One of the most surprising incumbents engaged in a tight race is Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. The 24-year incumbent won reelection in 2002 with a landslide victory but is now facing a neck and neck race with opponent Bruce Lunsford. 

McConnell joins incumbents Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Gordon Smith of Oregon, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota as incumbents now facing possible exits from the Senate.

With few exceptions, many senators found their fortunes turning soon after Congress passed the Wall Street bailout plan, costing taxpayers an estimated $700 billion.

The bailout was such a politically toxic subject that many incumbents voted no to spare themselves any potential backlash.

Related Topic: Undone by their own actions

Not all vulnerable incumbents are on edge because of the damaged Republican brand, nor are they all Republicans. Indeed, some are in electoral danger thanks to their own words and actions.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens faces possible defeat after he was found guilty of seven counts of corruption this week, though under congressional laws, that does not actually forbid him from holding office. If he were to win, the longest serving GOP senator in Congress could only lose his seat if Congress voted to expel him from the legislative body.

Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann saw her support plummet after an appearance on the news show “Hardball” when she made comments suggesting Barack Obama was anti-American.

Bachmann called on news organizations to mount investigations into possible anti-American views of members of Congress. In the days that followed, her opponent raised $1.3 million in donations and the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled their financial backing.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) saw his reelection bid get a lot tighter after he remarked that the racism of some of his constituents could hurt the chances of Barack Obama in western Pennsylvania. Although he remains four percentage points ahead of opponent Lt. Col. William "Bill" Russell, Murtha’s lead is far from the 20-point advantage he won with in 2006.

Reference: Poll averages

RealClearPolitics provides a comprehensive collection of poll averages for all active Senate campaigns.

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