Vulnerable House Dems in GOP sights

June 30, 2009

Republicans believe a handful of junior House Democrats may have taken a career-ending vote by supporting the controversial energy bill last week and are planning to launch an ad campaign in targeted districts to try to seal their fate.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is planning to air TV and radio commercials and unleash robocalls against Democrats who hail from districts that could be adversely affected by the narrowly passed legislation, are GOP-leaning or both.

Those likely to find themselves with targets on their back after the 219-212 vote: freshman Reps. Harry Teague of New Mexico, Betsy Markey of Colorado, John Boccieri of Ohio, Thomas Perriello of Virginia and Alan Grayson of Florida and second-termer Zack Space of Ohio.

The GOP’s hope is do to these vulnerable Democrats what Republicans famously did to former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, the Pennsylvania Democrat who ensured that her career was limited to one term when she cast the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget package in 1993.

“There’s a reason why over 40 Democrats in swing districts voted against this,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “They realized that voting for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s bill wasn’t worth the price of millions of dollars in TV ads that would be required to put up what will ultimately be a futile defense of this vote. The question is: What were the others thinking?” …

Republicans will test that question, especially against these members:


Teague is a first-term Democrat from a heavily rural New Mexico district, and his vote may have been the most daring of any in his caucus. An oilman, Teague represents the most conservative part of a state that often is called “Little Texas.” Until he was elected last year, the oil- and gas-dependent 2nd District had not elected a Democrat for more than a quarter-century.

As Teague himself noted in an interview with a local paper last month, “Sixty-five percent of the public schools in New Mexico are paid for by oil and gas.”

As for the bill, Teague said in the same interview, “There needs to be an incentive, not a tax.”

So why did he vote for it?

He said in a statement that he got some language that made it palatable, but he still expressed reservations.

“When this bill came out of committee, I could not consider supporting it without some specific changes being made to protect New Mexicans in the rural areas and small communities that I represent,” Teague said. “That’s why I fought to add provisions to keep down gas prices in rural areas, to hold onto refining jobs in smaller communities and to protect the 180,000 rural electric customers in my district.”

Steve Pearce, a Republican who previously represented the district for three terms and unsuccessfully ran for the Senate last year, is considering a bid for his old seat and is expected to decide this summer.


Like Teague, Markey hails from a heavily rural interior West district that is traditionally friendly to Republicans and views environmental restrictions warily.

President George W. Bush received 58 percent of the vote in Markey’s 4th District in 2004.

But running against a weak incumbent, former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Markey rode President Barack Obama’s coattails to victory last year.

Despite lobbying from several agricultural and energy groups, Markey supported the bill — support that was notable as she had shown independence earlier this year by opposing the House Democratic budget.

Markey didn’t respond to a request for comment about her vote.

Boccieri and Space

Boccieri, who represents Ohio’s 16th District, may have helped to write the GOP’s ad against him next year.

Talking to constituents in March, Boccieri said, “My understanding from what I’ve heard is it’s going to cause a big increase in our utility bills.” He also noted the White House had been lobbying him heavily on the bill, but that in its present form, “cap and trade would be devastating to Ohio.”

Boccieri became the first Democrat to represent his district in over 50 years when he won election last fall.

Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for Boccieri, said he voted for the bill after language was inserted that included a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to assist small- and medium-sized firms in retooling for the shift to clean energy.

But Kershaw conceded, “We’ve gotten lots of angry calls.”

“Now the challenge is to get out there to explain our ‘yes’ vote and to explain that it does create jobs,” she said.

Space, who represents rural Ohio’s 18th District, voted for both the final bill on the floor and a version out of the Energy and Commerce Committee that may be even tougher to sell in a state that is heavily dependent on coal for its electricity.

And Space’s next-door colleague in eastern Ohio, Democratic Rep. Charlie Wilson, opposed the bill, making Space’s support stand out that much more.

“This was clearly a watershed vote for our industry, and there are a lot of people upset about it,” Mike Carey of the Ohio Coal Association told POLITICO. “I don’t know who could have called either of these congresspeople and said, ‘This is good for your district.’”

Space’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the bill.

Perriello and Grayson

These two freshmen don’t necessarily have districts like the others, where selling the bill could be tough. But each is already living on borrowed political time, having won in districts that traditionally favor Republicans, largely because they ran against flawed incumbents in areas Obama targeted. For them, the energy bill vote offered more fodder that the GOP will use to paint them as out of step.

Perriello, who knocked off Rep. Virgil Goode in Virginia’s heavily rural 5th District, is unapologetic about his vote and portrays it as a vote to wean America off foreign oil.

“If I have to choose between national security and reelection, for me that’s easy. It’s national security,” he told POLITICO. “I can deal with losing reelection. I can’t deal with being a coward.”

He added: “I was not one of the fence-sitters.”

Grayson, who beat Ric Keller last fall in a suburban Orlando, Fla., seat, talked to Obama and Pelosi and won personal assurances from both that a project guaranteeing hurricane research and development in his district would be included in the package, said spokesman Todd Jurkowski.

“He’s pretty willing to take some heat for a vote if it is in the best interests of his district,” said Jurkowski.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect quotation from Virginia Rep. Thomas Perriello. The accurate quote is: “I can deal with losing reelection. I can’t deal with being a coward.”
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