GOP House Contenders Flying under the Radar

November 2nd could see some big, unpleasant surprises for incumbent Democrats in the House of Representatives. Strong GOP contenders, largely unnoticed by the national media and party bigwigs, are making bold plays for seats long regarded as belonging to the Democrats.

How big a wave will there be for the GOP in House races this year? The latest analysis by rates only 139 of the 256 Democratic-held seats as safe, or 54% of the total now held by the Democrats. For the GOP, only sixteen of 179 are in play (9% at risk). 

RCP divides seats into seven categories: Safe Democratic, Likely Democratic, Leans Democratic, Tossup, Leans Republican, Likely Republican, and Safe Republican. If the Likely Democratic and Likely Republican seats are excluded, then 99 Democratic held seats are in play, and only six Republican held seats. Nate Silver of the blog currently rates 39 Democrat-held seats as leaning or likely to turn over, with only two GOP seats in that category. There are another twenty Democrat-held seats he rates as an even chance for a takeover, with two GOP-held seats  in that category. He rates another seventeen Democrat-held seats in the "takeover possible" category. 

It is not hard with either listing of races to get to the 39 net seats the Republicans need to regain control of the House. But as some analysts, including Dick Morris, have pointed out, many races are never polled other than by the candidates themselves, since they are assumed to be safe for one party or the other. In a real wave election, even a few of the safe seats occasionally turn over on Election Day. In the RCP survey, the number of safe Democrat-held seats has been declining every week. That trend may continue.

Two races that are the focus of this article (Illinois 9 and Indiana 7), currently rated as Safe Democratic, may get more attention before November 2. In each race, the Democrat incumbent is demonstrating some real weaknesses (less than 50% favoring their reelection or planning to vote for them in surveys taken for the GOP challengers). In addition, Republicans are in good shape at the top of the ticket in each state (governor's race in Illinois, Senate race in Indiana), part of a broader Midwestern surge for the GOP. That will help GOP House challengers in both states.

In Illinois, four Democrat-held House seats are already considered in play -- Illinois  8, Illinois 11, Illinois 14, and Illinois 17, with Illinois 11 considered likely to shift to the GOP, and Illinois 14 leaning that way. In Indiana, there are also three other Democrat-held seats that could shift: Indiana 2, Indiana 8, and Indiana 9. Indiana 8, an open seat, is considered likely to shift to the GOP, with Indiana 9 leaning to the GOP as well.

Illinois 9

The fact that this race is a possible upset is remarkable, given its voting history. Charles Cook rates the district Democrat +20, and incumbent Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky has not faced a serious challenger since she won the Democratic primary for the open seat in 1998. Schakowsky has many vulnerabilities: she is one of the most liberal members of the House and a close ally of Nancy Pelosi, a not very popular figure this election cycle. Schakowsky is a big fan of increased government spending, more federal regulatory control, and higher taxes, the three matches that have helped light the Tea Party fire around the country.

Schakowsky has never met a deficit she did not want to grow with more federal spending. She is closely associated with the very unpopular health care reform bill that passed in March 2010, for which a roadmap was written by her husband, Robert Craemer, while he was in  jail for bank fraud in a check-kiting scheme involving a nonprofit advocacy group with which he worked.  

Schakowsky has also been the darling of J-Street and one of  the biggest, if not the biggest,  recipient of campaign cash from the group's Political Action Committee this year -- almost $100,000. J-Street, a group that alleges that it is pro-Israel and pro-peace, suffered a huge blow this week when it became clear that it had been less than honest about the role of Israel-hating billionaire George Soros in financing the group. In reality, J-Street has played a different role -- serving as a protector in the Jewish community for Barack Obama while he bashed and pressured Israel for much of his first two years in office. George Soros does not send any money to pro-Israel groups. In a district where 15% or more of the voters are Jewish, many of them observant, the connection to J-Street and Soros will not help Schakowsky. 

Schakowsky's opponent is the other problem for the incumbent. Joel Pollak, a frequent contributor to American Thinker the last two years, was the Harvard law student who attracted national attention for challenging Congressman Barney Frank, when he came to the law school and washed his hands of any responsibility for the collapse of mortgage giants FNMA and Freddie Mac. These two federal housing insurance programs have cost the federal government several hundred of billions of dollars (and counting) for their bailout.

Pollak, like Schakowsky, is Jewish, but rather than associating with a George Soros front group, he has been a strong supporter of Israel and a critic of the president's misguided Middle East policies -- pressure Israel, make nice to Iran. Pollak has worked the district tirelessly, and his large volunteer army has knocked on tens of thousands of doors. Pollak has supported positions that will bring jobs and economic growth to the stagnating district. His formula involves reducing the regulatory burden and taxes, which will make it easier for small businesses to create jobs. In one of the great ironies of the cycle, Schakowsky, obviously feeling the heat, had a meeting with small business owners, to try to show her support for this group. Of course, virtually every action act she has taken in Congress has made life more difficult for these small businessmen and women.

Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat, came to Chicago and endorsed his former Harvard law student, calling him the best and brightest political talent he ever had in class. Pollak was the first Republican Dershowitz ever endorsed. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan came to Chicago for a big fundraiser with four hundred people to support Pollak. Many other prominent Democrats and independents have thrown their support to Pollak, who has raised far more money than any other challenger Schakowsky has faced. Pollak, who is now running his first cable TV ads, is an underdog, but one with a real shot if he continues to close the gap in the next five weeks. For more on Joel's campaign and to contribute, visit the campaign website:

Indiana 7

This has become one of those dynastic Democrat districts. It was represented in Congress by Julia Carson, from 1996 until her death in 2007, and since 2008 by her grandson, Andre Carson. Like Schakowsky, Carson is a near 100% supporter of the Pelosi agenda in Congress. This district, while Democrat-friendly, is less so than Illinois 9. Charles Cook rates it Democrat +14, but in the special election for the open seat in 2008, Andre Carson won by only 9,000 votes, or 11%, in  a very Democratic year. This year is likely to be much less friendly to the Democrats in this district, and across Indiana. Barack Obama carried Indiana in 2008, but Dan Coats, the GOP Senate candidate, leads by close to 20% in the race for  Evan Bayh's open seat.

Some analysts assume that this Indianapolis area district must be a black-majority district (and therefore unwinnable, given strong majorities won by Democrats among African-Americans), since Carson, a black Muslim, is its representative. In fact, fewer than 30% of residents are African-American, and the same job loss issue plaguing so many other districts, is a big issue here. The Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda has not facilitated job creation, while running up huge record-breaking annual deficits.

There are also some unique issues in this contest. Schakowsky is J-Street's queen bee, but Carson is Louis Farrakhan's candidate of choice, and has signed letters very critical of Israel's right to defend itself, earning him a 100% rating from the Arab American League. He has angered 2nd-amendment supporters with his anti-gun position. He has voted for all the major spending and regulatory bills -- TARP, the stimulus, the health care reform bill, the financial regulatory bill.

Carson's opponent, Dr. Marvin Scott, is also African-American, and a Professor of Sociology at Butler University, the school that came to national prominence with its run to the finals of the men's NCAA basketball tournament this year. Scott, one of seven children of parents who grew up in the segregated South, is one of three in his family to work for a Ph.D., proof if ever needed, that the American dream is still alive and kicking for those willing to strive. 

Scott is a social and fiscal conservative, a supporter of a strong national defense, and an ardent supporter of Israel. He is, to say the least, no fan of Louis Farrakhan. Scott ran for the Senate in 2004 and has name recognition in the state and in his district. He has the support of Congressman Mike Pence and Congressman Dan Burton. With all the competitive House races, Scott has had difficulty raising money in what could be a winnable race in a low turnout year for traditional Democratic voters in the district. For more on Dr. Scott's campaign, or to contribute, visit his website:

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.