Josh Kurtz: You Can Still Probably Bet Against Roscoe Bartlett

By Josh Kurtz

Fittingly, House Republicans have put U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) on the list of their most endangered incumbents heading into the fall election.

Equally unsurprising, House Democrats recently added Bartlett’s challenger, investment banker John Delaney (D), to their list of most promising pick-up opportunities.

But what does that mean, exactly? And what kind of resources are the national parties really going to be putting into the 6th District congressional race?

Because this is the only tight House race in the Washington, D.C., vicinity, it means both parties will be paying close attention. But close attention doesn’t necessarily translate into prodigious spending or huge numbers of imported boots on the ground. It’s a pretty safe bet that as they chart their strategy for the fall, both parties will eventually determine that their money will be better spent elsewhere. In fact, they probably already have.

House Democrats, as of this writing, have placed 39 candidates on their “Red to Blue” list. That’s the list of Republican-held districts the Democrats think they’re most capable of winning in the fall – remember, the Democrats need to flip 25 seats to regain control of the House.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have 34 incumbents in their “Patriot Program” – the list of GOP congressmen that party strategists consider the most vulnerable. Both lists come with the promise of financial and organizational support, along with strategic advice, from the respective campaign committees.

Twenty-two of the races on the Republicans’ list also appear on the Democrats’ list, including the Bartlett-Delaney contest. In theory, then, these ought to be the 22 most competitive House races in the country.

But not all competitive races are created alike.

Five of the Republican congressmen in the Patriot Program – including Bartlett – were on Roll Call’s most recent list of the 10 most vulnerable House members. Bartlett is one of two GOP members on the Patriot list who, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, are sitting in districts rated as “likely Democratic.” The same two Republicans are in districts in the “Democrat favored” column in the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

The University of Virginia Center for Politics, headed by the ubiquitous Larry Sabato, had been a little more charitable – for months it was rating one House Republican as more vulnerable than Bartlett, and put Bartlett in a slightly less endangered category along with five of his GOP colleagues. But that changed last week, as the center added Bartlett to the list of Republicans whose districts are rated as “likely Democratic.” And the center recently published a list of the 15 House races it considers most competitive; the Bartlett-Delaney contest wasn’t on it.

Who has Bartlett been lumped in with? With Rep. Joe Walsh, a tea party freshman from the suburbs of Chicago who beat the Democratic incumbent by just 300 votes in 2010 thanks to a Green Party candidate who took 6,500 votes. After being elected, Walsh was sued by his ex-wife for failure to pay more than $100,000 in delinquent child support. And for good measure, Walsh recently complained that his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs while piloting a helicopter in Iraq that crashed, was talking too much about her war experiences. This knucklehead is toast.

Assuming Republican strategists buy all the nonpartisan analysis -– and why shouldn’t they? — there are plenty of vulnerable GOP seats that are worth trying to save before Bartlett’s. Add in the fact that the Washington media market is a lot more expensive than most, and saving Bartlett’s seat becomes an even worse investment, considering it will cost considerably less for Republicans to try to shore up Rep. Jeff Denham (R) in California’s Central Valley or Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) in Illinois’ western prairies or Rep. Sean Duffy (R) in Wausau, Wis.

Not even the news that Maryland voters may overturn the state’s gerrymandered congressional map in the fall will change the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) priorities. There’s still too much uncertainty with the district lines here – and a new map if there is one, redrawn to the GOP’s favor, is probably a better opportunity for a younger, more energetic and politically savvy Republican to take advantage of in the next election.

As for the Democrats, it hardly seems likely that they’ll need to invest in Delaney’s campaign. He spent a cool $2.5 million, thank you very much, about $1.6 million from his own pocket, to upset party favorite Rob Garagiola in April’s Democratic primary.

That money has bought a top-flight campaign operation, which will continue humming into the fall. Bartlett, on the other hand, hasn’t had to run a competitive general election for two decades, and is facing the reality that 56 percent of Republican primary voters preferred someone else.

The campaigns’ latest fundraising figures, which were just released, showed Bartlett with one of his best quarters ever, collecting $377,000 from April 1 to June 30. But Delaney raised more, $452,000. Bartlett did end the period with more cash on hand: $548,000 to Delaney’s $228,000. But does anyone believe Delaney won’t be sufficiently armed for the stretch run?

Seven of Bartlett’s congressional colleagues contributed to his campaign in the last quarter, including NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, and Congressman Joe Wilson, the guy who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama. Jeb Bush’s political action committee kicked in $5,000.

Two of Bartlett’s vanquished Republican primary rivals also gave him money: Kathy Afzali ponied up $999 and David Brinkley broke the bank with a $100 contribution.

Every Democrat in the Maryland House delegation gave Delaney money, as did most House Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D) kicked in $5,000.

The only public poll on the general election contest – granted, paid for by Delaney’s campaign, and released just after his primary victory – showed the Democrat up by 9 points. That still sounds about right.

Elections aren’t run on paper, of course. Campaigns matter, and Bartlett is giving it his all. Delaney is still a novice, and largely untested.

But the congressional map as drawn is probably too much for Bartlett – or just about any GOP candidate – to overcome. And Maryland Republicans looking over the horizon for the cavalry, in the form of the national GOP, to come save the seat are going to be sorely disappointed

Please don’t forget to send me suggestions for people we missed in our recent two-part “Influencers” series. We’ll publish them in the next couple of weeks.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Ten Years After

Influencers, Part II

The Influencers, Part I

Left, Right and Center

Road to Succeed Pelosi May Run Through Maryland

A Change Is Gonna Come (And The Audacity of Nope)

Say Cheese

Taxman

Generally Speaking (Part 2)

Generally Speaking (Part 1)

Charm Offensive