Democrats and progressives are making a concerted effort to rid Congress of some of its biggest tea party stars, the Republicans whom Democrats dream about defeating when they go to bed at night.
Interviews with Democrats, progressives and Republicans this week suggest their efforts aren’t likely to break through across the board but there’s a real chance Democrats will erase a couple of faces off the tea party Mt. Rushmore come November.
Here’s a rundown:
Rep. Joe Walsh - Illinois 08
Walsh is the liberals’ embodiment of the tea party freshman: brash, unpredictable and perhaps a little unhinged at times. He started out with an uphill climb after redistricting put him in a more Democratic district, and he didn’t do himself any favors when he decided to attack the war record of his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in Iraq.
Polling has shown Duckworth with a significant lead, and progressives who’ve rallied around removing Walsh from office are feeling pretty confident. Republicans seem less so — The Hill reported Wednesday that the NRCC has not reserved any airtime to protect Walsh.
Rep. Steve King - Iowa 04
If Walsh is the progressive caricature of the tea party freshman, King is the progressives’ dream conservative veteran. Prone to eyebrow-raising statements and patron saint of causes liberals love to hate — like making English the official language — King is proudly incendiary. When Mitt Romney endorsed him on the trail in Iowa, Democrats went wild, stating that just standing near King made Romney more extreme.
King is facing Democratic nominee Christie Vilsack, wife of Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former Iowa first lady and big name in the Hawkeye State. Vilsack has proven an able fundraiser and she’s had an assist from progressive groups on the ground. CREDO, the progressive activist group that’s made defeating tea partiers its main goal this year, made close to 24,000 phone attacking King and knocked on more than 2,000 doors.
Vilsack has the support of the national party as well and the race has been placed on the DCCC’s list of “Red To Blue” targets. There isn’t polling to speak of in the race. But former Iowa GOP political director Craig Robinson, now the editor of The Iowa Republican blog, told TPM there’s reason for Democrats to feel good about taking King down — but Vilsack may not be able to get the job done. Robinson praised her fundraising prowess but said she’s lacking when it comes to connecting with voters on the stump. Democrats may be feeling better than they should, he said.
“It’s overconfidence,” Robinson said. “Since King has had a TV [ad] presence, he’s done a good job countering the attacks. It doesn’t feel crazy up there in that race like it would if she was about to knock him off.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann — Minnesota 06
Before she ran for president, Bachmann was a number one dream defeat for Democrats and progressives. When she ascended to the presidential stage this year she only made progressive disdain for her worse. Where to begin, they say when asked about her: Bachmann’s impromptu backing of anti-vaccination conspiracies or her crusade to rid the government of terrorist spies hidden in the U.S. government?
Bachmann faces her toughest congressional opponent in recent memory in Democrat Jim Graves, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the hotel business. Like Duckworth and Vilsack, Graves has help from progressives and the national party. Internal polling and Graves’ bio continues to give Democrats hope, though even usually optimistic progressive observers admit this is an unphill climb for the left. Bachmann’s as popular among elements of the hard right as she is detested among elements of the left, and she’s been able to leverage her national name to build up a large warchest. That said, the idea that Bachmann’s in real trouble this November is catching on among the mainstream media and Bachmann’s fundraising emails are starting to sound more desperate.
“This is the most heated race of my political career,” she wrote in a Wednesday appeal to suporters.
Rep. Allen West — Florida 18
In many ways, West is the male Bachmann. His national profile among conservatives is beyond reproach, while his standing among the left is something considerably short of that. Happiest in the spotlight, West is a tea party freshman who’s fond of comparing President Obama to a slave owner. Tea partiers absolutely love him, and there’s been talk that he could make a run for Senate down the road.
Progressives hope to put an end to his political rise before it starts by defeating him at the end of this first term. It looks like a tall order. Democrat Patrick Murphy, a young newcomer to politics who raised enough money to draw support from the national party, can still pull in the big names to help out in the high-profile race. Bill Clinton was in the district for Murphy just the other week. And Democrats and their allied super PACs are spending big, though the DCCC recently canceled a week of ads.
Progressives really want to win this one, and CREDO has made more than 34,000 phone calls so far to help defeat West. Oddsmakers still rate the race as Lean Republican generally, and Republicans certainly feel confident about their chances.
“Murphy is living in a fantasy world,” a GOP consultant based in Florida told TPM. “I know Allen West is great for them to fundraise against, but he’s going to outgun Murphy by very, very large numbers.”
This post has been updated.