Democrats Re­cruit­ing Chal­lengers for Grow­ing Tar­get List

The Washington Post Sunday - - Front Page -

When Rep. Sam Graves ( R) won Mis­souri’s 6th Dis­trict in 2000 with 51 per­cent, it was as­sumed that he would be a reg­u­lar Demo­cratic tar­get. His sub­se­quent re­elec­tion per­cent­ages — 63 per­cent in 2002, 64 in 2004, 62 in 2006 — show how quickly Graves fell off Democrats’ radar. No more. Democrats be­lieve they have con­vinced the out­go­ing mayor of Kansas City, Mo., Kay Barnes, to chal­lenge Graves in 2008, in one of a hand­ful of early re­cruit­ing suc­cesses that, na­tional party strate­gists ar­gue, will al­low them to greatly ex­pand the play­ing field of com­pet­i­tive races that Novem­ber.

That strat­egy paid ma­jor div­i­dends for Democrats in 2006 as they up­set pre­vi­ously safe in­cum­bents in Kansas, Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona, and came mighty close in the GOP strongholds of Idaho and Wy­oming. Democrats hope to re­peat that game plan in 2008, aided by the con­tin­ued dis­mal na­tional po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment for Repub­li­cans.

Other op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pand the play­ing field in­clude West Vir­ginia’s 2nd Dis­trict, where state Sen. John Unger ( D) is likely to chal­lenge Rep. Shelley Moore Capito ( R); Michi­gan’s 9th Dis­trict, where Rep. Joe Knol­len­berg ( R) could face for­mer state sen­a­tor Gary Peters; and Ohio’s 16th, where state Sen. John Boccieri ( D) is se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing a bid against Rep. Ralph Reg­ula ( R).

A Barnes can­di­dacy would en­sure a tight race in the largely rural, north­west­ern Mis­souri dis­trict. Barnes is fin­ish­ing her sec­ond term as mayor, and on the first day of her con­gres­sional can­di­dacy she would be bet­ter known than Graves’s past three Demo­cratic chal­lengers have been.

The dis­trict’s elec­toral his­tory sug­gests the po­ten­tial for real com­pet­i­tive­ness. Al­though Pres­i­dent Bush won the 6th rel­a­tively eas­ily in 2000 and 2004, Sen. Claire McCaskill showed that the dis­trict’s vot­ers are will­ing to vote for the right Demo­crat. Af­ter los­ing the dis­trict by more than 20 points in her 2004 gu­ber­na­to­rial race, McCaskill nar­rowly car­ried it in 2006 over in­cum­bent Sen. Jim Tal­ent ( R).

2002 PHOTO BY OR­LIN WAG­NER — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Democrats may be dust­ing off pic­tures like this one, of Rep. Sam Graves, cen­ter, with Dick and Lynne Cheney; the party hopes to un­seat Graves in 2008 with Kay Barnes. Vot­ers know Barnes, right, as mayor of Kansas City, Mo.

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