Breaking Rank on Contempt: How Are the Lawmakers Faring?
By Elizabeth Murphy | October 17, 2012 11:44 am

In June, 17 House Democrats and two House Republicans broke rank with their parties on an historic vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress as part of a longstanding congressional inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious.

Most Republicans voted for the measure, while most Democrats voted against it, with some walking out of the vote entirely. Many of the Democrats who voted for contempt were, unsurprisingly, in GOP-leaning districts, some of them newly drawn, and fighting for their political lives. Nearly half of the 17 Democrats who broke rank are on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” list, meaning they face close challenges in their respective districts.

Below are the “contempt” Democrats we’re watching to see how they fare in November:

  • John Barrow (Ga.)

    John Barrow

    Politico placed the fourth term lawmaker on its Top 10 list for most vulnerable in the 2012 election. Barrow’s 12th congressional district was redrawn recently to include more Republican portions of the Augusta, Ga., suburbs. Politico writes that the district was 54 percent Barack Obama in 2008, but had the new contours been in place four years ago, it would have gone 59 percent for Republican John McCain — a steep shift. A new Democratic poll released Friday, however, shows Barrow maintains a small lead over his Republican opponent, Lee Anderson, with 48 to Anderson’s 45 percent.

  • Kathy Hochul

    Kathy Hochul (N.Y.)
    Hochul might have been in the most awkward position of any Democrat voting in favor of contempt. Her husband, William Hochul, is the Buffalo U.S. Attorney and a longtime federal prosecutor. Hochul won the seat through a 2011 special election in which she campaigned against now-Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) unpopular budget to turn Medicare into what Democrats described as a voucher plan. Polling shows Hochul has made up some ground against Republican opponent Chris Collins. A poll released last week shows the two tied at 47 percent.

  • Ben Chandler (Ky.)
    Chandler has been in Congress since he won a special election in 2004. He beat his current challenger in 2004 by a narrow 600 votes. Republican Andy Barr is again looking to unseat Chandler, and all indications point to another close race. Roll Call noted that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought ad time for October, signaling that the race is tightening.

  • Mark Critz (Pa.)

    Mark Critz

    Critz beat fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire during a bitter primary fight. Critz is working out of a newly drawn district and faces Republican Keith Rothfus. The two recently sparred about health care at a debate.  Critz is pro-life and a guns rights advocate, netting the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Real Clear Politics says the race is a “toss up.”

  • Larry Kissell (N.C.)
    Kissell is reportedly losing ground in his newly redistricted constituency, with Politico saying that he needs a miracle to win. Kissell won with the help of black voter turnout in 2008 but redistricting cut out many Democratic-leaning sections of Charlotte. The new district cuts the black population by 10 percent, Politico noted. Internal polls from both the Kissell camp and his opponent, Richard Hudson, show that each is above the other by just a few points, indicating a dead heat.

  • Jim Matheson

    Jim Matheson (Utah)

    The Utah Democrat faces an unusual uphill battle against his Republican challenger. Mia Love has become a Tea Party darling.  She could become the first black Republican woman in Congress if elected. Matheson has been able to hang on in the past decade as a Democrat in the heavily Republican state of Utah, though. It’s unclear if Love, and a likely voter turnout boost from Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney, will be too much for Matheson to come over this election season. Real Clear Politics reports that September numbers seem to show that it’s anyone’s race going into Election Day.

  • Mike McIntyre (N.C.)
    McIntyre’s chances are looking dimmer as Election Day nears. Opponent
    David Rouzer has made gains in the polls in the last few months. Still, the race is a toss up, according to recent polling. Politico notes that McIntyre, who was first elected to Congress in 1997, just barely held on to the seat in 2010 and that it won’t take much to knock him out in November.

Also facing close races are Reps. Leonard Boswell (Iowa) and Ron Kind (Wis.), both of whom are running races in newly constructed districts.

Two Democrats who voted for contempt — Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.) and Mike Ross (Ark.) – have decided not to run for reelection. Boren, the son of former Democratic Oklahoma Sen. David Boren, said in June he would not run for a fifth term in Congress. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family and analysts have also pointed out the uphill battle he would have had in November. There was speculation Ross would throw his name into the ring for Arkansas governor, but he is retiring to move back home to Arkansas full-time to work as a lobbyist instead.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) decided to run for higher office and is facing state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in a close Senate race. Mourdock, a Tea Party candidate, ousted longtime Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in May. Donnelly has surprised many by his good showing in recent polls, but numbers released on Monday show the Democrat is down 5 points.
Four of the Democratic lawmakers are looking good as November nears: Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W. Va.), Tim Walz (Minn.) and Bill Owens (N.Y.). In addition, Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.) lost his primary bid against Critz in the newly redrawn Pennsylvania district.


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The Senate Democratic leader describes the Republicans' refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee "historically unbelievable and historically unprecedented."