Congress is Full of Former B-List Candidates

August 9, 2006 · 12:02 AM EDT

According to Republicans, Democrats have a paltry list of B-List House challengers that will render them unable to take over the House. But let’s face it, you don’t always have to be a top tier candidate to get elected to Congress and there are dozens of members in office that prove the point.

“Rahm Emanuel deserves a dunce cap, not a crown, for the candidates he has found to run in these types of races,” according to NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds at a July 28 briefing with reporters. Referring to the Democratic field of challengers, Reynolds added that he “had never seen a more unimpressive slate of candidates.”

What grade would Reynolds have given former NRCC Chairman Bill Paxon (NY) with his slate of challengers in 1994 that included Mike Flanagan (IL-5), Fred Heineman (NC-4), Randy Tate (WA-9), Frank Cremeans (OH-6), and Steve Stockman (TX-9)? None of them were top-tier candidates by any means, yet all of them won. And all were promptly defeated two years later after only a single term in Congress.

Over the past few weeks, the NRCC has released a series of “B-List Blunders” press releases that highlight alleged missteps and quotes from Democratic challengers. The list rightfully includes Francine Busby, who lost the special election in California 50, in part, by failing to discourage illegal immigrants from participating in the election just days prior to the vote.

Busby is joined by Larry Kissell (NC-8), Patty Wetterling (MN-6), and John Yarmuth (KY-3) on the NRCC’s list. None of them are particularly strong in their own right and will need considerable outside help getting elected to Congress.

But the list also contains some Democratic challengers like Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania’s suburban 6th District and Brad Ellsworth in southern Indiana’s 8 th District. Murphy and Ellsworth are top tier candidates and face two incumbents known for their vulnerability. And both Democrats are out-pacing their opponents in cash-on-hand through June.

Back in 1994, nine of the thirty-four successful GOP challengers outspent the Democratic incumbent. Through the second quarter, four Democratic challengers led GOP members of Congress in cash-on-hand. Overall, in 1994, the average successful Republican challenger spent 76% of the amount the Democratic incumbent used against them. Currently, the top 34 Democratic challengers in the country have, on average, 68% of the cash-on-hand of their GOP opponent.

Darcy Burner (WA-8) and Heath Shuler (NC-11) are two examples of candidates that the NRCC has chastised as “B-List”, but who should be in good financial shape to take advantage of a cold November wave.

The NRCC’s rhetoric and analysis fails to recognize that B-List, and even C-List candidates get elected to Congress, particularly in wave elections. And based on the number of top tier Democratic candidates and open seat opportunities, Democrats only need a half-dozen or so less than stellar challengers to win in order to take control of Congress. That’s not an insurmountable task.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 7, 2006.