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House Ag Committee turnover adds to farm bill pressure

Note: This is the second of two analyses of congressional races that are important to rural America. Monday's edition covered the Senate. Today we will take a look at the House.

By JERRY HAGSTROM

Most of the 45 members of the House Agriculture Committee don’t have competitive races today, but the number of new members in the next Congress overall — probably between 75 and 85 — is likely to become a new argument for finishing the farm bill during the lame duck session.

The high turnover is being caused by retirements, primary defeats and the redistricting process.

“There are 62 House seats with no incumbent on the ballot, a record since 1992,” David Wasserman, the House guru of The Cook Political Report, wrote in the National Journal on Monday.

“That figure includes 39 open seats of members retiring or running for other offices, 19 seats newly created by redistricting, and four vacancies,” Wasserman added.

More than four-fifths of the 87 Republican freshmen elected in 2010 are likely to be re-elected, Wasserman said, but “they’ll be yesterday’s news when a new, huge freshman class numbering between 75 and 85 arrives.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has already pointed out that he had to educate a large number of members about the farm bill, but that task will get even bigger when the new members arrive. More than a third of the House will have less than three years of experience in January when the 113th Congress is sworn in, Wasserman noted, adding that the new members will be expected to deal with the nation’s very serious budget situation.

The Cook Political Report has ranked 15 of the 26 Republicans and 15 of the 18 Democrats (or their primary successors) as “solid” for election. (The Democratic ranks on the House Agriculture Committee have a vacancy since Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., resigned.)

But still there will be important changes on the committee.

Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois decided not to seek re-election for his redrawn district, and Cook ranks the race for his seat as a toss-up. (See Illinois 13th, below).

Democratic Rep. Tim Holden of Pennsylvania lost his primary, and Matt Cartwright, the more liberal winner in that reconfigured district, is expected to sail to victory in the general election over Republican Laureen Cummings, a nurse.

Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio lost her seat in a primary, and the more conservative victor, Brad Wenstrup, is also likely to win easily over Democrat William Smith.

Here are the races of House Agriculture Committee members that will be the most interesting to watch:

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State Rep. Sal Pace and Rep. Scott Tipton

Colorado 3rd


Republican Rep. Scott Tipton was not expected to have much trouble in this Western Slope race, but polls show a tight race. His opponent, Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace, has not had a lot of money, however, and Cook still ranks Tipton as likely to win, but vulnerable.

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Rep. Leonard Boswell and Rep. Tom Latham

Iowa 3rd


With Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell, a member of the Agriculture committee, and Republican Rep. Tom Latham, a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, merged into this district, Iowans will be forced to choose between two popular members of the House.

The district, which stretches from Des Moines to the territory bordering Nebraska, seems to favor Boswell, but a rural Republican tide might help Latham. A strong performance by President Barack Obama in the district could help Boswell, but an October poll showed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney getting 59 percent of the rural vote in swing states, including Iowa.

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Christie Vilsack and Rep. Steve King

Iowa 4th


Republican Rep. Steve King is facing Christie Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady and wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The race has attracted national attention, in part because everyone is curious about the Agriculture secretary’s wife running and also because the newly configured district is not as conservative as King’s district.

King has continued to take very conservative positions such as questioning the settlement of discrimination cases at USDA and proposing a repeal of the rules to change school meals toward healthier food and limited calories.

King is still favored to win.

Illinois 13th


After the Democrats redrew the district held for 12 years by Republican Rep. Tim Johnson, he decided to retire rather than run for the new 13th District. Democratic physician David Gill and Rodney Davis, a top aide to Republican Rep. John Shimkus, ended up as the candidates.

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Cheri Bustos and Rep. Bobby Shilling

Illinois 17th


Republican Rep. Bobby Shilling is getting a real race from Democratic former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos in this northwestern Illinois district, and Cook is rating it a tossup.

New York 19th


Republican Rep. Chris Gibson won this seat in the 20th District in 2010, but has been redistricted to the volatile 19th District. His opponent is attorney and former Central Intelligence Agency prosecutor Julian Schreibman.

New York 21st


Democratic Rep. Bill Owens has been challenged in this upstate district by investment banker Matt Doheny, but Owens still enjoys a small lead.

North Carolina 7th


Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre is under pressure in his redrawn district, but Republican state Rep. David Rouzer’s campaign has not been as strong as expected.

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Rep. Larry Kissell and Richard Hudson

North Carolina 8th


Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell has a new district in exurban Charlotte, and appears to be one of the Democrats most likely to lose his seat. Kissell faces former Republican congressional aide Richard Hudson.

Ohio 7th


Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs has to cope with a mostly new district and faces Joyce Healy-Abrams, owner of small records management business and the sister of the mayor of Canton. Cook rates the race a “likely Republican” win.

VarilekMattNoemKristi_R-N.D
Matt Varelik and Rep. Kristi Noem

South Dakota At-Large


Republican Kristi Noem won this seat from Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010, but she has run into trouble for missing House Agriculture Committee hearings and the House leadership’s unwillingness to bring up the farm bill.

Democratic challenger Matt Varelik, former aide to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has raised more than $500,000 and made it a real race, but Cook still ranks the seat “likely Republican.”

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State Rep. Eric Stewart, left, and Rep. Scott DesJarlais

Tennessee 4th


Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais has a very Republican district, but revelations of affairs the physician had with patients has made this a competitive race. His opponent is Democratic state Rep. Eric Stewart.

Cook has moved this race from “solid Republican” to “lean Republican.”

Wisconsin 8th


Republican Rep. Reid Ribble holds a lead over Democrat Chris Wall, but with the presidential campaign so high-profile in this state, he is not safe.

Northern Marianas delegate


The race between Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and his Republican opponent, Dr. Ignacia “Acha” Demapan, is unrated.

Obama has endorsed Sablan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus has endorsed Demapan, according to a report in the Saipan Tribune.

Here is a list of other House incumbents who have some rural constituency or interest and who are in at least somewhat competitive races:

  • California 9th — Democrat Jerry McNerney
  • California 36th — Republican Mary Bono Mack
  • Florida 2nd — Republican Steve Southerland
  • Georgia 12th — Democrat John Barrow
  • Iowa 1st — Democrat Bruce Braley
  • Maryland 6th — Republican Roscoe Bartlett
  • Michigan 1st — Republican Dan Benishek
  • Michigan 3rd — Republican Dan Amash
  • Minnesota 8th — Republican Chip Cravack
  • New York 18th — Nan Hayworth
  • New York 24th — Republican Ann Buerkle
  • Pennsylvania 8th — Republican Mike Fitzpatrick
  • Texas 23rd — Republican Francisco Canseco
  • Virginia 2nd — Republican Scott Rigell
  • Wisconsin 7th — Republican Sean Duffy