Once GOP Stars, 5 House Freshmen Fight For Seats

In the election held a year ago this week, Republicans took over control of the House with the help of nearly 90 newcomers to their ranks. Now, just a year before the 2012 contests, many of those freshman lawmakers find themselves facing tough re-election bids.

Back in January, at the start of this session of Congress, NPR profiled eight House freshmen identified as rising stars in the Republican Party. We decided to revisit some of those GOP members and see how they are faring as they prepare to defend their seats. At least five of them face significant hurdles to re-election — some as targets of the Democrats, and others as casualties of the redistricting process.

Rising Republicans Of 2010: How 5 Are Faring Now

  • Adam Kinzinger, Illinois

    Rep. Adam Kinzinger at a July 28 news conference on Capitol Hill to announce plans to vote yes on the GOP proposal to raise the debt limit. i i

    hide captionRep. Adam Kinzinger at a July 28 news conference on Capitol Hill to announce plans to vote yes on the GOP proposal to raise the debt limit.

    Harry Hamburg/AP
    Rep. Adam Kinzinger at a July 28 news conference on Capitol Hill to announce plans to vote yes on the GOP proposal to raise the debt limit.

    Rep. Adam Kinzinger at a July 28 news conference on Capitol Hill to announce plans to vote yes on the GOP proposal to raise the debt limit.

    Harry Hamburg/AP

    After defeating incumbent Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson with an impressive 57.5 percent last year, the 33-year-old former combat pilot — whose boyish good looks, personal background and political smarts seemed to have come out of central casting — appeared destined for big things in Washington.

    Kinzinger represents Chicago suburbs in the 11th Congressional District, which has been an important bellwether for presidential elections. The 11th went for George W. Bush twice and for Barack Obama in 2008.

    But Kinzinger was drawn out of the 11th during the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years following a census count. Republicans are challenging the redrawn maps in court, but if that effort fails, Kinzinger is likely to take on another incumbent, veteran Republican Rep. Donald Manzullo in the 16th District.

    In the House, Kinzinger, a fiscal conservative, has strongly advocated for deep budget cuts, particularly in entitlement programs, and opposed President Obama's jobs plan. He has said he is "not a job creator" but that government should simplify the tax code and scale back regulation to help businesses stimulate the economy.

    He also has emerged as a social conservative, having co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit women from buying health insurance that covers abortion under the Obama health care law. The bill is expected to die in the Senate.

    He has broken from fellow Republicans in adamantly opposing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, where he served as an Air Force pilot. He has called the decision a "terrible mistake," insisting the country still needs troops there to aid in achieving stability and as a check on neighboring Iran.

    The Bottom Line: Kinzinger raised more than $212,000 in the third quarter and had about $567,000 of cash on hand as of Sept. 30. In the same period, Manzullo raised more than $320,300 and had nearly $484,000 of cash on hand. And Kinzinger has landed a big draw for his upcoming fundraiser: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

  • Raul Labrador, Idaho

    Rep. Raul Labrador addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10. i i

    hide captionRep. Raul Labrador addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10.

    Alex Brandon/AP
    Rep. Raul Labrador addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10.

    Rep. Raul Labrador addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10.

    Alex Brandon/AP

    Labrador rode enthusiastic Tea Party support to victory against Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick last year and now will defend his seat against Jimmy Farris, a former professional football player who recently returned to the state and announced plans to run in the Democratic primary.

    Labrador remains a prohibitive favorite, though he recently caused a stir for hiring his wife to work on his campaign. Becca Labrador is being paid $2,050 a month to manage campaign finances and submit filings to the Federal Elections Commission. Some watchdog groups have raised ethical concerns about campaign money going to a candidate's relative. (The House voted to ban the practice in 2007, following a scandal involving former Rep. John Doolittle [R-Calif.], who was paying his wife as a fundraiser. The bill died in the Senate.)

    Labrador has defended the hiring of his wife. And the arrangement appears to comply with FEC rules.

    Labrador, an archconservative, continues to enjoy strong Tea Party support. As a former immigration attorney, he also has become a vocal proponent of immigration reform, an important issue in Idaho, which is experiencing a huge rise in Latino population drawn by agriculture jobs. He recently introduced a bill that would allow foreign-born U.S. college graduates to apply for permanent residency if they have received job offers in selected industries, such as technology and engineering.

    Farris may have an uphill climb because redistricting appears to have increased the concentration of Republican-leaning voters in Labrador's 1st District.

    The Bottom Line: Labrador raised roughly $77,000 in the third quarter and has about $138,000 in the bank.

  • Kristi Noem, South Dakota

    Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10.

    hide captionRep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Feb. 10.

    Alex Brandon/AP

    Conventional wisdom had been that Noem, nicknamed "the Palin of the Plains," should prepare for a rematch against former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, whom Noem defeated in 2010. For the time being, Sandlin, who now works as a Washington lobbyist, remains mum about her plans.

    For her part, Noem has positioned herself as a formidable incumbent after just a year in office. The Republican House leadership named her to the newly created co-liaison position above her fellow freshman members. And party donors are drawn to her profile: solidly conservative positions; good looks and compelling background (a rancher and mother of three); and articulate, disciplined party-line message (a skill that distinguishes her from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin).

    In office, Noem has joined Republican lawmakers in trying to dismantle many of the Environmental Protection Agency's policies. She recently introduced a bill to block the EPA from updating its clean-air standards, arguing that it would unnecessarily crack down on farm dust created by agriculture companies, the major industry in her state. Opponents say she is merely carrying water for big business, given that the EPA doesn't include farm dust in its Clean Air Act standards.

    The Bottom Line: In the latest quarter, from July to September, she raised about $285,000. That pace has slowed a bit from the previous quarters, but nonetheless fills her coffers with $790,000, an impressive sum so far for a freshman.

  • Ben Quayle, Arizona

    Rep. Ben Quayle waves to supporters on Nov. 2, 2010, at a Republican election night party in Phoenix. i i

    hide captionRep. Ben Quayle waves to supporters on Nov. 2, 2010, at a Republican election night party in Phoenix.

    Ross D. Franklin/AP
    Rep. Ben Quayle waves to supporters on Nov. 2, 2010, at a Republican election night party in Phoenix.

    Rep. Ben Quayle waves to supporters on Nov. 2, 2010, at a Republican election night party in Phoenix.

    Ross D. Franklin/AP

    Family political legacy may have aided his candidacy last year, but it couldn't protect Quayle from redistricting. Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, has been drawn out of his 3rd Congressional District, based on the latest draft of Arizona's congressional maps that add a ninth House seat to reflect the state's population growth.

    The majority of Quayle's former district now sits in the Scottsdale area's 6th Congressional District, setting up a potentially sexy primary battle between Quayle and fellow freshman Republican Rep. David Schweikert. Quayle has yet to comment publicly about his plans, but Schweikert quickly declared his intention to run for the seat.

    This would be the second tough primary for Quayle, who narrowly prevailed against nine opponents in 2010.

    Elected with Tea Party support, Quayle was among the freshman members who held firm against tax increases — and pushed for significant spending cuts — during the debt-ceiling debate, making it difficult for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to reach an agreement with the White House.

    The Bottom Line: In the cash race, Schweikert holds the edge. At the end of the third quarter, he had raised some $233,000 to Quayle's $170,000. Schweikert has $524,000 in the bank, while Quayle has $481,000.

  • Allen West, Florida

    Rep. Allen West talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis in Washington, July 30. i i

    hide captionRep. Allen West talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis in Washington, July 30.

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP
    Rep. Allen West talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis in Washington, July 30.

    Rep. Allen West talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis in Washington, July 30.

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    The Democratic Party has placed a big target on the district held by West, the rabble-rouser of the freshman class. The contest in Florida's 22nd Congressional District again is on pace to be one of the most expensive contests in the nation.

    Two challengers are running in the Democratic primary, and both have raised large sums. Former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel and businessman Patrick Murphy have each pulled in more than $1 million.

    But West, a retired Army officer and ever the fighter, won't be easily outworked. He has huge support from the Tea Party, many conservatives and the military establishment and defense contractors. He recently held a Washington fundraiser that featured an appearance by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    The district traditionally is an important swing-voting area, touching parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. It's unclear how the boundaries might change after redistricting is completed.

    Since taking office, West has criticized the troop withdrawal from Iraq as an effort by Obama to curry political favor toward his re-election.

    He also made headlines when he joined the Congressional Black Caucus as the only Republican, pledging to bring conservative principles to the group. The effort doesn't appear to have taken root. In August, he threatened to resign from the caucus after fellow caucus members attacked the Tea Party.

    While the Tea Party remains enthusiastically behind West, he did go against the movement's wishes in voting for the debt-ceiling legislation. Tea Party activists preferred far deeper cuts than what the law eventually laid out. In a statement, West seemed to all but apologize for his vote, saying the law "is far from perfect, but the hard reality is that fiscal conservatives control only one-half of one-third of our government. ... The [law] is not perfect, but it is the 70 percent plan that my colleagues and I can execute to 100 percent."

    The Bottom Line: By the end of the third quarter, West had raised $4 million and had $1.8 million on hand.

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