Controlling the federal purse strings in Washington, D.C., has been a time-honored way for powerful lawmakers to curry favor at home and secure re-election year after year.A few weeks ago, Rhodes Cook suggested a parallel:
But this year, three powerful Democratic chairmen — Budget Chairman John Spratt (S.C.), Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.) and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.) — face tough races as a surging GOP looks to use the lawmakers’ power against them and turn them into electoral trophies...
The National Republican Congressional Committee is already making the case against Spratt and Obey, running ads against both calling them architects of the Democratic agenda.
“Spratt is [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi ’s budget chairman, and the Spratt budget has a trillion-dollar deficit,” says a narrator in a spot the NRCC cut in January that ran on cable in South Carolina for a week. “And Spratt’s the architect of legislation Democrats may use to ram through a government takeover of health care.” The NRCC’s Obey ad, which also ran on cable in his district last month, called the Wisconsin Democrat “the architect of Obama’s spending.”
“Obey chairs the Appropriations Committee,” the narrator says. “Obama’s spending gets Obey’s stamp of approval. It’s a Niagara Falls of money flowing out of Washington.”
The Republican tidal wave of 1994 could be considered a “model” election of sorts. The defeated Democratic House members were largely of a type that are viewed as vulnerable – narrow winners in their previous election, stuck in difficult political terrain, and in large measure, freshmen.
To be sure, there were several long-time Democratic heavyweights that were ousted that year – led by House Speaker Thomas Foley of Washington, a 15-term House veteran; former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, an 18-term veteran; and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks of Texas, who had 21 terms in Congress under his belt.
Their defeats came as a shock, but they should not have been totally unexpected. The trio was part of what is now a closely watched category called “declining incumbents.” Foley, Rostenkowski and Brooks all drew a higher share of the vote in 1990 than they did in 1992, when all three were beginning to show signs of electoral vulnerability.