Some Middle-Class Zeros Could Get Zeroed Out Tuesday

At least seven toss-up races in the House that will be decided Tuesday feature strong progressive challengers trying to unseat Republican incumbents who received zeros in this year’s Voter Guide.

Victories by progressives in these races will help dispel the notion that strong progressive populist campaigns can’t work in swing districts. They will also help undermine any effort to assert a mandate for continuing in the direction of cutting programs that provide economic support for middle-class and low-income families while continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The middle-class zeros in trouble include Jeff Denham, Dan Lungren and Mary Bono Mack in California; Mike Coffman in Colorado; Allen West in Florida; Dan Benishek in Michigan and Frank Guinta in New Hampshire. Their bids for reelection are rated as toss-ups today by both the Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics. Each of them are facing Democrats who have pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare, push back against the austerity agenda of congressional conservatives and fight efforts to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The doctor challenging Bono Mack, Raul Ruiz, has begun to draw some national notice for his his success in building what appears to be a lead against Bono Mack, who has been in Congress since the death of her husband, singer Sonny Bono, died in a 1998 skiing accident. Ruiz, an emergency room physician, is running on a platform that includes supporting giving the government the ability to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients. He wants to crack down on banks responsible for the foreclosure crisis and fight for more homeowner protections. And he won the endorsement of The Desert Sun, a newspaper that had endorsed Bono Mack in all of her previous races, in part by supporting ending the Bush tax cuts for people earning more than $1 million, while Bono Mack has insisted that the wealthy not have to pay more in taxes to help reduce the federal deficit.

Also in California, Jose Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut, has run a strong campaign against Denham. In contrast to Denham, Hernandez has supported increased federal spending on such job-creating initiatives as high-speed rail. He is also a strong advocate for government spending in research, making the case that these investments support the creation of American jobs. He opposes Republican plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program and says “Social Security is a promise and it’s a promise I will keep.”

And in the state’s seventh congressional district, another doctor, Ami Bera, is running a competitive race based in part on opposing the Republican voucher plan for Medicare. Bera has served as Sacramento County’s  chief medical operator and worked as a clinical professor of medicine at University of California at Davis. He supports investment in stem cell research and new medical technology. And he says he wants  to clean up Wall Street by working to end credit card scams; close corporate loopholes and end bailouts, golden parachutes, and outrageous CEO bonuses.

The Colorado race of Joe Miklosi against middle-class zero Mike Coffman is aided in part by a redrawn congressional district, which includes a secttion of the state that had been represented by the infamous hard-right congressman Tom Tancredo. But it is Coffman’s adherence to Tea Party dogma and the clear contrast that Miklosi is offering that is making this race one to watch as a potential progressive gain. Miklosi is unabashedly pro-choice and pro-gay rights, in sharp contrast to Coffman, and Miklosi also opposes cutting subsidies for higher education and reducing Pell grants. He wants to strengthen buy America laws and end tax breaks for outsourcers.

In New Hampshire, Carol Shea-Porter, who was the first congressional district representative from 2007 until 2011, has the endorsement of Bold Progressives. She is campaigning in support of the Obama administration’s American Jobs Act, an end to the Bush tax cuts and in opposition to cuts in Social Security and Medicare. She is also an advocate for public financing of elections.

In Florida, incumbent and Tea Party champion Allen West has built a stunning $15 million war chest in one of the country’s most expensive congressional races, but his challenger Patrick Murphy is trying to turn he notoriety of West’s extremism into a disadvantage. Murphy pledges that he will “oppose any change to Social Security and Medicare that will negatively impact our seniors. … The recent Republican attack on Medicare – attempting to force seniors to shop on the open market for health care coverage – must be vigorously opposed.”

In Michigan, challenger Gary McDowell is running on a platform opposing the Medicare voucher proposal and Social Security privatization.
He promises to support ending tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies, while supporting middle-class tax cuts. And he takes a populist tack when talking about standing against Wall Street bailouts and exorbitant bonuses for CEOs of failing banks.

These are among the top races to watch to see if progressive candidates have found a way to effectively counter Tea Party insanity and bring common-sense economic policies to the House of Representatives.

Researcher Ben Johnson contributed to this post.


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