BURKE, VA.—Keith Fimian finds a lot more to smile about in his second run for Congress than he did in his first. Spotting a batch of eligible voters—adults in line to get into a high school football game one recent Friday night—Fimian lunges toward them, right hand outstretched, with a campaign flier ready in his left. "Hi, I'm Keith Fimian. I'm running for the U.S. Congress," he says. "I'd appreciate your vote on November 2nd." Returning the handshake, a voter smiles with recognition. "You've already got my vote," he says. "You better beat this guy. I don't like his mustache."
Fimian, the GOP House nominee in Virginia's 11th Congressional District, which stretches west from inside the Washington beltway, chuckles and moves to the next person in line. But he wasn't laughing two years ago when he lost to Democrat Gerry Connolly. George W. Bush's toxic poll numbers, a faltering economy, and an unpopular war were dragging down Republicans across the country. Now, Fimian says, "it's more fun. The feedback is better." Voters "want to hear what you have to say."
The Connolly-Fimian rematch is one of 10 such races for competitive House seats, all held by Democrats. Though the candidates are the same, the strategy in many races has flipped. Democrats nationalized the race last time, and the GOP is doing the same now, tying their opponents to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. The outcome of these races could decide who controls the House next year.
Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping that some of the partisan arguments that won previously still have traction with voters. "Washington Republicans plan to take us back to the same failed Bush policies that drove our economy into a ditch, evidenced by the fact they are trying to run so many retreads and reruns," says Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
With Obama having won in most of these districts, the extent to which the Democrats can prevail again will be a measure of just how much American politics has shifted in recent years.
Listed below are the House's 10 competitive grudge-match races, along with the results of the last time the candidates squared off.
Arizona Fifth District
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) vs. David Schweikert (R)
Mitchell won in 2008, 53-44
The 2008 presidential vote went to Arizona favorite son and Republican nominee John McCain, 52 percent to 47 percent, in this district which sits just outside Phoenix and includes Scottsdale. Nevertheless, Democrat Mitchell outspent his opponent and took the House seat. This year, polls show the GOP nominee and former Maricopa County Treasurer Schweikert neck-and-neck with incumbent Mitchell.
A schoolteacher turned mayor and eventually state senator, Mitchell has run on his personal relationships with district voters and on his independence during his two terms on Capitol Hill. Schweikert, who has been endorsed by national conservative organizations like FreedomWorks and Arizona Tea Party groups, has attacked Mitchell for his votes in favor of controversial legislation such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP; the economic stimulus; and healthcare reform. Schweikert also has attacked Mitchell on the economy, a particularly pressing issue in a state where the jobless rate has reached 10 percent. A poll conducted in August by a Republican firm gave Schweikert a 6-point lead, while Democratic polls subsequently released have put Mitchell anywhere from 1 to 7 points ahead.
Florida 22nd District
Rep. Ron Klein (D) vs. Allen West (R)
Klein won in 2008, 55-45
In a district that has a large Jewish population and includes the city of Boca Raton, two-term Democratic incumbent Klein is yet again defending his seat against West, an African-American GOPer who is favored by the Tea Party. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 4 points in the district, as Klein took an even larger margin over West.