06/25/2008 10:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Top Ten Races

Cross-posted on

Every year, there are certain political races that become really important symbolically and substantively in terms of the impact that an election cycle has on the country's politics. In 1994, the fact that Republicans took out Speaker Foley and the giant presence of Gov. Cuomo added to the huge symbolic weight of their victory. In 1998, the fact that we took out both D'Amato and Faircloth, the two leading archbaditects of the Whitewater investigation strategy for the Republicans, had a huge impact on the interpretation of that election. In 2004, Thune's victory over Daschle became a symbol of the total GOP victory that year, and had a bigger impact on Capitol Hill politics than any Congressional or Senate election in years. In 2006, the stunning primary loss of Lieberman changed the way politicos in D.C. perceived the emerging progressive coalition. So far this year, the Donna Edwards primary landslide and the loss of Hastert's seat in the special election have carried big weight among the chattering classes.

Even beyond these highest profile races, though, there are slightly less seismic races that matter in the nature of how politics is viewed and how power flows. In 2006, Jim Webb's victory, fueled by the Macaca video, signaled an important new trend in politics. The combination of Webb, Tester, and Sherrod Brown winning victories on sharply populist themes created some real fear in corporate interests. Key committee chairs going down can change power dynamics dramatically, for good or bad, in Congress- for example, Pombo losing in 2006 made enviro members of Congress more aggressive.

So I thought it would be worth coming up with a list of the 10 most important races for this cycle outside of the presidential. I factored in symbolic weight, elections that could bring people in who would be true progressive leaders, taking out especially bad conservatives, the importance of the race in terms of Presidential politics, the competitiveness of the race, potential longer-term importance (for example, beating George Allen and Rick Santorum last cycle took out two potentially strong Republican Presidential or VP candidates for 2008), and special reasons that might make media pundits and political insiders sit up and take notice.

Here's my list, and I'll be interested in other races you think should be on:

1. Franken/Coleman. No other new member of Congress next year would get more attention than Franken, and there would be no more powerful symbol of how much politics is changing than an openly progressive basher of the right-wing beating a mealymouthed so-called moderate and party-changer who actually votes with the hard-line Republicans on everything that matters. Plus Minnesota is an important swing state Presidentially, so Franken doing well would help Obama win here.

2. Burner/Reichert. An up-from-the-grassroots progressive, linked closely to the netroots movement, taking out a staunch conservative in a classic swing district? Nothing would be sweeter, or a better symbol of progressive resurgence. Of all the House races, this also goes to the top of the list because of Darcy's authorship of the Responsible Plan to End the War. We need to win this one.

3. Lunsford/McConnell. I know, I know, Lunsford's not our kind of Democrat. Howie Klein is going to be really mad at me for putting him on the list. But there is just nothing like taking out the other side's leader for shaking a party to its core. In all the carnage of 1994 and 2004, nothing freaked out Democrats more than losing Foley and Daschle. And McConnell is a particularly effective leader for them. Even if Lunsford turns out to be a Lieberman, it would still be worth it to take down McConnell.

4./5. (tie) Allen/Collins and Merkley/Smith. In my mind, these races are very similar: really solid progressives in leaning blue states with a slightly uphill chance to take out a pretend moderate Republicans. If the Democratic tide is rising, I think we can win both of these.

6. Begich/Stevens. Taking out "Mr. The Internet is a Series of Tubes," Taking out "Mr. Bridge to Nowhere," Taking out perhaps the single biggest example of Republican corruption now that DeLay is gone...It would be one of the biggest and best stories of the year.

7. Feder/Wolf. This one may surprise you, because VA-10 is a very tough district, and Judy- while being a remarkable candidate and raising a ton of money- is a ways from the top of the DCCC targeting. VA is a really important state in Presidential politics, though, and winning upsets in the DC market gets lots of national media attention and shakes people up (see Donna Edwards). But I mostly have her on this list because of Judy's savvy knowledge and passion on health care- if she is in the Congress, it improves our odds dramatically of getting a good universal health reform bill passed. Given her knowledge, skill, and connections, she would be one of the highest impact freshman members of Congress of all time.

8. Kilroy/Stivers. Ohio is the most important Presidential state in the country, and Obama needs to win the Columbus region big in order to win it. The other big reason to include this one is that it would be another GOP Congressional leader's district we'd be taking, adding to the DeLay and Hastert seats we already won (and hopefully will win again). If we end this cycle having picked up three of the top four old Republican leaders' districts from a couple of years, that will be a huge story symbolizing true sea change.

9. Slattery/Roberts. Beating the top Republican on Intelligence, the guy who has stood in the way on so many moments of accountability on intelligence issues would be a huge blow to the Republican security apparatus. And since it's Kansas, between Obama's roots and the inevitable What's the Matter with Kansas conversations this would provoke related to Thomas Frank's book, the symbolism would be huge.
10. Kleeb/Johanns. I made my case earlier as to why I think this is a winnable race. In fact, I think it's a better shot for us, a better shot at a 60th seat, than NC or TX, which are far more expensive states to get our message out in.

I have set up an ActBlue page where you can go and support any of all of these candidates, so if I've convinced you, give it a go. Helping them now will really make an impact to show their strength when the June 30 FEC filings are made public.