In several previous posts (you can read them here, here, and here) PolySighers have commented on the critical role that quality challengers play in congressional election contests. Now there's a local angle to this story.
My local congressional district (NY 24) has been represented for the last two decades by Sherwood Boehlert, one of the last of the GOP moderates. The district is Republican, but not heavily so. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004, but not by overwhelming margins. Boehlert's main competition has come in GOP primaries. In 2002 he nearly got knocked off, winning with only 53 percent of the vote. In 2004, he still only managed an underwhelming 59 percent. In response, he's been drifting to the right. Fortunately for Boehlert, it's been years since he's had anything approaching a serious Democratic challenger, so this conservative shift hasn't cost him in the general election. But now that might be changing. Today, the Utica Observer-Dispatch reports that the local Democratic attorney for Oneida County, Michael Arcuri, is considering a possible run against Boehlert.
As the incumbent, Boehlert still has some important advantages and is still a favorite for reelection, but Arcuri is exactly the sort of challenger that incumbents dread running against. He's got plenty of political experience, name recognition, and access to money. That means Boehlert may face his toughest general election campaign in recent years. In most years, politicians like Arcuri would figure Boehlert as unbeatable and not take the risk of running against him. The fact that Arcuri is even considering a challenge shows just the extent of anti-Republican sentiment in the country. If other Democratic politicians like Arcuri are challenging Republican incumbents around the country, then the GOP could be in for a rough time next year. In particular, GOP moderates like Boehlert will be in a double bind. On the one hand, the threat of primary challenges keeps them from moving too far to the left, but they also need to find some way to declare their independence from the increasingly unpopular President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership so that they aren't vulnerable in the general election. Stay tuned.