It's lunchtime at Elton, an assisted living facility for seniors,
and Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) is working the room. Walking from table
to table, she shakes hands, smiles, and - over and over - recites
"I've been in Congress for 20 years," she says, emphasizing that
she chairs an influential Ways and Means subcommittee. "I'm a
Republican - I run on a Republican ticket - but I work with the good
people of both parties."
It's not that Ms. Johnson, a petite, grandmotherly type, is
particularly prone to touting her own credentials. This year, the
veteran congresswoman is in the unusual position of having to
introduce herself to a whole new set of constituents - and persuade
them she'd do a better job than their current representative.
Thanks to congressional redistricting, Johnson is one of a small
group of members who have been handed the unwelcome task of having
to run against a fellow incumbent - in her case, Rep. James Maloney
(D), who has represented the blue-collar town of Waterbury since
1996. Because Connecticut is losing a House seat, Johnson's and Mr.
Maloney's districts have essentially been combined, setting up one
of the toughest electoral contests this fall.
With incumbents increasingly invulnerable, the number of
competitive House races is shrinking. So, analysts say, member-
versus-member matchups stand out as rare exceptions - and the
hardest-fought. Both candidates come to the race with all the
advantages of incumbency, and so they must work to distinguish
themselves, both personally and politically. The stakes are
enormous, with more incumbents automatically guaranteed to lose this
year than in either of the past two elections. And given the
Republicans' slim six-seat majority in the House, the outcome of
these races could help determine control of Congress.
"You have two people going into a race who already have a certain
amount of cachet - it doesn't start off with the lopsidedness that
most races do," says Amy Walter, an analyst for the Cook Political
Report in Washington. "And most of them haven't had a close race in
The vast majority of incumbents never have to face off against
another member. But every 10 years, the redrawing of congressional
boundaries forces a small number into one of two types of matchups:
inter-party, like the Johnson-Maloney race, or intraparty, where
incumbents of the same party battle one another in a primary.
Analysts say intraparty battles can be every bit as acrimonious as
interparty ones, and they often expose deep philosophical rifts
within a party.
One particularly fierce contest is taking place in Michigan,
where primary voters todaywill choose between Democratic Reps. John
Dingell and Lynn Rivers. The matchup has sharply split the party,
because of generational and philosophical differences between the
two candidates. …