Republicans are favored to keep two conservative congressional districts in Ohio and Virginia in special elections Tuesday to fill the seats of two recently deceased incumbents.
The winners will complete the terms of Rep. Paul Gillmor, who was first elected in a northwest Ohio district in 1988, and Rep. Jo Ann Davis, who represented southeastern Virginia for seven years. Gillmor died in a fall in September. Davis died of breast cancer in October.
Democrats in both states hope to benefit from the historically low turnout of special elections and recent election gains.
Neither race will change the makeup of the House, which Democrats gained control of a year ago by a 233-202 margin.
Ohio Republicans have held that state's 5th District since the 1930s, and Democrats in past years have all but conceded the seat by trotting out candidates with little political experience and spending little money.
This time, Democrats are energized and putting money into the race to support Robin Weirauch, who is running for the third time.
"It's an off-year," said Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern. "If we are going to win, it's much more likely we do it this year than next."
GOP outspends Dems
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $150,000 on advertising trying to tie Republican Bob Latta, a longtime state lawmaker, to past GOP scandals in Ohio.
Weirauch has raised more money — $138,000 — in this short sprint to the special election than she did in all of 2006, when she spent just $115,000.
On the Republican side, Latta has spent about $200,000 on television commercials since the Nov. 6 primary and the National Republican Congressional Committee chipped in $280,000 for recent TV spots.
In Virginia, Rob Wittman, a state legislator, has a nearly 4-to-1 fundraising advantage and the benefit of being a Republican in a district where President Bush got 60 percent of the vote in 2004.
Democrat Philip Forgit is riding a tide of party victories that includes the past two governor's races and, last month, ending 10 years of GOP control in the state Senate. He has the backing of Virginia's Democratic A-list: Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Sen. Jim Webb and former Gov. Mark R. Warner.
He also is a decorated military veteran in a district that is home to the Quantico Marine base, the Army's Fort A.P. Hill and a Navy weapons testing center. Forgit, a teacher, went to Iraq with his Naval Reserve unit, returning in 2006.
Wittman has no military service, but neither did Davis.
Forgit has received no financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent nearly $85,000 since Nov. 19 to help Wittman or oppose Forgit with such in-kind perks as mailings, polling, attack ads and phone banks, Federal Election Commission reports show.
That's in addition to nearly $284,325 in direct contributions for Wittman, compared to nearly $71,000 Forgit has raised, according to FEC filings as of Saturday. The figures don't include contributions of less than $1,000 since Nov. 21.
An independent, Lucky Narain, is also on the Virginia ballot.
‘An outside chance’
A win in Ohio would be huge for Democrats, since the GOP dominates the state delegation 10-7. Democrats are targeting at least five other seats in the state that are being vacated next year or that the party feels are vulnerable.
A year ago in Ohio, Weirauch received more votes — 43 percent of the total — than any other Democrat in the district's history.
Much of the area is rural, white and has deep roots in agriculture. But steady job losses in manufacturing and the auto industry combined with the GOP scandals and questions about the Iraq war have Democrats thinking about an upset.
"They might not be the favorite, but they have an outside chance," said Paul Beck, a political analyst at Ohio State University.