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Losses among Democratic leaders could set up a scramble for power

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 10:50 AM

Republicans could knock off a slew of powerful Democrats on Tuesday, including party leaders and committee chairmen, touching off a scramble among the rank and file to replace the veterans.

The big race to watch is Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid's battle in Nevada against tea party favorite Sharron Angle. The Senate is rife with rumors of maneuvering by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), long the top contenders to replace the 70-year-old Reid. Complicating the Schumer-Durbin contest: The two share a house on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Patty Murray, the senior Democratic woman in Senate leadership and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on transportation, is on the ropes back home in Washington state. If she loses, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) could move up the leadership ladder. And Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) is not expected to survive her reelection bid, opening up the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, one of the finest perches in Congress for doling out federal pork.

Three old-guard House chairmen could fall. Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, fought with the White House last year for additional highway funding, but his working-class district is trending Republican and opponent Chip Cravaack, an airline pilot, is running against big government.

In western Missouri, Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton faces the toughest race of his long career against former GOP state legislator Vicky Hartzler. His rural district has long been a Republican stronghold, but Skelton's conservative voting record and attention to local issues have shielded him from national winds - until now. Skelton has proven a loyal ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it could cost him.

And Budget Chairman John Spratt could be toppled in South Carolina. Like Skelton, Spratt has held on to his GOP-leaning district for years on the strength of his personal popularity. He faces state Sen. Mick Mulvaney. An ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee sums up the strategy to beat him. It's entitled "Whatever Nancy Pelosi Wants, John Spratt Delivers," and ends with the tagline, "John Spratt's not our congressman anymore."

If Spratt wins and Skelton loses, Spratt could move to the defense post - an assignment that might provide more political protection back home. And don't forget, appropriations Chairman David Obey is retiring. The sequence of succession if Oberstar, Skelton and/or Spratt fall, as well as to replace Obey, could involve dozens of Democrats shifting committees and moving up the seniority ladder.

Other senior Democrats who are struggling to hold on include Reps. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), a senior Ways and Means Committee member, who chairs the Social Security subcommittee; Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), a subcommittee chair on the Financial Services Committee; Rick Boucher (Va.), a senior Energy and Commerce member; Chet Edwards (Tex.), a top appropriator; and Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.


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