August Angst? TPM’s Top 10 Town Halls To Watch

August 9, 2010 5:03 a.m.

Funny things happen when Congress goes home for the summer.

Last August, members of the growing tea party movement — bolstered by a little astro-turf anti-health care support — bombarded politicians from California to Florida, sparking scenes of angry mobs, finger-biting, guns, fights and scared lawmakers. But will this August be quieter? Hardly.This time around, Republicans are egging Democrats on, tracking their town hall meetings and making sure their voters know when Dem town halls are taking place. Operatives from each party recognize that any repeat of last August will have political consequences for both sides. Republicans admit they can exploit video footage of any Democrats caught surprised by shouting or protests in their home district. Democrats say if things get out of hand again, it gives them more ammunition to paint the GOP as extreme.

TPM has compiled a list of the Top 10 Town Halls To Watch this summer, focusing on districts where it’s bound to get interesting.

1. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA)

Perriello’s 5th district in Virginia is ground zero in the Republican efforts to win back the House. Perriello is unusual among his colleagues, as he’s running on some of the issues that have his constituents riled up. He’s been out there defending health care and his vote for a cap and trade plan, along with saying recently he thought the stimulus bill was “too tepid” and should have been larger.

He’s holding 20 town hall meetings across the far reaching central and southside Virginia during recess. The one to watch in particular is this next Monday morning Aug. 16 at 7:30 a.m. in Chatham, Virginia. It’s a tiny town 20 miles from Danville. It’s also home to his November rival state Sen. Robert Hurt (R). So chances are, it may attract more attention than the others on his list.

2. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)

Bachmann, the queen of the tea party with her own Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill, is hosting — you guessed it — a National Tea Party Tele-Town Hall tonight at 6 p.m. It’s timed to coincide with Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the House back into session to pass a measure funding teachers and other public sector workers.

“After only a few days away from D.C., Democrats in Congress are determined to not let even a week go by without spending additional billions of dollars for even more big government programs,” Bachmann said in advertising the event. Of course, such virtual town halls prevent any outbursts while giving the appearance of accessibility. But you’ll probably be hearing about this one nonetheless.

Last summer, Bachmann was heckled mildly during a town hall on health care.

3. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

McCain made a name for himself during his presidential campaigns for holding “straight talk” town halls where voters could ask him anything. In 2005 and 2006, Arizona voters gave McCain an earful as he pushed a comprehensive immigration reform plan he negotiated with Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Conservatives flooded switchboards to complain that since McCain supported a pathway to citizenship he was pushing what they called “amnesty.” Now, things have really changed. McCain is highly likely to prevail in his primary challenge against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, but over the course of the campaign he’s gone farther and farther to the right, especially on immigration. Throw in the ongoing political and legal battle over Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign, and we think it will be getting interesting. He’s hosting four “employee” town halls this week at companies such as Go Daddy and Coldstone. Last summer, he booted an angry protester from his health care town hall.

4. Barney Frank (D-MA)

Frank earned hours of cable news coverage last summer for asking an angry town hall protester what planet she was from. Frank’s feisty town halls were an early indicator there was some unrest even within the supposedly soldily Democratic Massachusetts — which played out a few months later with Scott Brown’s election.

As one of the main faces of Wall Street reform, Frank might just be in the hot seat again this summer.

5. Endangered Democrats

There are a handful in this category, but at the top of the list of House incumbents are Rep. Bobby Bright (R-AL), Rep. John Boccieri (D-OH), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD).

Some are in more trouble than others and some, like Boccieri, are running on health care reform while others, such as Herseth-Sandlin, are openly critiquing it. But if all politics is local, expect to see these Democrats talking to their constituents about the benefits they’ve gotten in the last year and a half from the stimulus bill and other legislation.

We’re also putting Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) on this list. One knock on Lincoln as she faces a tough reelection battle back home is that she wasn’t at the top of her game with constituent services. Can a series of town halls this summer turn that image around?

6. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)

Stark has never been one to mince words, and has a good reputation back home in the East Bay Area. But last summer as he was one of the key players in crafting the health care bill, his town halls were swarmed. He made headlines for telling a protester that, “I wouldn’t dignify you by peeing on your leg. It wouldn’t be worth wasting the urine.”

Already this summer he’s mocked anti-immigration Minutemen as being killers and calling one audience member a “wacko.”

7. Meg Whitman (R-CA)

The lone gubernatorial candidate to make our list, it will be fascinating to see how much voter contact Whitman has this summer. She’s mounted a campaign costing more than $100 million already, and California is generally a state which battles for political office over the television airwaves.

But given the mockery Whitman earned for hosting a staged town hall during the Republican primary, we hear she might be sitting down with voters this summer to listen to their concerns.

8. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA)

Cao managed to win one of the most Democratic districts in the country in Obama’s election year thanks to his predecessor Bill Jefferson’s ethical woes. He’s target No. 1 for the Democrats — even though he’s supported several major elements of their agenda.

Democrats and even President Obama have at times thanked him for voting in favor of health care reform and Wall Street reform. (He voted against the final health care bill this spring but supported a more liberal version last fall.)

9. All House Republicans

Republican leadership aides say their members will fan out across the country to foster “listening the priorities of the American people and discussing specific solutions to address them.” It’s all part of the America Speaking Out campaign that will lead to the GOP’s new agenda rollout this fall in the lead-up to the midterm elections.

The Democratic National Committee’s new citizen tracking effort is going to be out in full force this summer too. They aim to catch Republicans promising to repeal the Obama agenda, distorting facts, or taking credit for stimulus funds they voted against.

10. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-ME)

Neither of these often-times moderate senators are up for reelection this year, but chances are they’ll be seeing constituents back home.

Given all the total weirdness of the potential coup inside the Maine Tea Party, activists might have more on their mind than attending town halls. But given all the weirdness, you just never know. So keep an eye on Maine.

A final (big) caveat

This summer is not last summer. And even though there’s plenty of voter ire, it’s totally possible nothing crazy will happen. Health care has passed, there’s no real major legislation with a chance of passage before the election and politicians have wised up with crowd control.

That said, if you see anything interesting happening where you live, let us know.

This post has been updated to correct an error. Thanks to commenter Luzeelu for the catch.

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