"I imagine this year it's a tougher sell, or it's an easy mark for an opponent," David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said of candidates. "The public perception of lobbyists has never been that great. They rank somewhere around used-car salesmen."
Other lobbyist challengers include Democratic Idaho Senate candidate Larry LaRocco, Alabama House Republican hopeful Wayne Parker and Republican New Jersey Senate candidate Dick Zimmer. LaRocco and Zimmer served in Congress.
In addition to Bilbray, incumbents running for re-election who were lobbyists include Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.; Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.; Dan Lungren, R-Calif.; and Doris Matsui, D-Calif.
"We definitely view it as a strength," said Jean McNeil, a spokeswoman for LaRocco, who does not mention his lobbying on his website biography. She cited his experience in banking and financial services.
In Ohio, Republican state Sen. Steve Stivers is running against Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in a seat left vacant by retiring Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce. Stivers served as a lobbyist for Banc One Ohio Corp., in Columbus for seven years, a line on his résumé that Democrats frequently raise.
"Most people see this as just politics," Stivers said, adding that he needs to tell "the rest of my story."