Tight House races feel financial bailout fallout

— -- Political drama over the $700 billion Wall Street bailout began seeping into the nation's most competitive House races Tuesday as candidates tried to measure public reaction to the bill's fate.

Republican challengers criticized a handful of Democrats in close races who voted for the bailout measure, injecting a new wrinkle in an election year when Democrats hope to expand their House and Senate majorities.

"This crisis and the way it's been handled is another example of how Washington has changed Dennis Moore more than Dennis Moore has changed Washington," Republican candidate Nick Jordan said of his opponent, a Kansas Democrat who voted for the bill.

Jordan, who held a news conference in Mission, Kan., to discuss the bailout vote, is locked in a tight race with Moore, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report. In a statement, Moore said, "I voted for this bipartisan compromise because it took the necessary steps to protect American taxpayers."

Most House incumbents in close races voted against the bill that even supporters acknowledged was unpopular. Of 37 Republicans in races that Cook has identified as competitive, 32 voted against the bill. Of 29 endangered Democrats, 18 voted no.

Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, said many candidates are waiting to see the debate develop before taking hard positions on the campaign trail. President Bush and congressional leaders are working toward a compromise.

"We don't know what the fallout will be on Election Day," said Gonzales, adding he believes Democrats will pick up seats on Nov. 4. "All the members are trying to balance doing the right thing vs. doing nothing."

Candidates raised the issue Tuesday, but rhetoric was cautious as lawmakers continued to negotiate.

Nevada state Sen. Dina Titus, a Democrat, is running against GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, who voted for the bill. Titus said Porter's past votes helped lead to the recent financial meltdown.

"First, he kind of gets us in this, and then he wants taxpayers to help bail us out," Titus said.

Matt Leffingwell, a spokesman for Porter's campaign, said the congressman voted for a bill that had bipartisan support: "This vote was not a political calculation on the part of the congressman. It was about doing the right thing for Main Street."

In an exchange on a Syracuse, N.Y., television station, Democrat Dan Maffei and Republican Dale Sweetland said they did not support the bill. Both are running a close race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Walsh, a Republican who voted in favor of the bailout.

Members who voted no were not safe from criticism, either. Democrat Eric Massa attacked Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl of New York for opposing the bill.

"The inability (of) Congress to compromise because of a few very partisan ideologues has put this nation on the brink of 1929," Massa said.

Kuhl said he received 1,200 calls from constituents — with all but a few dozen against the bill.

"The general public is opposed to this for the right reasons," he said. "This was not a political vote. This was about doing what's right."