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HASC Chair Pulls Ahead in Polls

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, appears to be solidifying a lead over his Missouri challenger after being shaken by the first strong challenge to his seat after 33 years in office.

We hear Skelton's internal polls show a lead in the high single digits over his challenger, Republican Vicky Hartzler, and he boasts something like a $1 million lead in the cash department, critical in the final weeks of the campaign. He had been pretty much neck and neck with Hartzler in some polls, running a lead of just five points, 46-41 percent. Build in the margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent and Skelton didn't have much of a margin.

One of the factors helping Skelton has been the support of those he has supported. Skelton, a pretty consistent and strong supporter of defense spending, has received strong backing in the form of campaign donations from defense companies. Politico reported that Skelton had received some $150,000 from the main defense primes

Skelton's electoral future may be looking much more secure, but his future as committee chairman isn't nearly as solid. Rep. Gene Taylor, the feisty and conservative chairman of the HASC seapower subcommittee, recently promoted the idea of Skelton becoming House Speaker. While Taylor doubtless really does like the idea of a conservative speaker, such a move would also open the way for a run by him on the HASC chairmanship. Taylor may well know his idea would gain little traction among fellow Democrats, but his signal to Skelton is pretty unmistakable.

Of course, this raises the larger question of whether the Democrats will retain control of the House. The "wave" election that election wizard Charlie Cook said look likely appears to be less certain as Democratic supporters seem to be surging. as the New York Times put it two days ago: "Yet even as spending from outside groups is threatening to swamp many Democratic candidates, Republican strategists estimated that only half of the 39 seats they need to win control of the House were definitively in hand."

So even if Democrats keep control of the House -- which is looking more plausible, if not yet likely -- Skelton may well face challenges to his leadership of the HASC. And that could set off a wave of battles for control of one of the most powerful committees in Congress.

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