Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has the best poll numbers of any Texas politician, a huge campaign account and a safe job from a Republican state. Yet Tuesday night, the Democratic leadership of the Senate joined forces against her, co-hosting a fundraiser for her little-known challenger, lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky.
Why would top Democrats line up to help a long shot? Part of the answer stems from the string of GOP setbacks, from the war in Iraq to recent indictments of Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, and Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.
"We believe that next year, there's going to be a very dramatic election campaign," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, who met Ms. Radnofsky two months ago and decided to give her a boost by recruiting colleagues for the reception. "We've told our incumbents and challengers to be prepared for a much different election cycle."
Ms. Radnofsky echoed that point Tuesday, saying that with an economy "careening toward shambles," the war and GOP scandals, "people want change."
At last count, Ms. Hutchison had nearly $7.4 million in her campaign account. Ms. Radnofsky, a first-time statewide candidate, had raised $584,000.
"I'm not worried," Ms. Hutchison said. "They have the right to support a Democratic candidate. I don't have any hard feelings at all."
Polls consistently show Ms. Hutchison is the state's most popular officeholder. And Jennifer Duffy, an editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report who tracks Senate races, found it hard to envision a national tide strong enough to unseat her.
"I feel like I'm watching a hurricane that's out there at sea," Ms. Duffy said. "If it's a Category 5, even people like Hutchison are in trouble, but 12 months out, it's hard to say how strong this is going to be."