Rep. David Wu, a Democratic member of the House education committee, was already facing a competitive campaign to keep his Oregon seat when the news broke this month that decades earlier he allegedly sexually assaulted a former girlfriend.
After The Oregonian newspaper in Portland published an in-depth report on the alleged 1976 attack in a Stanford University dorm room, Mr. Wu issued a statement in which he apologized and admitted to “inexcusable behavior.”
Rep. Wu, who as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee has introduced a bill to make the No Child Left Behind Act more flexible, must now work even harder as he seeks a fourth term. He is one of only a handful of members of key congressional committees dealing with education who face competitive races this year.
The House and Senate education committees may see more changes to their memberships through vacancies as some members retire and others seek higher office. Five members of the House education panel and one member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are not seeking re-election.
“Overall, they’re all in pretty good shape,” Elizabeth M. Smith, the political director of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the education committee members seeking re-election. All House seats and a third of Senate seats are up for election on Nov. 2.
Mr. Wu faces Republican businesswoman Goli Ameri in Oregon’s 1st District.
Rep. Max Burns, a Georgia Republican and another House education committee member, has an aggressive challenger in Athens County Democratic Commissioner John Barrow in their state’s 12th District.
Another close race for a House education committee member pits Rep. Timothy H. Bishop, a freshman Democrat running in New York state’s overwhelmingly Republican 1st District, against Bill Manger, a former federal transportation official.
Mr. Bishop “won a Republican seat in a Republican area, so he’s always going to have a very tough race,” Ms. Smith said.
Even in many of the races involving lawmakers with roles on education policy, education is not a prominent issue, said Robert M. Eisinger, the chairman of the political science department at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
“If you go to 435 congressional districts, you’ll hear more about the war and the economy,” Mr. Eisinger said. Education “is not the issue that’s front and center.” (“School Law an Issue in Congress Race,” this issue.)
On the Senate side, education committee member Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, is being challenged by Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, though Sen. Murray is considered likely to hang onto her seat. The same goes for Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Missouri Republican, who is expected to retain his seat against a strong challenge from Democratic state Treasurer Nancy Farmer.
Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee dealing with education, survived a grueling GOP primary and is now in a tough battle against Democratic Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel. It’s a contest that the moderate Mr. Specter, who has the support of the National Education Association, seems likely to win, political analysts say. Several recent polls show Mr. Specter ahead with margins of 10 to 19 points.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman of the Senate education committee, doesn’t face a serious threat from his Democratic challenger, Doris “Granny D” Haddock, a 94-year-old New Hampshire woman who in 1999 walked across the country to call attention to campaign-finance reform. But Mr. Gregg is weighing whether to swap the Senate education chairmanship for the helm of the Budget Committee, said Gayle Osterberg, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the education panel.
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the Budget Committee chairman, will retire from the Senate at the end of this term, and Sen. Gregg is next in line. Under the rules, a senator cannot chair two committees, so Mr. Gregg is mulling the decision, Ms. Osterberg said.
If Mr. Gregg makes the change, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming would likely assume the education chairmanship, Ms. Osterberg said.
That is, of course, if Republicans retain a majority in the closely divided chamber, which they now control 51-48, with one Independent member. If Democrats are able to win a Senate majority, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the education committee’s ranking member, will presumably again become chairman.
As interesting, said Mary Kusler, a senior legislative specialist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, is who will fill the seat on the Senate education committee being vacated by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., the Democratic vice presidential nominee whose Senate term ends in January.
She said that if South Carolina state school Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum defeats Rep. Jim DeMint, a Republican, to win a Senate seat, Ms. Tenenbaum could land on the Senate education panel.