As the 2012 campaign (finally) reaches its conclusion, most of the attention in space policy circles has been on the presidential campaign, as people attempted to compare and contrast the positions of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. However, there are a number of Senate and House races whose outcomes might also play a key role in shaping space issues in 2013 and beyond, or at least have some space-related angle to them. A quick overview of some of the more key, competitive races:
Florida Senate: Perhaps the biggest space-related congressional race is the one for the Senate in Florida, as Sen. Bill Nelson (D) seeks reelection against challenger Rep. Connie Mack IV (R). Nelson, along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), played a key role in 2010 in crafting the human spaceflight policy compromise enacted in the NASA authorization act that year. However, with Hutchison not running for reelection, a Nelson defeat could leave that plan without a dedicated champion in the Senate—and perhaps Congress as a whole.
Recent polls, though, appear to show Nelson has a good chance of winning a third term. Those polls show Nelson with leads of between 3 and 13 percentage points; the two most recent give him six- and nine-point leads. (Another not included in the RCP list, by Reuters/Ipsos, gives Nelson a 12-point lead.)
Space has made a cameo appearance as an issue in the Nelson-Mack race. In an October 17 debate between the candidates, Nelson charged that Mack was “the only member of the Florida delegation that voted against a bill to help NASA.” That was a reference to the 2010 NASA authorization bill, which Mack was the only House member from Florida delegation to vote against it. (PolitiFact recently investigated Nelson’s claim and found it “mostly true”, confirming the voting record but noting that a vote against the bill wasn’t necessarily a vote against NASA.) Mack, son of former Florida Sen. Connie Mack III and great-grandson of Hall of Fame baseball manager Connie Mack, doesn’t specifically touch upon space on the issues section of his website. Nelson, meanwhile, identifies “maintaining a robust space program” as one of his priorities on his campaign website.
Texas 14th Congressional District: One of the few competitive House races in Texas is the seat being vacated by Rep. Ron Paul (R). The Democratic candidate is a familiar name in the space community: Nick Lampson, who in two previous stints in Congress represented districts that included the Johnson Space Center, and served on the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee. (The 14th district does not include JSC proper but, in the latest redistricting, does incorporate much of the area immediately south of the center.) Lampson is running against Republican Randy Weber, a member of the state legislature.
Polling data for this race is hard to find, although one mid-October poll gave Weber a three-point lead over Lampson. However, Lampson has won several key endorsements, including, last week, from the Houston Chronicle. Lampson, on his campaign website, devotes a section to NASA, calling for “robust funding” for the agency and continued support for human spaceflight, “including full utilization of the ISS through partnerships with academia and industry.” Weber’s site makes no mention of space among the various issues he discusses there.
California 10th Congressional District: This central California district is not a hotbed of space activity, but it has attracted attention because of one of the candidates: former NASA astronaut Jose Hernández, a Democrat running against Republican incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham. Polling data is again scarce for this district: a poll in September by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave Hernández a two-point lead over Denham, 46% to 44%. (Denham handily beat Hernández in the open primary in the district in June, but with several other candidates on the ballot.) While neither candidate talks about space (other than a passing reference, in a historical context, by Hernández on technology investment), Hernández is perhaps the only candidate whose campaign logo resembles a shuttle mission patch.
California 30th Congressional District: Thanks to redistricting and California’s open primary system, this race is unusual in that it’s pitting two Democratic incumbents agains each other: Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. Both have been active in the past on export control reform to aid the space industry, including Berman’s co-sponsorship of an amendment to the House defense authorization bill approved in May. In a bruising (nearly literally) campaign, though, Sherman has held the lead in polls, including a 13-point lead in a September poll, although the race may be tightening.