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GOP having difficulty recruiting Congressional candidates

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/09/AR2005100901332.html?referrer=email&referrer=email For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts Candidates
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 10, 2005

      For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts
      Candidates Need Convincing for '06

      By Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza
      Washington Post Staff Writers
      Monday, October 10, 2005; Page A01

      Republican politicians in multiple states have
      recently decided not to run for Senate next year,
      stirring anxiety among Washington operatives about the
      effectiveness of the party's recruiting efforts and
      whether this signals a broader decline in GOP
      congressional prospects.

      Prominent Republicans have passed up races in North
      Dakota and West Virginia, both GOP-leaning states with
      potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Earlier,
      Republican recruiters on Capitol Hill and at the White
      House failed to lure their first choices to run in
      Florida, Michigan and Vermont.

      These setbacks have prompted grumbling. Some
      Republican operatives, including some who work closely
      with the White House, privately point to what they
      regard as a lackluster performance by Sen. Elizabeth
      Dole (N.C.) as chairman of the National Republican
      Senatorial Committee, the group that heads fundraising
      and candidate recruitment for GOP senators.

      But some strategists more sympathetic to Dole point
      the finger right back. With an unpopular war in Iraq,
      ethical controversies shadowing top Republicans in the
      House and Senate, and President Bush suffering the
      lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the waters
      look less inviting to politicians deciding whether to
      plunge into an election bid. Additionally, some
      Capitol Hill operatives complain that preoccupied
      senior White House officials have been less engaged in
      candidate recruitment than they were for the 2002 and
      2004 elections. These sources would speak only on
      background because of the sensitivity of partisan

      Historically, Senate and House races are often won or
      lost in the year before the election, as a party's
      prospects hinge critically on whether the most capable
      politicians decide to invest time, money and personal
      pride in a competitive race. Often, this commitment
      takes some coaxing.

      That is why Dole met twice with Rep. Shelly Moore
      Capito (R-W.Va.) and a third time with Capito and her
      father, former governor Arch A. Moore Jr., in an
      effort to persuade her to take on Sen. Robert C. Byrd
      (D). Bush won 56 percent of the vote in West Virginia
      last year, making many think Byrd, who will turn 88
      next month, can be halted in his bid for a record
      ninth term. But last week, Capito said she has decided
      to stay put and seek election to a fourth House term.

      Last month, White House political strategist Karl Rove
      flew to Bismarck to implore the North Dakota's popular
      Republican governor, John Hoeven, to challenge Sen.
      Kent Conrad (D). Rove could argue with some compelling
      numbers: Bush won 63 percent of the state's
      presidential votes last year, and Hoeven trounced his
      Democratic opponents in 2000 and 2004. But the
      governor said no thanks, and Republicans concede they
      have no strong second choice.

      Perhaps no state has frustrated the GOP elite more
      than Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is trying for
      a second term after winning his first with 51 percent
      of the vote. After failing to persuade Rep. Katherine
      Harris to stay out of the race, GOP leaders began a
      public search for an alternative candidate. State
      House Speaker Allan Bense was courted by Florida Gov.
      Jeb Bush (R) before bowing out. Dole took a private
      plane to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to
      persuade conservative commentator and former Florida
      representative Joe Scarborough to make the race.

      Many Democrats and some independents revile Harris for
      the role she played, as Florida secretary of state, in
      favoring George W. Bush in the 2000 recount process.
      But she has enough hard-core conservative fans to
      scare away other Republican Senate hopefuls, and
      Democrats are gleefully watching the dispute roil
      their rivals.

      No Republican who has opted out of a 2006 candidacy
      has publicly cited the level of support from national
      Republicans or the general political environment as a
      reason. Potential candidates have a variety of factors
      figuring into whether to make a race. Still, to some
      analysts, the decisions suggest deeper currents at

      "Is it poor recruiting or a bad environment? Probably
      both," said Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races
      for the independent Cook Political Report.

      A senior Republican familiar with the recruiting
      process agreed that the climate has shifted for the
      GOP because of a confluence of problems from Iraq to
      Hurricane Katrina and high gasoline prices: "Looking
      at polls from June or July and then looking at them
      now, the deterioration is really bad."

      Another Republican, pollster Tony Fabrizio, said a
      recruiting chill was inevitable. Candidates "aren't
      stupid," he said. "They see the political landscape.
      You are asking them to make a huge personal sacrifice.
      It's a lot easier to make that sacrifice if you think
      there's a rainbow at the end."

      Fabrizio accepts the general consensus among political
      prognosticators that Republicans are likely to keep
      their Senate and House majorities, in part because
      there are relatively few open seats, and Democrats
      must defend seats in many places that have been
      trending Republican. But he and others say the hope
      from earlier this year of fortifying these majorities
      is now considerably more remote.

      The GOP holds 55 Senate seats, but unless the
      political climate brightens considerably in the next
      few months, some strategists and analysts believe the
      next Senate may resemble the one after the 2002
      election, when Republicans held the narrowest of

      In part this is because Democrats have seemingly found
      their stride as Republicans are stumbling in the
      recruiting race. Since Sept. 1, Democrats have lured
      their preferred candidate, Missouri state Auditor
      Claire McCaskill, to take on freshman Sen. James M.
      Talent (R), and have done the same in Arizona, where
      former Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson, a
      wealthy developer, is poised to challenge two-term
      Sen. Jon Kyl.

      Republicans will also struggle to hold on to
      Pennsylvania, where recent polls show state treasurer
      Bob Casey Jr. with a substantial lead over two-term
      Sen. Rick Santorum. In Rhode Island, liberal
      Republican Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee is being challenged
      by Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in the party primary,
      prompting the NRSC to run TV ads attacking Laffey.
      Democrats hope the survivor will be too bloodied to
      win the general election in a state that Bush lost by
      20 percentage points.

      Dole can count some successes. She was hoping Mike
      McGavick, the former chairman of Safeco Corp., would
      take a fight to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) in Washington,
      and he is. In Minnesota, she scored her first choice,
      Rep. Mark Kennedy (R), to run for retiring Democrat
      Mark Dayton's seat, and cleared the GOP field for him.

      But in Michigan, the White House and the NRSC moved
      quickly to persuade Rep. Candice S. Miller (R) to take
      on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). After Miller refused the
      entreaties, attention turned to David A. Brandon,
      Domino's Pizza Inc. chief executive, as the Republican
      candidate of choice. Brandon, too, told Republican
      recruiters no. After Vermont independent Sen. James M.
      Jeffords's retirement announcement earlier this year,
      Gov. Jim Douglas (R) came under considerable pressure
      to run for the Senate but resisted. Until 10 months
      ago, then-Gov. Mike Johanns of Republican-leaning
      Nebraska was the GOP's hands-down choice to challenge
      incumbent Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson, but then Bush
      appointed him secretary of agriculture.

      It is the NRSC's fundraising that some GOP operatives
      find underwhelming. At the end of August, the NRSC had
      raised $25 million, just a little less than its
      counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign
      Committee. But the DSCC has twice as much cash on
      hand, $16.7 million to the NRSC's $8.2 million.

      Brian Nick, NRSC spokesman, said this fall's gloomy
      forecasts will give way to brighter skies next year.
      "We feel very, very strongly that we're going to be
      able to protect the majority where it is right now,"
      with no erosion, he said. After all, Nick noted, "the
      election is over a year away."

      On the House side, where Republicans hold 231 of the
      435 seats, the effect of the political climate on
      recruiting is less clear. Democrats and Republicans
      can point to successes in individual races, but no
      clear national pattern has emerged, analysts say.

      Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman
      Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) says 50 or more seats are in play
      and notes that his organization has recruited 40
      candidates in competitive districts. His GOP
      counterpart, Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), says 27 to 37
      seats could be close fights. "We will be a majority"
      after the 2006 elections, vowed the chairman of the
      National Republican Congressional Committee.
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