Republicans Beat Democrats in Recruiting for 2010 House and Senate Races

June 10, 2009

Elections are not typically won or lost because of a mistake in the final days of the campaign. More often than not, a remark, a key vote or a perception of a candidate occurs or begins to take shape months before Election Day.

This holds true for election cycles. What determines how political parties will fare begins as soon as the previous election is done. One of the most important, most tangible early indicators is candidate recruitment. Want insight to how the parties as a whole are likely to do in a particular cycle? Look at which candidates decide to run for office and which stay on the sideline. Much in the way many animals can sense an upcoming natural disaster, the antennae of politicians are finely tuned to the political winds and against any unnecessary risk in one of the riskiest businesses of them all.

As we have seen over the past weeks, it has been Republicans, not Democrats, who have been successful in getting the best candidates in important races and largely avoiding divisive, resource hemorrhaging primaries. This turns on its head the image of a GOP weakened to the point of paralysis…

It’s not just the Senate races, however. The National Republican Congressional Committee has announced sought-after candidates early and often. These include Martha Roby (Alabama’s 2nd District), Van Tran (California 47th), Charles Djou (Hawaii 1st), Vaughn Ward (Idaho 1st), not to mention rematches in two races that would allow Republicans to recapture seats lost in 2008; Andy Harris vs. Freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (Maryland 1st) and former Rep. Steve Chabot facing the man who defeated him, Rep. Steve Driehaus (Ohio 1st).

Nearly every day, either the NRSC or NRCC touts another Republican recruiting success or taunts another Democrat recruiting failure. Their Democratic counterparts, on the other hand, have had very little to say on the topic.

And with good reason—with the exception Tim Griffin declining to run in Arkansas and Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning’s antagonizing of his party leadership, it’s difficult to think of a prominent race where Democrats have outperformed Republican candidate recruitment…

Republicans will not win all of their target races, nor should they expect to. The party is, however, putting itself in a position to win. This is significant and represents a real change from 2008—and both the NRSC and NRCC are off to a stronger start than last cycle.

For the GOP to turn the corner from the successive electoral “smackdowns” of 2006 and 2008—in 2006, voters told Republicans, “We don’t like you”; in 2008, they said, “We meant it the first time”—the party must start with candidates who can win. While we were reminded in those two election cycles of the importance of the national political environment, successful candidate recruitment demonstrates that the GOP is putting together the bench to even up the score.
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