Morning Fix: House Republican Recruitment Shines

July 8, 2009

Six months into a world where political Washington is totally controlled by Democrats, recruitment efforts for House Republicans are showing promise — the first evidence, party strategists argue, that the hostile environment toward the GOP over the last few years is turning around.

In the last few days, former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) announced he would seek to regain his New Mexico seat in 2010, while state Sen. Steve Stivers (R), who lost in 2008 by just 2,312 votes to Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D), said he would make a rematch next fall.

Pearce and Stivers join a handful of other quality GOP House candidates including Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby in Alabama’s 2nd district, state Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado’s 4th, Assemblyman Van Tran in California’s 47th and former Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st.

“Candidate recruitment is often a leading political indicator,” said Ed Brookover, a longtime operative at the National Republican Congressional Committee and now a GOP media consultant. “Challenger candidates are often the first to feel a change in the political winds.”

Recent polling suggests that while President Obama remains extremely popular personally, the popularity of his policies — particularly on the economy — is flagging somewhat. A new Quinnipiac University survey of Ohio voters showed that 49 percent approved of the job Obama is doing while 44 percent disapproved, a massive drop-off from an early May Q poll that showed Obama riding high at 62 percent approve/31 percent disapprove.

And, as the Post’s Dan Balz noted, Obama’s numbers in that poll faltered not among Republicans, which is to be expected, but rather among independents and even some Democrats — a worrisome trend for the incumbent.

Another major factor in the Republican recruiting resurgence is the disappearance — figuratively not literally — of former president George W. Bush, a deeply unpopular figure among voters whose presence in the White House led a number of ambitious Republicans to take a pass on bid in the past.

“Republicans are out from under the cloud that was an unpopular President Bush,” said Carl Forti, a former communications director at the NRCC and now a political consultant. “From state house to Congress, great candidates who have been itching to run are now jumping in with both feet.”

The final piece of the recruiting puzzle is that Republican losses — more than 50 seats over the last two elections — means that there are lots and lots of Democratic targets to run against. Any number of Democratic House members sit in districts won by Sen. John McCain in 2008 and several — though not all — are likely to flip back to GOP control in 2010.

It’s worth noting amid this good news for Republicans that recruiting successes are not all they are often cracked up to be. Take Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, for example, who, after being touted by national Republicans in his race to take on Rep. Carol Shea Porter has run into problems due to his involvement in a bar fight. Not good.

Still, the recent spate of potential candidates saying “yes” has left weary Republican strategists feeling a bit better about the state of play.

“This prospectively looks like the best political environment for Republicans since the 2004 election,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.
Click here to read the full story.