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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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On the GOP's Recruitment Problems

A follow-up to yesterday's piece. If a party's political perils induce marginal members of Congress to step down rather than seek reelection, it also makes it much more difficult for the party to find a quality candidate to replace them.

The following is from Mike Allen's Politico playbook:

'Republicans scrambled to find a candidate for one of the nation's most competitive congressional districts Thursday as Rep. Deborah Pryce, nearly a casualty of the 2006 Democratic surge, announced that she would not seek a ninth term. Also announcing that he will not run for re-election in 2008 was Rep. Chip Pickering, a six-term Republican from Mississippi. Pryce, once the most powerful Republican woman in Congress, beat Mary Jo Kilroy last year by 1,062 votes out of 220,000 cast. Democrats are backing Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner, in 2008. Republicans could have trouble finding a top-flight candidate for an open seat in the district. Former Attorney General Jim Petro, now a lawyer in private practice, said Thursday that House GOP leader John Boehner and others had approached him about running for the nomination. He said he would decide whether to get back into politics within two weeks. ... State Sen. Steve Stivers, another Republican mentioned as a possible replacement for Pryce, said Wednesday he had no interest in the job. ... Next year's race had already attracted the attention of outside groups, and phone calls targeting Pryce, mainly for her support of President Bush and the Iraq war, hardly took a breather after last November's election. Bush issued a statement Thursday thanking Pryce for her commitment to reducing taxes and strengthening the country's national defense.

Isn't it funny how the top two prospects for the GOP in OH 15 are just so-so about a seat in Congress? I can assure you that their reluctance is not because they don't want one. I am sure they would. So, why are they hesitant? Consider the reaction to the announced retirement of Charles Pickering in MS 03. This is Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Taegan Goddard's Political Wire.

Republicans are likely to retain the Mississippi Congressional District being left open because of the retirement of Rep. Chip Pickering, but that doesn't mean that Mississippi 3rd District voters won't see a competitive campaign.

Contrary to initial reports, Pickering will not resign his seat. Instead, he will serve out his term but not seek reelection. GOP insiders describe the district as overflowing with potential Republican candidates and expect a multi-candidate primary.

Where the GOP is guaranteed a win in the general, the party is going to have to beat back candidates with a stick.

What's the difference? Things are not looking as rosy in OH 15 as they are in MS 03. Thus, top-tier candidates are not interested in running in the former district, but they are in the latter.

Candidate recruitment is thus one of the biggest ways that national political forces affect local House races. Top-tier candidates are strategic. They do not want to run if they think they are going to lose. When the political winds are blowing against their party, they demure. When they are favoring their party, they run. This is what creates an imbalance in quality candidates - as the political winds are usually blowing in one party's direction. So far, we have seen indications that the Democrats are recruiting better candidates than the Republicans - which is an early indication that, at the least, they are well positioned to retain their majority.

This seems to be most true for the GOP in the Senate. Chris Cillizza writes today:

At this still-early point in the '08 cycle, it's hard to overlook the dearth of top-tier Republican candidates in potentially competitive Senate races. The best recruit on the board for Republicans at the moment is Bob Schaffer, a former congressman who is running for the Colorado Senate seat being vacated next year by Wayne Allard (R). Schaffer has a base in the state from his time in Congress and also has a statewide race under his belt.

The GOP cupboard is all-but-bare elsewhere. No serious candidate has emerged in Louisiana, South Dakota, Iowa or Montana -- states carried by President Bush in 2004. Extenuating circumstances are to blame in several instances: In Louisiana, the state's 2007 gubernatorial race is dominating the state's political world, while in South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson's (D) recovery from emergency brain surgery has put the contest on hold. The national political environment isn't helping either, as President Bush and the war in Iraq continue to drive down Republican numbers.

Even so, the lack of "A" recruits is worrisome for a party that must defend 22 Senate seats in 2008. In order to avoid a landslide next November, Republicans must play offense in a handful of Democratic-held states. There is still time for Republicans to land major recruits, but the early returns are not promising.

This surely is a consequence of the negative political environment that Republicans are anticipating. Top-tier candidates Republican for the Senate are assessing that next year is not a good year for them to try to advance their political careers - and thus are not running.

-Jay Cost