Bush Unpopularity Wreaking Havoc on GOP Recruitment Efforts
by Jonathan Singer, Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 02:10:03 PM EDT
There have been at least some concerns on this side of the blogosphere that although there have been a number of Democratic recruiting successes so far this cycle -- Reps. Mark Udall and Tom Allen for the Senate races in Colorado and Maine, respectively, are two prime examples -- there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that there are credible Democratic candidates in as many contests as possible in 2008. Yet for all of these worries, which at least at their core represent genuince concerns even if they are overstated, they perhaps might not be arrived at if Republicans recruitment woes, which are even more significant than those of the Democrats, are taken into account. For instance, today Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times takes a look at the current environment for Republicans.
President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party, making it harder to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress.
Some of the GOP's top choices to run for the House next year have declined, citing what Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) called a "poisonous" environment. And Republicans' fundraising edge, an important advantage over the last five years, has dwindled.
Though Republicans have recruited many solid candidates in their effort to retake Capitol Hill -- and they have more than 18 months to improve their fortunes -- the environment could get worse.
Damaged by ethics scandals in 2006, the GOP in recent weeks has seen FBI raids at businesses or homes connected to two of its congressmen. A federal agency last week began an investigation into Bush advisor Karl Rove's political operation, and congressional panels authorized a flurry of subpoenas related to White House political activities and the run-up to the Iraq war.
Three-term Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut, who lost his seat last year by 83 votes, said he turned down an appeal from the GOP to run again in 2008, partly because of the dismal political climate. In a district dominated by Democrats, he said, it has become impossible for even a moderate Republican like himself to win -- especially since he voted to authorize the war in Iraq. Republicans in recent days said they had found a solid candidate to run in Simmons' place: the former commander of the area's naval base.
In Colorado, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard's decision not to seek reelection set the stage for one of the nation's most competitive 2008 races. But the top choice of party leaders, former Rep. Scott McInnis, has taken a pass, citing family reasons. McInnis had nearly $1 million stockpiled for the race.
This is not the first time that the perceived weakness of a President has adversely affected his party's ability to recruit congressional and senatorial candidates. One need look back only as far as the 1996 cycle, when Bill Clinton's reelect and approval numbers were in a low enough territory in early 1995 to dissuade potential Democratic candidates, thus making it difficult for the Democrats to retake the House or the Senate that year, to see how the problems facing a President can quickly trickle down to his party. Perhaps what augurs worst for Republicans is the fact that even if the party's fortunes improve later in the cycle it might be too late to find enough suitable candidates to be able to reclaim one or both chambers of Congress, a problem that befell Democrats in that 1996 cycle.
But early pessimism tends to breed even more pessimism throughout the cycle. Although this situation does not always play out -- in 2005 and 2006 Democrats were quickly able to shake off the notion that they did not have a chance to win back the House and the Senate and were able to find the slate of candidates to help them achieve this ultimate goal -- it often does. The fact that the Republicans, both on the presidential level and within the campaign committees, have not been able to keep pace with the fundraising of their Democratic counterparts so far this cycle is more likely to instill yet more pessimism rather than bolster the hopes of the party.
This all points to something important: Unless the Republicans are able to fundamentally alter the political environment in the near term, they could be faced with an even worse environment simply because of the inertia working against them. Certainly this isn't to say that the Democrats are now bound to increase their seats in Congress and win back the White House next fall; the Democrats could, of course, stumble politically, and a failure to recruit great candidates on their part could also lead to great number of missed opportunities. That said, the onus is more on Republicans at this point than it is on the Democrats -- and luckily it appears that the GOP is far from figuring out a cure for its woes.