Campaign 2010

Sep 25, 2007

Politico - GOP expects to lose more House seats

DCCC Press

Sep 25, 2007

Politico - GOP expects to lose more House seats

Top Republicans are privately bracing for the possibility that they could lose additional House seats in next year’s elections as a result of untimely retirements, ongoing scandals and unexpectedly gloomy fundraising forecasts, according to several members and aides.

It seems every day brings more bad news for Republicans. As Politico first reported Friday, House Minority Leader John Boehner and his campaign chief, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, are at war over campaign tactics and operations. Boehner is demanding a major shake-up at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The dust-up might be the least of the GOP’s problems. Three House Republicans in very competitive districts recently announced their retirements — and several more senior GOP members have hinted they may do the same.

Put simply, Republicans lack the money to fight seriously for many of these seats. The NRCC is essentially broke, with more debt than money in the bank. “When you look at what’s going on in the House, the prospects for getting back on track are pretty dim at the moment,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.).

It is not unusual for fortunes to change quickly in politics. A popular Republican presidential candidate, for instance, could help GOP candidates in swing states, as could an infusion of cash from outside political groups and business interests. The Democratic Congress remains wildly unpopular in polls, and some Republicans are optimistic they will benefit politically when voters look for someone to blame next fall.

But fundamentals matter in politics. And right now, Republicans are suffering from setbacks in recruitment, retirements, money and efforts to craft an election strategy. These concerns help explain the recent spat between Boehner and Cole.

The NRCC staff is instrumental in crafting the campaign and fundraising strategies for House Republicans. Increasingly concerned and agitated about their performance, Boehner is pressuring Cole to replace his senior staff.

Republican sources say Boehner wants to replace Pete Kirkham, the NRCC’s executive director, and Terry Carmack, its political director, with more “aggressive” people with a more “realistic” view on next year’s elections.

The dispute will be settled soon, likely with changes at the NRCC. But a new staff would confront the same problems as the current one.

Start with retirements. Republican Reps. Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Jerry Weller (Ill.) and Deborah Pryce (Ohio) recently announced their retirements, after spending a decade in the House — and all had a long history of winning suburban, Democratic-trending districts. All three are winnable for Democrats.

By contrast, only two House Democrats, Reps. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Tom Allen (Maine), have announced their departure, and both represent safe districts.

More Republicans are expected to vacate their competitive seats soon. Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) will likely run for the Senate, and Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio) and C.W. Bill Young (Fla.) are hinting they might retire soon.

Most members, like Weller and Pryce, cited their desire to spend time back home with family as reasons for stepping down. Others will be looking for a more lucrative career in lobbying. But their departures indicate that they have little confidence that Republicans will retake the majority next year.

The GOP’s budget is already strained without the additional races to fund. At the end of August, the National Republican Congressional Committee reported only $1.6 million cash on hand, with $4 million in debt. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, by comparison, had banked over $22 million, with only $3 million in debt.

Cook Political Report House analyst David Wasserman said that, if the election were held today, Republicans would be in serious risk of losing seats.

“If the election were held this November, Republicans would be in for a disastrous result,” said Wasserman. “The thinking goes: It will have to be another cycle before Republicans get their act together.”

After last year’s Democratic landslide, the picture for Republicans looked encouraging heading into 2008. Republicans were optimistic that, of the 30 seats they lost, many were situated in conservative territory and would likely revert to the GOP.

Yet Democratic freshmen representing those tough districts have been more resilient than expected, while GOP recruitment has lagged against many of their most tempting targets. Four Democratic freshmen — Reps. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Joe Sestak (Pa.), Ron Klein (Fla.) and Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.) — have already banked $1 million, and many others are waiting for a Republican opponent to emerge.

Republicans have landed their own share of impressive recruits, including retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, running against Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), and state Sen. Nick Jordan, running against Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.). They are also encouraged that they landed several strong candidates in the Northeast, considered especially tough territory for the GOP.

“We have defied expectations when it comes to candidate recruitment,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain. “There are a number of top-tier candidates already on the ground running that we expect to compete seriously next year.”

But for Republicans to win the 16 seats necessary to take back control of Congress, they need to knock off most of the newly elected Democrats representing conservative districts. And many of those Democrats are finding themselves in unusually good shape for reelection.

Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), representing a northeastern Pennsylvania district that overwhelmingly voted for President Bush, will likely face a GOP opponent without any political experience. U.S. Attorney Tom Marino decided not to run after being courted by the NRCC.

The GOP primary is now shaping up between two businessmen, Chris Hackett and Dan Meuser.

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), representing a GOP-heavy district in rural western North Carolina, has an easier path to reelection after District Attorney Jeff Hunt and state Sen. Tom Apodaca passed up bids. Republicans there are still scrambling to field a credible candidate.

Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Baron Hill (D-Ind.) still don’t have Republican opponents. And in the swing seat vacated by Pryce, a laundry list of Republicans have all passed up bids, from the state’s former attorney general to an Iraq war veteran.

“Republicans have done as good of a job as could be expected under the circumstances of the national climate,” said Wasserman. “There’s a substantial conflict within GOP ranks whether to stick with a red-state strategy or whether to see the playing field for what it is.”

Furthermore, allegations of corruption are threatening additional members’ standings. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) has been under federal investigation over his ties to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Doolittle, who won only 49 percent of the vote last year, has stubbornly refused to step down even as Republican strategists privately concede he cannot win reelection.

An investigation into political corruption in Alaska has also damaged the reelection chances of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Democrats are hoping the statewide scandal can put that traditionally Republican seat in play.