Is it not bizarre that the seemingly one and only race in which Republicans are having major recruitment difficulties recently involves the Democrat who has become their new public enemy number 1 - Rep. Alan Grayson?
GOP optimism that 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for them is undoubtedly helping them recruit stronger candidates than in the past cycle, as many Republicans think all they’ll have to do is jump in a contest to watch a vulnerable Democrat self-implode.
The NRCC has been particularly confident that Grayson is planting the seeds of defeat by emerging as one of Congress’s most vocal progressives. I don’t find it a compelling argument that a congressman is endangered as soon as he is outspoken, even if we’re talking about a swing district. That seems to me to lazily reflect a conventional wisdom that ignores counter-examples like Rep. Peter DeFazio, whose vocal populism has helped rather than hurt him.
But whatever we think of the dangers Grayson is bringing upon himself, there is no question that the same logic that has landed the GOP top-tier recruits against Harry Teague, Tom Perriello, Vic Snyder or Herseth Sandlin should have allowed them to get to numerous Florida Republicans to clamor for the right to face Grayson. Instead, a string of refusals that occurred over the past 10 day leaves Grayson safer today than he was a week ago.
First, it was Orange County mayor Rich Crotty who announced he would not run in 2010. That was partly a blow to the GOP - Crotty is a very well-known politician who would had no difficulty making this a high-profile contest - and partly a blessing, since Crotty faces ethical questions that would have helped Democrats turn the spotlight on him. Then, it was businessman Tim Seneff and State Rep. Stephen Precourt who followed Crotty out the door.
That left former state Senator Daniel Webster, who many considered as Grayson’s most dangerous challenger because of the 28 years he spent in the state legislature and the relatively imposing stature he acquired as a result in state politics - or at least in Florida’s conservative circles. That would have at least guaranteed him a financial base and an enthusiastic base, important factors in a midterm election. Crotty and Precourt’s exits would also have allowed Webster to enter the Republican primary as the clear front-runner.
But in somewhat of a surprise, Webster announced tonight that he would not challenge Grayson.
This means that the GOP’s prospects of fielding a top-tier opponent in the hands of state Senator Andy Gardiner, who would be a step down from Webster and perhaps also from Crotty. Gardiner does not face re-election until 2012, so he wouldn’t even have to risk his office to jump in the congressional race, but he has attracted less attention than Webster had.
If Gardiner declines, Republicans would be in the hands of untested challengers who could just as easily flame out as they could catch fire - from businessman Jerry Pierce and developer Armando Gutierrez to conservative activist Patricia Sullivan. If the GOP is correct to predict Grayson is heading towards a sure defeat, any of these options could be credible as long as the NRCC commits to helping. But there’s no question that Grayson would be entitled to celebrating if Gardiner also passes on the race.
After all, FL-08 is not the most propitious of territories for a Republican takeover - it voted for Obama by 6%. Grayson’s personal fortune and the support he’s sure to receive from liberals nationwide would make it that much harder for the GOP to score a pick-up with just anybody.
By contrast, NRCC lands candidates in NC-11 and CO-07
The breaks Grayson is receiving all the more striking considering the NRCC’s continued recruitment successes in districts that might be potentially vulnerable but that we haven’t been paying much attention to. That’s a trend we have seen pick-up in recent weeks and it continued this week in two new districts.
In NC-11, a district that voted for Bush by double-digits and McCain by 5%, Rep. Health Shuler just landed himself a challenger: Hendersonville Mayor Greg Newman. Hendersonville is far too small a town (around 10,000 inhabitants) for Newman to be a top-tier challenger, but he is sure to be a step-up from the party’s 2008 nominee: Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower suspended his campaign after securing the GOP nomination and refused to relaunch his bid until half of the local party leaders had committed to more conservative principles. Shuler crushed him in November.
In CO-07, the news is probably more consequential: The Denver Post is reporting that Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier will drop out of the Senate race to challenge Rep. Ed Perlmutter. That first step is no shocker: Since Jane Norton’s entered the Senate race, there’s only been room for a candidate willing to run from the right and Frazier is too moderate to appeal to conservative activists. But his switch to the House contest was not expected. (Note that the Frazier news still has to be confirmed.)
This comes shortly after the NRCC secured similar coups in NV and PA, where Joe Heck and Pat Meehan abandoned their gubernatorial ambitions to run for Congress instead. While CO-07 has become just as tough for the GOP as NV-03 and PA-07 (Obama won all of these by double-digits in 2008, including a 19% victory in CO-07), these Republicans are as strong contenders as the GOP could field in districts that were all competitive in 2004. In particular, CO-07 was designed by a judge to be a swing seat and 2009 polls suggest Colorado’s environment has soured on Democrats more than in other states.