Dems, GOP take hits on Senate recruits

The decisions by three prominent politicians to reject campaigns for the Senate have complicated recruiting efforts by Democrats and Republicans heading into 2014.

Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s announcement Monday that she won’t run for the Senate could badly damage Democrats’ chances of holding the South Dakota seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting MORE.

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Her move follows Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOur democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget Dem files Ethics complaint on Benghazi panel Barrow thanks staff in farewell speech MORE’s decision not to run for the Senate in Georgia, denying Democrats a favored recruit for that state’s open seat.

But Republicans are also taking a hit.

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) officially ruled out a bid against Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBooker is latest Dem to seize spotlight The Trump Presidency: Year One Lawmakers unveil landmark overhaul of sexual harassment policies MORE (D-Minn.) Monday afternoon, removing one the GOP’s last, best hopes of making a play for that seat.

Those decisions potentially shrink the Senate map and put added pressure on the party committees to find worthy replacements in states that aren’t naturally favorable territory.

“Everybody’s having a bad week,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report.

Democrats’ recent losses pose a bigger problem, however.

The party is defending seven seats in states GOP nominee Mitt Romney won in the last presidential election, as well as open seats in Iowa and Michigan.

If they lose six seats, they lose control of the Senate. 

Herseth Sandlin’s decision in particular hurts Democrats.

Party officials now hope U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson (D), the senator’s son, could run for the seat. 

If he doesn’t, Democrats could be left without a top-tier candidate in a heavily Republican state.

It’s also still possible that former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) could face a primary challenge that could hurt Republican chances of winning the race.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) hasn’t ruled it out, but she’s made no moves suggesting a bid.

“We believe as long as Noem doesn’t challenge him, Mike Rounds is now a clear favorite to be the next senator,” said Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Democrats lost another potential top-tier recruit in Georgia when Barrow, a centrist who for years has won races in Republican-leaning districts, announced last week he wouldn’t run.

National party strategists say they’re just as excited about businesswoman Michelle Nunn (D), the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). 

They say Nunn would be a strong recruit to replace retiring Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.), especially because a crowded GOP primary could cause trouble for the party.

But while Nunn looks good on paper, she hasn’t been tested as a candidate yet.

“She’s never held public office. OK, she’s Sam Nunn’s daughter. Who cares?” Sabato said. “He’s been out for a long, long time.”

Democrats are also searching for a candidate in West Virginia, where Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.) is retiring. And they have yet to land a recruit against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: If there's no wall, there's no DACA fix Schumer: Democrats 'cut the best deal we could' Dems sour on shutdown tactics MORE (R-Ky.).

Few think they can challenge Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer warns McConnell against immigration ‘breach of trust’ Senate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight Overnight Health Care: Congress funds children's health program after four-month delay | PhRMA ups lobbying in Trump's first year | Collins 'optimistic' ObamaCare fixes will pass MORE (R-Maine), despite the state’s Democratic lean.

The party, which found several top-tier recruits and avoided damaging Senate primaries in 2012, is still in a better position than the GOP, which faces recruiting problems in a number of states.

It’s also still very early in the election cycle.

Many of Democrats’ best 2012 recruits hadn’t announced bids at this point in 2011, including now-Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Regulation: Trump’s former chemical safety nominee leaving EPA | Senate confirms Powell as Fed chair | NTSB 'gathering information' on Tesla crash Overnight Finance: Senate confirms Powell as Fed chair | Mulvaney declares 'new mission' for consumer bureau | Trump says solar tariffs will boost jobs Senate confirms Jerome Powell as Fed chairman MORE (D-Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinPriebus backs Vukmir in Wisconsin GOP primary RNC launches effort against red-state Dems over shutdown NRSC targets red-state Dems over shutdown MORE (D-Wis.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDems sour on shutdown tactics Senate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight Scott faces GOP headwinds ahead of potential Senate bid MORE (D-N.D.).

They’ve also scored high-profile recruits in Reps. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE (D-
Iowa), while the GOP hasn’t come up with anyone to run in either state.

And if former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer runs for the seat being vacated by Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate MORE, Democrats will have a strong chance to hold that seat.

But things aren’t going as smoothly for Democrats as in 2012, when the party won contests in a number of red states.

“Senate Democrats tried and failed to recruit candidates that can differentiate from the Obama/Reid/Schumer agenda, which reveals how terrified of the political terrain that they actually are,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, naming Senate Majority Leader

Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump: If there's no wall, there's no DACA fix Chuck Schumer’s deal with the devil Americans are catching on to Dems' tax bill smear campaign MORE (D-N.Y.), the upper chamber’s No. 3 Democrat.

The GOP is facing a number of headaches as well.

Paulsen’s decision reflects the challenge the party faces in taking on Franken, who looks strong in Democratic-leaning Minnesota despite his narrow win in 2008.

Others who have turned down the race include former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), whom Franken barely beat that year, and Rep. John Kline
(R-Minn.).

Paulsen had long been expected to take a pass on the race. But his official decision leaves the GOP’s cupboard bare of well-known Minnesota Republicans who could run for the seat.

The party also faces similar challenges against well-liked Democratic incumbents in the swing states of Colorado and Virginia.

“Democrats already have major recruitment successes in Iowa and Michigan, while up and down the map Republicans are struggling to find top tier candidates who can avoid messy primaries and appeal to mainstream voters in a general election,” said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Along with Iowa and Michigan, Republicans have yet to land a top-tier recruit to challenge Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MORE (D-N.C.), whom polls show is vulnerable.

Most expect Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonDems sour on shutdown tactics Senate faces difficult path to immigration deal Schumer comes under fire over funding deal MORE (R-Ark.) to take on vulnerable Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), though he hasn’t jumped into that race yet.

This story was updated on Tuesday at 3:36 p.m. to remove a reference that Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSchumer comes under fire over funding deal Senate moderates see influence grow after shutdown fight 2020 Democrats vote against Schumer deal MORE (I-Maine) was a Democratic recruit.