Republicans bring in familiar faces for House races in 2010

Republicans’ strategy for 2010: Run a lot of the same candidates.

Two former GOP lawmakers are making a play for their old jobs, along with three Republican candidates who came close to moving to Washington in 2008. And three former members are contemplating running for their old seats, while several leading GOP recruits from last cycle are considering another campaign.

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All of the rematches would be in swing districts, though some will undoubtedly be more competitive than others. Republican presidential candidate John McCain carried a handful of the districts, and GOPers argue that without President Obama on the ticket next year, Democrats will be at a significant disadvantage.

At the root of many of these reruns is the belief that the environment in 2010 couldn’t possibly be as bad for Republicans as it was in 2008.

 Former Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who is running for his old seat, noted the political environment was a factor in his decision.

“Clearly, 2006 and 2008 were very tough years for Republicans running for the House,” Chabot said. “The environment in 2010 is very likely to be quite different than either of those years. So I think we have a very good chance of winning the seat back.”

Running the same candidates has some inherent advantages for the GOP. These contenders have already established name ID. They also have campaign and fundraising operations in place and, in some cases, they can try to convince voters that they made a mistake last year.

 But Democrats aren’t ready to let the Republican challengers and, in particular, the former GOP congressmen, off the hook for their ties to the President Bush agenda.

 Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said these Republican candidates show the GOP is looking backward rather than forward in its recruitment.

 “Trotting out a bunch of Republican reruns to advocate for the same Bush policies that created the current economic crisis just goes to show how out of touch the Republican Party is,” Rudominer said. “Voters will see right through any attempt to repackage these Republicans in 2010.”

 
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Other Democrats said that recruiting the same candidates is a sign of desperation.

Brian Smoot, a former political director of the DCCC-turned-Democratic consultant, said the strategy is lazy, an “easy way out.”

“At the end of the day these guys didn’t win and the Republican brand is still pretty poor,” Smoot said. “So if they didn’t win last time, why are voters going to go back to them this time?”

 This week, former Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) decided against the New Mexico governor’s race and announced he will run for the House seat he vacated to run for the Senate last year. Pearce lost in the general election and his House seat switched to the other party — it’s now held by Rep. Harry Teague (D).

Steve Stivers (R), who lost by less than a point last year, also said this week that he is going for a rematch with Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in Ohio’s 15th district.

 Republican Andy Harris will take on Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) in Maryland’s 1st district. Harris defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the primary and the party lost the seat in the general.

Dave Schweikert (R) is having another go at Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.).

 Chabot is attempting to take his old House seat back from Rep. Steve Driehaus (D), who defeated Chabot by five points last year.

 In addition to that bunch of announced candidates, former Reps. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) have all said they are considering running for their old seats.

Republican candidate Keith Fimian is thinking of having another go at Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) in Virginia’s 11th district.

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Republicans also say that Lou Barletta is mulling a challenge of Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) again after giving him a tough race last year in a Democratic environment. Barletta is said to be further away from a decision than the others, though.

 But while all these Republicans eye a comeback, Charlie Cook of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report suggested that that environment doesn’t appear to have improved for the GOP.

 “While Republicans may or may not turn out to be right in terms of a Democratic backlash,” Cook said, “there is little evidence that it has happened today. GOP party identification has not improved, nor has the generic ballot test, and Obama’s national job ratings are still strong.”

Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), indicated that Republicans will argue that Democrats are out of line with their districts.

 “Many of these Democrats seem to have forgotten the slim margins that sent them to Washington in the first place,” Lindsay said. “Their Republican challengers are not only being encouraged by an improving political environment, but also by voters who are suffering from buyer’s remorse.”

 Republicans are hopeful in large part because Obama won’t be on the top of the ticket. They note several of these challengers will benefit from lower turnout, particularly in districts where university turnout last year was high and went overwhelmingly for Obama. Those include Chabot’s old district, home to Ohio State University; the seat the party used to hold in Maryland, home to several colleges and universities; and Goode’s old district, which includes the University of Virginia.

“This is a very winnable race,” said Stivers, who lost the central Ohio district last year by just 2,300 votes. “There are no coattails this year.”