GOP tried to recruit hero pilot 'Sully' for 2010 Congress bid

Sullenberger, a registered Republican and commercial airline pilot whose textbook landing in the Hudson River in January was labeled a miracle, made it clear through his business manager that he was not interested, according to multiple sources familiar with the effort.

The GOP wanted Sullenberger, 58, to run against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D), the second-term congressman who represents Sullenberger’s hometown of Danville, Calif.

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Republicans hoped the hero who saved all 155 of his flight’s passengers and crew by landing in the Hudson could help them retake a seat that long had been in the GOP’s control.

The effort was led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the head recruiter for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). He enlisted the help of Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who like Sullenberger is an Air Force veteran who flew F-4 Phantom fighter jets in the military.

Johnson’s job was to call the U.S. Airways captain and feel him out for a run. But Johnson got only as far as Sullenberger’s business manager, who made it clear that Sullenberger would not be interesting in running for a House seat, sources said.

The NRCC acknowledged reaching out to Sullenberger, though it said failing to woo him will not hurt the GOP's chances against McNerney.

“That early in the cycle, it’s a list of a dozen people we reach out to,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “We cast a pretty wide net in the beginning, and I think he was a pretty obvious person to chat with.”

So far, at least eight Republicans are running against McNerney, including former U.S. Attorney Tony Amador and Elizabeth Emken, vice president of government relations at Autism Speaks, a national foundation.
McCarthy and Johnson declined to comment for this story.

Sullenberger was back in the news Thursday for returning to work to fly the same corridor he was to have taken on Jan. 15. Sullenberger piloted an Airbus A319 from Charlotte, N.C. to New York with Jeffrey Skiles, the same co-pilot from the earlier flight.

Passengers on Thursday’s flight reportedly burst into applause when Sullenberger’s voice came over the intercom. In a statement released by U.S. Airways, Sullenberger said he had missed flying with colleagues during his time away.

“Capt. Sullenberger has repeatedly stated that he has no desire to run for office,” said Alex Clemens, a San Francisco publicist who represents Sullenberger. The captain is happy with the job he has trained his whole life for, Clemens said.

He has not donated money to political campaigns over the last two decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but he has been involved with his union. Sullenberger was chairman of a safety committee within the Airline Pilots Association.

Sullenberger became a national figure after both of the engines in his Airbus lost power when the plane flew through a flock of birds. Realizing he did not have the time to return to LaGuardia Airport, Sullenberger executed what was widely described as a textbook landing in the Hudson.

Ferries then rescued the passengers and crew, many of whom stood on the aircraft’s wings as the plane slowly sank into the icy water.

Sullenberger became a national hero and was invited to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration, his address to a joint session of Congress and the White House Correspondents’s Dinner. He was honored at pregame ceremonies at the Super Bowl, threw out the first pitch of the season for the San Francisco Giants and appeared at the 2009 Major League Baseball all-star game. He has signed a deal to write two books, reportedly valued between $2.5 million and $3 million.