Band of centrists forming for Senate GOP in 2010

For those writing Republican centrism’s obituary after Arlen Specter’s party switch, holster your quills.

In fact, if the next few weeks go well for the GOP, it might pave the way for a whole new chapter in the left flank of the right-leaning party.

The month of May will be huge, recruiting-wise, for Senate Republicans, with decisions expected from several big-name candidates, including Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkEx-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby The global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE (Ill.) and possibly Rep. Mike Castle (Del.).
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All would instantly be formidable — with Crist and Castle favored at the outset — and all are noted centrists. They would not only give Republicans a chance to win again, but give Republican centrists a chance to be a force again.

Kirk and Castle routinely rank among the top handful of GOP centrists in the House, and Crist and Ridge are already drawing heat from some conservatives for their decidedly middle-of-the-road records as governors.

But those aren’t the only potential GOP candidates with centrist credentials. Two possibilities in New York — former Gov. George Pataki and Rep. Pete King — are also strong examples, as would be former Sen. John Sununu in New Hampshire if he runs. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is strongly indicating that she’ll run in California, and Rep. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) Gerlach2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? Pa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline Pennsylvania Republican Costello won't seek reelection MORE is considering running in Pennsylvania.

Indeed, it seems almost every Republican recruit who will have any chance of winning this cycle will be a centrist.

Republicans already have centrist candidates in former Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut and, in Colorado, Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, who breaks with his party on social issues such as abortion.

Former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGetting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE (N.Y.) rode a caravan of centrist Democrats roughshod over Republicans the last two cycles.

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John CornynJohn CornynTrump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (Texas) appears to have taken note.

— A.B.

{mospagebreak}The RGA’s best-laid plans ...

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) will face former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) in the general election this fall, right? Not so fast.

When one smart Republican told The Backroom a few weeks ago that we should watch out for former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R), we initially chalked it up to wishful thinking. But over the last few weeks, an increasing number of GOP strategists who know the Garden State have begun to openly question Christie’s campaign and have suggested that Lonegan may stun the political establishment.

Polls that once showed Christie the favorite by a long shot now suggest his lead over Lonegan may have slipped below double digits. Despite an aura of invincibility, Christie has gone negative against Lonegan, a sure sign internal polls suggest bleeding support.
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Christie has a substantial cash-on-hand advantage going into the last month, but if Lonegan does end up stunning the establishment in next month’s primary, Democrats think he would give Corzine a much better shot at winning reelection. Lonegan is much more conservative than Christie, and New Jersey still features a pretty pronounced leftward tilt.

To help out their politically troubled incumbent, Democrats are set to launch advertisements slamming Christie even before the June 2 primary, hoping to secure a race against Lonegan in the fall.

Sound familiar? Think back to 2002, when California Gov. Gray Davis (D) spent about $7 million in the GOP primary to make sure popular Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (R) didn’t get through to the general. Instead, Republicans picked the far more conservative Bill Simon, whom Davis subsequently trounced in November.

It is no coincidence, then, that multiple political strategists and observers have said Corzine is “pulling a Gray Davis.” If he’s successful, Democrats will have a big load off their shoulders come November.

Strategists not affiliated with any candidate say Christie has few movement conservatives in his camp, which is a major factor when considering that Lonegan has brought in the likes of Joe the Plumber to campaign for him. Christie countered with a phone press conference featuring former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — not something that generates a lot of visually impressive photographs for the local paper.

Lonegan’s campaign has also been pushing opposition research on Christie, under-the-radar attacks that are sure to be resuscitated by Corzine’s campaign in the fall. What’s more, Corzine’s top opposition researcher is former Newark Star-Ledger reporter Jeff Whelan, who covered Christie’s tenure as U.S. attorney for several years, giving Corzine another big opportunity for picking up oppo.

Republicans on all sides of the campaign are increasingly concerned that Christie is about to find himself on the wrong side of a barrage of attack ads.

— R.W.

Republicans too slow on healthcare?

Something to keep an eye on: Republicans with an eye toward the 2010 elections are starting to grumble that their party isn’t coming up with a cohesive approach to healthcare.

A panel led by Rep. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Top Republican says Senate unlikely to vote on any election security bills San Francisco becomes first city to ban facial recognition technology MORE (R-Mo.), the former GOP whip, has been tasked with piecing together the game plan, but it isn’t moving fast enough for some people’s tastes, according to a well-placed source.

“We have plenty of good messengers on healthcare, but there is concern that we are risking another loss in a message battle on a politically pivotal issue among swing voters,” said a House GOP aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The source said the sentiment is growing both on Capitol Hill and outside Washington.

Reps. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyMarch tariff increase would cost 934K jobs, advocacy group says Bottom Line On The Money: US adds 155k jobs in November | Unemployment holds at 3.7 percent | Wage growth strengthening | Trump signs stopgap spending bill delaying shutdown MORE Jr. (R-La.) and Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessBipartisan House panel leaders ask agencies for maternal mortality data Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders to roll out 'Medicare for all' bill | Dems target Juul over Altria ties | Measles cases spike nationwide GOP rep who supports lowering voting age: 'It's on us' if 16-year-olds vote Democratic MORE (R-Texas) have remarked publicly in recent weeks that things aren’t progressing as fast as they could on the issue. Both are medical doctors, and both serve on the task force.

— A.B.