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 JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE.


Her move follows Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowRepublican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of Our democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget 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 FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show 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 ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' 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 RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) is retiring. And they have yet to land a recruit against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks MORE (R-Ky.).

Few think they can challenge Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Progressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 WarrenRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (D-Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (D-Wis.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (D-N.D.).

They’ve also scored high-profile recruits in Reps. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell Braley2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward 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 BaucusBottom line Overnight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor 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 ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary 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

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 HaganDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote Former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan dies at 66 MORE (D-N.C.), whom polls show is vulnerable.

Most expect Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator introduces bill to limit flow of US data to China Tom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Schumer concerned by Army's use of TikTok, other Chinese social media platforms MORE (R-Ark.) to take on vulnerable Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation 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 KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing MORE (I-Maine) was a Democratic recruit.