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 JohnsonSeveral hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada MORE.

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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 FrankenGillibrand says she doesn't regret calling for Franken to resign Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions 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 ChamblissRepublicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 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 McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.).

Few think they can challenge Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report 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 WarrenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission MORE (D-Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Overnight Health Care: Trump official knocks public option | House drug pricing bill coming in September | HHS holds off on enforcing new family planning rules | FDA launches anti-vaping ads The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Mueller ahead of testimony MORE (D-Wis.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 BaucusOvernight 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 Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester 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 ReidAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOn The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming Overnight Defense: Iran's spy claim adds to tensions with US | Trump, lawmakers get two-year budget deal | Trump claims he could win Afghan war in a week Trump, Democrats clinch two-year budget deal 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 HaganTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (D-N.C.), whom polls show is vulnerable.

Most expect Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Five things to know about Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency 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 KingAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees MORE (I-Maine) was a Democratic recruit.