In previous posts, several PolySighers have talked about the importance of candidate recruiting as a leading indicator of next year's elections. According to Charlie Cook of the National Journal, here is how things stand:
If all of this wasn't bad enough for the GOP, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven announced last week that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. Hoeven is widely viewed as the only Republican who could have defeated Conrad.
The news didn't get much better on Monday when Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced that she would not challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd in West Virginia. Capito is also regarded as the strongest possible GOP candidate against Byrd.
These decisions conclude what has to be a pretty disappointing recruiting season for Senate Republicans, who have been turned down more this year than all but the most snake-bit, pimply-faced teenage boy. While they did get Rep. Mark Kennedy, their first choice, to run for the open Senate seat in Minnesota, and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to run for the open seat in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland, the rest of their recruiting efforts can best be described as somewhere between crushing to just OK.
Besides being shutdown in North Dakota and West Virginia, they couldn't get any of the preferred candidates in Florida to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. At this point, the only GOP candidate is Rep. Katherine Harris, who is widely seen in both parties as being almost unbeatable in a Republican primary but also highly unlikely to win a general election. In Michigan, Republicans had hoped to get Rep. Candice Miller or someone else out of the delegation to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow. They do have an interesting candidate in the Rev. Keith Butler, who might be able to make it into a race. In Nebraska and Vermont, Republicans have some interesting, but hardly their first, choices running.
In contrast, Senate Democrats pretty much got their first and second choices everywhere they seriously targeted, except for Ohio where it looks like they will get their third choice, Ohio 2nd District challenger Paul Hackett against Mike DeWine. While no doubt much of the blame for all of this will fall on the National Republican Senatorial Committee (in addition to criticism over the slow pace of NRSC fundraising), it's also true that in some places, there were not many promising opportunities to recruit. The worsening political climate has surely worked against them and the White House, which was heavily engaged in recruiting and primary field-clearing in 2002, and does not appear to be as involved this time.
On the House side, things for the GOP are holding together a little better. They have not yet seen a deluge of retirements -- that would be a real problem -- and unlike the Senate, where Democrats' dance card of challengers and open seat candidates is pretty much filled, House Democrats still need another couple dozen challengers in the most competitive districts to maximize their chances of taking advantage of a tidal wave if it hits next year.
I'll be interested to see if the DeLay indictment or the possible Rove and/or Libby indictments make things worse.