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NRCC Still Sits Out Primaries

Despite a trio of recent special election losses blamed partly on getting stuck with flawed nominees, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) has no plans to change his policy of not getting involved in primary contests.

In an interview Friday, Cole acknowledged that the poor quality of the GOP candidates in Illinois’ 14th district, Louisiana’s 6th district and Mississippi’s 1st district contributed to the Democrats gaining those historically Republican-performing seats. But with several contested GOP primaries on tap in the coming months in competitive or potentially competitive districts, Cole said the NRCC would continue to steer clear of attempts to influence the outcome.

“I’m not reconsidering the NRCC’s approach,” Cole said. “We could make a lot of errors, and at this point the last thing a candidate would want is to be the hand-picked candidate of Washington, D.C.”

There are at least 10 upcoming contested GOP primaries in districts that could be competitive in the general election, including New Jersey’s 3rd and 7th districts and New Mexico’s 2nd, set for June 3; Kansas’ 2nd and Missouri’s 9th, set for Aug. 5; Wyoming’s at-large, set for Aug. 19; Florida’s 16th, set for Aug. 26; Arizona’s 1st and 5th, set for Sept. 2; and New Hampshire’s 1st, set for Sept. 9.

Republicans’ ability to win those districts could be affected by the quality of their nominees, and some GOP strategists have criticized Cole’s insistence that the NRCC remain on the sidelines during party primaries.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said his party’s recent special election victories are prompting DCCC strategists to re-examine the House playing field to see if they have overlooked opportunities to gain seats. But he stressed that “over 50” Republican-held seats are in play and have strong Democratic challengers in place because of an exhaustive recruiting effort that began the day after the 2006 elections.

Cole indicated that the NRCC does not have a blanket hands-off policy when it comes to contested primaries, suggesting that House GOP leaders and other Republican Members who get involved in contested primaries individually have the committee’s blessing.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has endorsed GOP primary candidates in Kansas’ 2nd district (former Rep. Jim Ryun), New Hampshire’s 1st (former Rep. Jeb Bradley) and New Jersey’s 3rd (Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers).

Still, Cole said he believes the electoral prospects of Republican House candidates are better served by an NRCC that doesn’t pick sides in a primary, even subtly or behind the scenes. Cole also said that too much attention is being paid to tactics, when the real problems House Republicans face right now are political, in particular voters’ incredible distaste for the GOP on almost every measurable level.

“We’re in a challenging election environment, and I don’t need the Republican coalition falling apart,” Cole said. “This thing is always great when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s really nasty.”

Cole’s two immediate predecessors as NRCC chairman, outgoing Reps. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Tom Davis (Va.), both favored exerting the committee’s influence in primaries as necessary.

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