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Republicans are keeping their eyes on Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Loretta Sanchez (Calif.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), Charlie Melancon (La.) and a handful of Democratic Representatives from the Philadelphia suburbs, who might look at the Senate race with renewed interest now that Sen. Arlen Specter (R) has drawn a serious primary challenger.
Republican operatives are making every effort to recruit strong challengers to these Democratic incumbents, hoping to push some of them toward other contests.
GOP insiders cite their efforts to encourage California Assemblyman Van Tran to challenge Sanchez and Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken into a race against DeFazio as evidence that they are trying to broaden the playing field and that they have adopted a new strategy. Both Republicans are still considering their options.
National GOP strategists are also pleased that Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou has jumped into the Hawaii race to succeed Abercrombie, who holds a seat they havent seriously contested since 1996.
Last cycle, many Republicans thought that we could simply conquer old territory to win back the majority. Now, most people realize that we need to create new opportunities, said one Republican observer, echoing what Democratic strategists said in 2006 and 2008.
Both parties will make every effort to get their incumbents to run again, thereby minimizing the number of open seats each must defend. But given recent trends, with retirements averaging in the low 30s over the past six cycles, another 20 retirements wouldnt be unusual.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.