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Parties Look to Expand Playing Field With Recruiting

Seeking to rebound from back-to-back drubbings at the polls, House Republican campaign officials say they want to look beyond the usual suspects and typical districts to recruit candidates to run in 2010.

With a hefty 40-seat deficit standing between House Republicans and a return to the majority, the GOP is being forced to look to unlikely districts and for unique candidates. Party leaders say they are especially interested in community leaders — in other words candidates that have not traditionally run for political office in the past.

National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Guy Harrison said House Republicans will be more inclined to look for community-leader types instead of more traditional politicians to run.

“It’s not just state legislators, it’s not just who was supposed to be the next person on the peg,” Harrison said. “It’s usually, what we’re looking for, is people who have already created something in the community and are using that resource to make change in Washington.”

That strategy seems especially practical given the party just lost the special election in New York’s 20th district by a very slim margin after their nominee, former state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, was boxed by the “career politician” label.

NRCC Recruitment Chairman Kevin McCarthy spent his weekend in Oregon talking to two potential candidates in traditionally Democratic districts. The California Republican spent a day with Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken (R), who will likely challenge 12-term Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Given that DeFazio won re-election with 83 percent in November, he would appear to be an unconventional target for Republicans. In fact, DeFazio has not earned less than 64 percent of the vote since his first election. But in a district that only voted for President Barack Obama with 54 percent last year, Republicans are looking at DeFazio’s southwestern Oregon seat as an opportunity.

“It’s not always freshmen that you beat,” McCarthy said. “People that have a longer record, who have been in Washington, D.C., for a long time ... maybe they haven’t had candidates challenge them before.”

If Republicans hope to expand the playing field, they will have to go long: There are only eight freshman and 16 second-term Democrats who represent districts that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won with at least 51 percent of the vote in 2008.

McCarthy pointed to other potential recruits in traditionally Democratic-leaning swing districts, such as that of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), where the party is putting the full-court press on Assemblyman Van Tran (R) to enter the race. Like DeFazio, Sanchez has won by overwhelming margins except for her first election, but a growing Vietnamese population in the district makes it a tempting target for Republicans.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, Republicans are courting Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta (R) to run against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in 2010. Guinta is strongly considering a bid in the district that has traditionally voted Republican but has trended more toward Democrats recently.

“Everyone knows where the Republican seats are, and we’ll get top candidates there,” McCarthy said. “When you go to the next level, it’s even harder. ... If we were able to get those three to run, at those tier candidates, that would be a great achievement.”

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