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Over the past few weeks, a handful of potentially strong Republican challengers have jumped into House races. Sid Leiken in Oregon, Frank Guinta in New Hampshire, Van Tran in California and Cory Gardner in Colorado, for example, look to be the kind of recruits whom Republicans didnt get last cycle.
Leiken, who is running against Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Tran, who will challenge Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), are running in districts that the National Republican Congressional Committee hasnt targeted in many cycles.
Of course, there is no guarantee that these Republicans will turn out to be ideal challengers, or even that theyll win. On paper, former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) and Illinois businessman Steve Greenberg (R) looked interesting in the previous cycle. Then, as actual candidates, they flopped.
Given the Democrats certain fundraising advantage, the damage to the GOP brand, President Barack Obamas strong poll numbers, the lack of an effective national Republican message and internal GOP divisions, how are national Republican strategists selling potential candidates on a 2010 run?
Is this first wave of GOP recruits merely the low-hanging fruit? Will the NRCC be able to recruit credible challengers in additional districts that they have ignored over the past few cycles?
And while the NRCC has interesting candidates against DeFazio and Sanchez, will the party have formidable challengers to freshman Democratic Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Harry Teague (N.M.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), Larry Kissell (N.C.) and Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), each of whom is more vulnerable than DeFazio or Sanchez?
Republican strategists acknowledge that the national political landscape still isnt wildly favorable for recruiting, but they argue persuasively that changes since November make recruiting far easier than during the previous two election cycles.
First, Republican operatives note the historical trend that the party controlling the White House loses seats in midterm elections, and they say that trend is one reason why some potential candidates are more interested in running in 2010.
Party strategists also argue that Democrats first elected to the House during the past two cycles have never run in a neutral political environment and therefore have never really been tested. That argument makes some Democrats seem less intimidating than their incumbency might suggest.
But GOP insiders say one factor is more important than any other in explaining the greater interest from potential candidates.
Some candidates took a pass last time because they didnt want to have to run in Bushs shadow. Democrats dont have Bush to use this time. This time, theyll have to stand with the president or [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi. We definitely point that out to candidates, one Republican operative said.