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With All the Bad News, How Can the NRCC Recruit Candidates?

“We are using the same message that Democrats used in 2005: the president,” a Republican strategist echoed. “Whenever you have an activist president — on either end of the ideological spectrum — a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t run decide that they have to do something. They believe that the president is running the country into a ditch.”

For many reporters and Democrats, this assessment seems odd because Obama’s polling numbers look good. But the president isn’t equally popular everywhere or among all groups, and his administration is already controversial.

Finally, NRCC insiders also say the committee has changed some of its approaches, even borrowing ideas and strategies from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The NRCC’s “Patriot” program is a thinly veiled copy of the DCCC’s “Frontline” program, which is aimed at helping re-elect incumbents.

“From now on, Members will be holding other Members accountable for running strong re-election efforts,” said one insider who expressed frustration and even contempt for past Republican incumbents, such as Reps. John Hostettler (Ind.) and Bill Sali (Idaho), who failed to fundraise or run modern campaigns.

The NRCC is also taking a page out of the DCCC’s playbook by trying to put more districts into play, a very different strategy from the one followed when Republicans controlled the House.

The committee has absorbed what was a small program initially established by GOP Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — the “Young Guns” program — to help candidates put together quality campaigns and to measure the success of those efforts.

Candidates are required to meet a series of benchmarks that the NRCC (often in coordination with the campaign) identifies, including fundraising goals and a fundraising system; a volunteer database and recruitment goals; an e-mail list, press lists and communications strategies; and media training, vendors and other measures.

Candidates who reach the first set of benchmarks are placed in “On the Radar” status, while those who move on and satisfy the next set of benchmarks reach the “Contender” status. Reaching the top level of benchmarks gets a candidate the status of “Young Gun,” assuring a certain level of NRCC assistance with fundraising and staff. (Certainly sounds something like the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program, doesn’t it?)

“It’s an interactive program,” said one Republican who is close to the NRCC. “We want to help candidates get there, not merely give them goals and tell them to get back to us when they have met them.”

The NRCC still has a long way to go in candidate recruitment. And potential retirements (and Senate candidacies), financial issues and branding problems could well leave the campaign committee in another hole for the cycle. But at this point, the Republican Party’s national problems haven’t dried up interest in 2010 House bids.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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