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Some House Recruits Have Yet to Measure Up to Hype

During the election off-year, the House campaign committees spend much of their time recruiting and then promoting their top candidates — like college football teams touting their class of high school prospects before they hit the field. But a year out from Election Day, Democrats and Republicans have highly touted recruits who have either flamed out or are far from living up to the early hype.

Simply put, both parties have candidates looking to get back on track.

This spring, Springfield, Ore., Mayor Sid Leiken was touted as one of a handful of top recruits by the National Republican Congressional Committee. By challenging Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) in the 4th district, Leiken was supposed to be an example of the GOP’s effort to recruit top-notch challengers in districts that haven’t been competitive in recent cycles.

Leiken filed on May 13, but his campaign derailed less than a month later after it came to light that he paid his mother $2,000 for campaign polling to a company that wasn’t registered with the state. Over a number of days the story grew bigger as facts trickled out.

“It’s the difference between an article and a story,” according to a House GOP strategist.

Leiken choked back tears as he admitted to failing to properly document the transaction, and the secretary of state is looking into it. The matter was not insignificant, but it didn’t have to completely disrupt his campaign.

“You have to get good people around these candidates for them to succeed,” according to one GOP consultant who believes Leiken could have weathered the storm with better advice.

Instead of giving DeFazio a run for his money (the incumbent had $583,000 in the bank on Sept. 30), Leiken is facing fundraising troubles on top of everything else. The mayor raised just $52,000 through the end of the third quarter and had a paltry $21,000 in his campaign account at the end of September.

According to one GOP source, Leiken is making some changes in his campaign, but it may be too late to change the narrative of the race. For now, he may not even be Republicans’ hottest race in Oregon, with strategists becoming more excited about their prospects in the 5th and even 1st districts.

Across the country in Florida, a once-hot Democratic candidate is having trouble living up to early expectations as well.

For years, Democrats have believed that Rep. Bill Young (R) is close to retiring in Florida’s 10th district. Growing impatient because the former Appropriations chairman continues to seek re-election, this cycle Democrats recruited state Sen. Charlie Justice (D) into the race to see if they could smoke Young out. But Justice’s early fundraising has been mediocre, and Democrats are a long way from scaring Young into retirement.

Justice filed on April 24, raised $86,000 his first quarter of fundraising and $77,000 in his second. Those are less than spectacular numbers for a star recruit. He ended September with $101,000 in the bank, but Young had four times that amount.

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