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NRSC Still Has Key Recruiting Holes to Fill

Correction Appended

At a press conference just before the August recess National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) boasted of his committee’s abilities to turn around what was widely viewed as a tough election map for the GOP at the beginning of the cycle.

But 15 months from the midterm elections, several big holes still remain when it comes to Senate Republican recruiting efforts. Whether the NRSC can plug those holes after Congress returns in September could be the difference between Republicans fighting to hold onto the territory they already have in 2010 and the NRSC actually mounting a serious offense against incumbent Democrats next year.

The decision on Tuesday by Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to pass on a race next year against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) underscores the work that Republicans have left to do when they get back from recess.

Since the beginning of the 2010 cycle Republicans have been excited about giving Reid a real race next year, but they haven’t found a top-tier challenger to rally behind. And while early polling numbers continue to show that Reid may well be vulnerable, the Majority Leader has spent the past eight months banking millions for his re-election effort while the names of top GOP recruits — including Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, former Rep. Jon Porter and now Heller — have come and gone.

While Republicans insist that they’ll eventually have a top-tier candidate in the race, the longer that recruiting process takes, the more time Reid will have to pad his war chest. In addition to Nevada, Republicans also have candidate recruiting holes to fill in Arkansas and Colorado, and the NRSC also needs to move a pair of highly-touted potential recruits off the fence in California and Delaware.

That list of possible targets should sound familiar to anyone who has been tracking Cornyn since he took over the reins of the NRSC.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, Cornyn said Senate Republicans could face a “very promising” landscape in 2010 if they could take advantage of “opportunities in unexpected places.”

In that speech Cornyn named New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada and California as states where those opportunities exist.

New York continues to be a long shot for Republicans, but Cornyn has found a strong candidate in Illinois with Rep. Mark Kirk (R), who faces a primary but is widely expected to be the GOP nominee.

Republicans face a more complicated primary field in Connecticut, but former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) is the party’s preferred nominee, and he would be a formidable opponent against Sen. Chris Dodd (D). Public polling has shown Dodd trailing some of his potential GOP opponents and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman is viewed as the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election next year.

In Delaware, Republicans are keeping their fingers crossed that Rep. Mike Castle (R) will throw his hat into the open Senate race.

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