Senators Told to Start Running

GOP Leaders Fear 2010 Losses

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:40pm

Wary of repeating the electoral bloodletting of the past two cycles, Senate Republican leaders are pressuring their colleagues up for re-election in 2010 to immediately begin putting in place extensive fundraising and ground operations.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have been making the rounds with Senate GOP incumbents to gauge their re-election plans. The two leaders are urging Senators to decide quickly whether they plan to run again and, if they do, to begin mounting aggressive and early campaigns to ensure their survival.

One Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Cornyn and McConnell have told colleagues that “if you’re going to retire, you need to make the decision in the very near future, because we don’t want to be in this position six months from now,” having to identify new candidates.

Already, four GOP incumbents — Sens. Mel Martinez (Fla.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Sam Brownback (Kan.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) — have announced plans to retire in 2010. Voinovich announced his decision on Monday just days after a GOP retreat at which Cornyn warned colleagues that they will need to spend extensive time fundraising and traveling to their states to put together winning campaigns.

Voinovich, a moderate who was almost certain to face a tough challenge this cycle, cited the rigors of the re-election effort as one of the reasons is bowing out, saying that he would rather spend the next two years focused on the Senate.

“These next two years will be the most important of my career and I must address my full attention” to the Senate, Voinovich said, rather than “devoting full time to raising the money and resources needed to win this seat.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), also up in 2010, said that while he hasn’t yet met with Senate leaders about his race, he’s ready for their message.

“Isn’t that common sense? That would be good advice in 1950 or 2050,” Grassley said. He has said publicly that he is seeking a sixth term.

But while the Iowan may see the wisdom of getting into campaign mode early and building strong state and national support networks, not all of his colleagues have in recent years.

Cornyn and others said that in a number of states, most notably North Carolina and Oregon, solid GOP incumbents were knocked off in part because they waited too long to try to counter strong Democratic grass-roots and fundraising operations.

“When you’re running against the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], MoveOn.org and [the Service Employees International Union] … even in places like North Carolina and Oregon, where incumbents were well-funded,” the GOP was unable to hold on, Cornyn explained.

Indeed, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s (R-N.C.) campaign has, in many ways, come to exemplify the Senate GOP’s problems over the past two cycles. According to Republicans present at last week’s retreat, Cornyn used Dole’s race as an example of what’s gone wrong, and warned his colleagues in no uncertain terms that they must start campaigning immediately.

According to several Republicans, Cornyn and other officials used a PowerPoint presentation to walk the Conference through polling and other data on the 2008 elections. Cornyn used the data to show how Democrats were successful in defeating GOP incumbents, not only by linking them to unpopular President George W. Bush, but also in developing fundraising networks and a strong ground game.

One of the key points, according to these sources, was that while many Republicans waited until 2008 — the second year of the cycle — to begin campaigning, Democrats already had been busy developing a network of state party officials, campaign workers and outside organizations.

“One thing that was very clear from several races … is that those up for re-election need to start organizing now,” a Republican said, adding that beyond traditional fundraising work, incumbents “need to be establishing state and national finance committees, building grass-roots organizations in their states [and] developing their media infrastructure.”

Cornyn also urged Republicans to make better use of “new media” such as bloggers.

Additionally, Cornyn argued that incumbents must approach the 2010 cycle as a team effort, and as part of that they should put together campaign infrastructure that can operate with minimal help from the NRSC. Doing so will allow the national party to better fund and prepare GOP challengers to take on Democratic incumbents as well as campaign for open seats, this Republican source said.

“If the NRSC did not have to spend so much money last cycle in [North Carolina], that’s money that could have been used in Colorado, for example,” the Republican said.

While Cornyn on Tuesday declined to get into the specifics of his 2010 presentation, he acknowledged that he tried to strike an urgent tone with his colleagues and stress the difficulties they will face if they conduct their campaigns as they have in the past.

“I tried to lay that out in gruesome detail for them,” he said, adding that he believed this cycle’s class of incumbents has gotten the message. “I think so. I certainly hope so,” he said.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is facing re-election in two years, said Cornyn’s warnings came through loud and clear.

“The basic message was there are no safe seats anymore,” Thune said.