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GOP Comeback Kids

Defeated Members Eye ’08 Rematches

At least a handful of House Republicans defeated in November are mulling 2008 comebacks, and the National Republican Congressional Committee is prepared to back any former Member who gives the GOP its best chance of reclaiming seats the Democrats won last year.

Of those former Representatives who either have announced or are known to be contemplating a run in 2008, Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Rob Simmons (Conn.) and Mike Sodrel (Ind.) immediately would be welcomed by the NRCC. Others, such as Jim Ryun (Kan.), are not necessarily the first choice of the committee.

“It’s widely viewed that [Bradley, Fitzpatrick, Simmons and Sodrel] would make excellent candidates again this cycle,” a Republican strategist familiar with the NRCC’s thinking said Tuesday. “Ryun falls into the question mark category.”

Ryun, who officially has announced and filed to run for his old 2nd district seat in 2008, said he had no idea why the NRCC might be lukewarm on his candidacy but added that he plans to discuss his campaign with the committee in the next few days. The Kansas Republican, who already is raising money, said he had heard the NRCC was supportive of his comeback bid.

Ryun said he is rebuilding his campaign organization from the ground up, though he declined to say exactly what was wrong with it when he lost in November to now-Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) by about 7,600 votes. Ryun attributed his defeat to the national political environment, in addition to what he described as flip-flopping by Boyda on issues such as the Iraq War and illegal immigration.

“I feel we can do it this time. We have a tremendous amount of support,” Ryun said.

Ryun’s Topeka-based district gave President Bush a 20-point victory over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election. But Ryun may not be the only Republican eyeing that seat: Kansas state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins told Kansas reporters recently that she also is contemplating a run there.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Simmons, who lost by fewer than 100 votes to now-Rep. Joe Courtney (D), sounded very much like an individual who wants to run again. He has kept his campaign office open and has busied himself writing newspaper opinion pieces and holding debt-reduction fundraisers.

Simmons expects to make a decision on a 2008 run in the next few months.

One of Simmons’ considerations is how strong a party apparatus he’ll have to back him should he run in 2008 — Connecticut Republicans are powerless save for the governor’s office and the House seat held by Rep. Christopher Shays, a perennial Democratic target who is the only GOP House Member in New England.

Simmons has been working behind the scenes since November to help rebuild the state GOP in an effort to lay the foundation for his party’s — and possibly his own — resurgence. But he also pointed to a political atmosphere that saw 2nd district voters splitting along party lines despite the fact that he had personal favorability ratings in excess of 50 percent.

“As a candidate, I have to ask myself to what extent might that situation change in the next year and a half,” Simmons said. “These are some of the considerations that are taking place.”

Some former Republican Representatives who are thinking of running again next year have taken to referring to themselves as the Comeback Kids Caucus. These ex-Members, located in large part throughout the Northeast and the Midwest, believe their defeats are mostly because of voter disapproval with President Bush, and believe they are in a good position to reclaim their seats in 2008.

One question these once — and possibly future — Congressmen have as they consider their next move involves NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and how big of a bull’s-eye he puts on the Democratic incumbents that represent their old districts.

Fitzpatrick’s old suburban Philadelphia seat and Bradley’s former Manchester-area district, to name just two, lean Democratic in presidential elections and could cost serious money to contest. It remains unclear at this early stage of the cycle how Cole will choose to spend the committee’s money and if freshman Reps. Patrick Murphy (D), who defeated Fitzpatrick by about 1,500 votes, and Carol Shea-Porter (D), who upset Bradley by about 6,000 votes, will become major Republican targets.

“Either you’re going to make the effort [to reclaim these seats] or not,” said one former Representative considering a 2008 run.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee does not appear to be too concerned about a wave of Republican comeback attempts, even though spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Democrats are not taking anything for granted.

“The last time I checked, Bush and the Republicans have not gained an ounce of popularity since November and new Members will benefit from the call for change that brought them into office in the first place,” Psaki said.

Democratic pollster Fred Yang said former Congressmen looking for a rematch with their successors usually bring strengths and weaknesses to a campaign.

Yang helped Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) take back his 9th district seat in November from Sodrel, who had ousted Hill in 2004 after trying unsuccessfully to take him out in 2002. If there is nothing inherently wrong with a just-defeated Representative, he or she comes to the table with immediate name recognition, and, presumably, an ability to raise money, Yang said.

Still, former Members looking to reclaim their House seats need to honestly assess how and why they lost. Yang said the wave that engulfed House Republicans in November is not the sole reason Democrats picked up 30 House seats.

“When these Republicans go back to how they lost and can they run again, not only should they look at the year,” Yang said, “but was it something about them?”

If Sodrel challenges Hill in 2008, it will be the fourth straight contest between them.

Ousted incumbents do not always try to win their seats back. After the Republican landslide of 1994, very few Democrats tried to reclaim their posts. Two were successful.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) regained his 4th district seat in 1996 after losing it two years earlier, and Ted Strickland (D), now governor of Ohio, turned out then-Rep. Frank Cremeans (R-Ohio) in the 6th district after losing to him in 1994.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) earned a seat in Congress again, too, though only after moving to a new district and sitting out a cycle.

Inslee lost his 4th district seat to now-Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) in 1994. In 1998 he unseated then-Rep. Rick White (R-Wash.) in the 1st district, who had tossed now-Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) out of her House seat in 1994.

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