If candidate recruitment can be compared to a bidding war, then National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) is New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner today.
Steve Greenberg (R), a wealthy businessman from Long Grove, Ill., has committed to running against Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), a top NRCC target, despite being courted by national Republicans to take on Sen. Dick Durbin (D) in the Prairie State. He officially will file his candidacy papers on July 1.
“I felt that at this time there is an opportunity for me,” Greenberg said in an interview Tuesday. “I believe we can take back the House — that’s not to say that we can’t take back the Senate, but I got a little more excited about the opportunity to run against Melissa Bean.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee officials are disappointed that Greenberg declined the Senate race but said Durbin should not break out the champagne either.
“Steve Greenberg would have been a formidable candidate against Dick Durbin — but this does not change the fact that Durbin will have a fight on his hands come 2008; we do not intend to let him off the hook,” said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.
NRCC officials view Greenberg’s decision to run as a testament to their ability to recruit top-tier candidates, despite the drubbing they took in last year’s midterm elections.
“Steve Greenberg is a top recruit and we strongly believe that he has what it takes to win in ’08,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “Melissa Bean’s record in the new Democrat majority is even more abysmal than it was before and Steve Greenberg is just the guy we’ve been looking for to take her on.”
The NRCC would love to win back Bean’s 8th district seat, which covers Chicago’s northeastern exurbs.
Bean upset Rep. Phil Crane (R) — who was then the longest-serving GOP Member in the House — in 2004 and immediately stepped in front of the NRCC’s bull’s-eye.
President Bush twice carried the district and Crane held the seat for 34 years. Bean has been careful to stake out more conservative positions than some of her Democratic colleagues and has worked to forge close ties to the business community.
She enraged labor unions by supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005 but delighted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and she was one of the few Congressional Democrats the group endorsed in the previous cycle.
“Congresswoman Bean is an independent voice for her district and remains closely in touch with those she represents,” said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman. “Whether it’s Congresswoman Bean fighting for fiscal responsibility [or] Internet safety … voters know that she reflects their mainstream suburban values, and they respect her work ethic and centrist approach — regardless of their party affiliation,” he added.
Greenberg, who is 36 years old, said his decision to run for the House was aided by talks with several young GOP Members, including Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).
“What really impressed me is there is an amazing group of young Members with energy that I wanted to be part of,” Greenberg said.
“When I had the opportunity to sit down with Chairman Cole and hear his vision about where the party and committee were heading … I really wanted to be part of that.
“My original intent was to run against Dick Durbin and what really swayed me was —Paul Ryan and I have been friends for years — and he said I should meet with the NRCC before I made any decisions,” Greenberg said.
This will be Greenberg’s first run for public office. Though he has tested the waters for just a few months, he already knows who on Capitol Hill he wants to emulate.
“If I were to look at an example of how to be a Congressman, I’d look to Ryan,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg’s path to the campaign trail has been atypical.
Out of high school, he was drafted by the National Hockey League.
He spent two seasons with the Hampton Roads Admirals, a Washington Capitals farm team in Virginia.
After multiple injuries he hung up his skates and returned to Illinois.
He wanted to attend college and become a teacher, but his father convinced him to take over the family’s business, Promotions Unlimited.
He attended college here and there but found that “it’s a little hard to hang with the freshmen when you’re running a company.”
Promotions Unlimited provides “advertising and promotional programs for approximately 5,500 retail stores (including drug, variety, craft, grocery, and hardware stores),” according to the company’s Web site.
In 1997, the company bought the rights to the name of the defunct dime-store chain, Ben Franklin.
The company had facilities in Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin but merged everything in 1987 into its Racine, Wis., location, which is how Greenberg got to know Ryan so well.
Greenberg and his brother, Michael, also dabble in venture capitalism. They buy struggling companies and try to turn them around.
“We’ve had some wins and sometimes they kick you in the teeth,” he said of his newest business.
Greenberg, now a father of three, said he is running because he wants to hold government accountable. The federal government is comparable to the giant CVS/pharmacy chain that practically has a monopoly on the Washington, D.C., market.
“The government right now is CVS; they don’t give good customer service,” he said.
Greenberg said Democrats “mock the ownership society,” which also pushed him to run.
He said a universal health care program, which some Democrats advocate, would just bloat the bureaucracy and make poorer people more dependent on the government.
“If we go the way Democrats are proposing … we’ll be giving 45 million uninsured Americans a one-way bus ticket to the land of dependency.
“And once people see government as a place of salvation, and the expectation is that we can get our needs and wants in Washington, D.C., that engine doesn’t turn off; that doesn’t promote the dreamer society,” he said.
Greenberg did not say how many of his greenbacks he will put into the race but pledged to spend whatever it takes.
“We’re going to put as much capital in as we have to to achieve our goal of getting our message out there,” the millionaire said.
Rudominer said Bean already has bested a candidate with a background similar to Greenberg’s when she beat David McSweeney in 2006.
“Her 7-point victory last November against an NRCC-supported, self-funding millionaire is further proof that anyone who tries to unseat her is going to have a rough time,” he said.