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Senate Democrats Nearly Run Table in Recruitment

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 26: Gov. Margaret
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan’s entrance into the Granite State Senate contest, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has secured nearly every top-tier recruit it sought for 2016 — when Democrats will attempt to net the five seats necessary to regain control of the Senate.

Aside from Hassan in New Hampshire, the DSCC secured strong candidates in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The DSCC also scored wins with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s decision to run for Senate in Arizona, as well as three Democratic senators from red states forgoing gubernatorial bids in 2016.

The only place Democrats failed to get the candidate they wanted was in North Carolina, after former Sen. Kay Hagan said no to a comeback bid in May and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx opted out of a challenge to GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr. Democrats are currently working on recruiting lower-tier candidates in the Tar Heel State.

“I think the DSCC pitched close to a perfect game on recruitment,” said Doug Thornell, a national Democratic strategist. “I think Hassan is kind of the cherry on top of what has been a really good recruitment season for them.”

Arizona: Kirkpatrick announced a challenge to GOP Sen. John McCain near the end of May. And while she was not recruited to run, Democrats say her decision to challenge McCain gives their party its best shot in decades at defeating the incumbent — despite Arizona’s Republican lean.

Florida: Rep. Patrick Murphy announced in March he’d run for Senate in Florida. At the time, he expected to face GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. But Rubio announced a bid for president just a few weeks later, creating an open-seat opportunity in a state President Barack Obama won twice, moving this race to a Tossup in the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call race ratings.

Illinois: Rep. Tammy Duckworth announced her plans to challenge Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk in March, giving Democrats their preferred recruit in Illinois — a state that strongly leans Democratic in presidential years. Democrats say Duckworth, a war veteran and double amputee, provides the best contrast to Kirk, also a veteran who is disabled after suffering a stroke in January 2012. Kirk is the only senator whose seat is already projected to flip party control, with the race rated Tilts Democratic.

Missouri: Secretary of State Jason Kander announced in February he would challenge GOP Sen. Roy Blunt in the Show Me State. Kander, a 34-year-old Iraq War veteran, has the kind of profile that could play well in the right environment, despite Missouri’s GOP lean.

Nevada: After Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced he would retire in 2016, Democrats in April secured a top-tier recruit in former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Masto is Reid’s preferred candidate, and he thinks she has the best chance to succeed him in the Senate.

Ohio: Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced a bid against freshman GOP Sen. Rob Portman in February. Strickland is a well-known name in the Buckeye State, having served six terms in the House and one term as governor from 2007 to 2011. With Obama having won Ohio twice, Democrats see Portman’s seat as a top pickup opportunity next fall.

Pennsylvania: After spending months searching for an alternative to former Rep. Joe Sestak, whose unconventional approach to campaigns has not endeared him to Democratic leaders, Katie McGinty announced a bid for Pennsylvania Senate in July. A former aide to Gov. Tom Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell, Democrats say McGinty has a strong base of support as she seeks to take on GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey in a state Democrats have won at the presidential level since 1992.

Three Democratic senators opted not to run for governor in their respective states: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. If any of the three had left their seats vacant in those red states, Democrats’ chances at regaining the majority in the Senate would have been slim, as their seats would have likely switched party control in special elections.

A handful of the Senate candidates national Democrats recruited face primaries for the nomination in their states. In Florida, Murphy faces what’s already amounted to an ugly primary from fellow Rep. Alan Grayson. And in Pennsylvania, McGinty is vying for the nod against Sestak and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Duckworth and Strickland also face Democratic primary opponents, but remain strong favorites to secure the Democratic nominations.

But Democratic operatives say the recruitment slate the DSCC pulled together gives the party its best chance at winning back control of the Senate in 2016.

“You cannot overstate the importance of candidate recruitment and what the DSCC has done in 2015 is very impressive,” said Senate Majority PAC Communications Director Shripal Shah. “It’s one of the committee’s most important responsibilities and they’ve been nearly flawless.”

The DSCC’s recruitment success will make other Democratic campaign committees’ jobs tougher.

With Murphy and Kirkpatrick’s Senate bids, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee faces an uphill climb at keeping its Republican-leaning House seats.


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