Growing Pains Among Senate Recruits?

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jul 15, 2009 5:46pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Republicans are rightly pleased with some recent recruiting successes in 2010 Senate races. They’re even more pleased in light of Democratic recruiting failures in Illinois and Florida, plus Democrats’ apparent failure to avert primaries in Pennsylvania and New York.  But, as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is ready to point out, some of the most highly touted GOP candidates have had debuts that were less than smashing. There’s Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., whose in-out-in dance surrounding the seat being vacated by Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., didn’t earn him new fans in the Republican establishment.  There’s New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, whose heralded entry into the race for Sen. Judd Gregg’s, R-Ill., seat was distracted by a debate over whether she pledged to serve out her term in full.   And there’s former Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., whose outsider status in the race against Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., tarnished a tad with the news of a lobbyist-studded fundraiser — and who’s proven unable to match Dodd’s fundraising prowess anyway. Said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz: “From a defeated three-term congressman to an untested quitter to a candidate erratic about his own plans, competition for next season’s biggest loser is going to be fierce.”  But Republicans counter that Democratic Senate candidates are hardly making the right kind of headlines. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias — the most likely Democratic candidate for Senate, now that Attorney General Lisa Madigan has taken a pass on the race — has had a mini-controversy of his own to contend with over a decision to spend state funds from a college savings program on a new SUV. In Connecticut, the fact that Dodd is in a race at all is notable given his seniority. Just today, Republicans are highlighting a report by Politico’s Ben Smith about how Dodd is raising money based on his opposition to special interests — while his campaign continues to be fueled by donations from political action committees. And in New Hampshire, Democratic attempts to tar Ayotte over her supposed pledge have gotten local-media pushback.   “The spin from the Democrats here is like bringing a knife to a gun fight,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They have a scandal-scarred incumbent in Connecticut who is being looked at by the Ethics Committee, a primary fiasco in Illinois where the leading candidate is a mob-connected banker and a House member in New Hampshire who just this week was called a ‘party hack’ by the biggest newspaper in his state.” The early spin over whose recruits are having the best debuts is unlikely to amount to much by next November. Then again, impressions of candidates can be formed early — and impressions of candidate-recruiting classes also shape the press coverage of emerging races. 

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