Democrats’ “Rookies and Retreads” Recruiting Strategy is Bound to Fail

Washington is working again. Congressional committees are meeting and voting, a robust floor debate is taking place nearly daily (even on Fridays!), amendments are being heard and voted, legislation is getting passed, and executive appointments are getting confirmed. This is not the Congress that voters came to know and to hate over the last four years, a time when very little got done but lots of fingers got pointed. And the reason is simple: A Republican Senate majority.

Gone are the days when Harry Reid could shut down through arcane parliamentary procedures aimed at trampling over the minority party. Instead, the mood is one of civility and a desire to get things done.

“I think there was a significant pent-up desire on both sides to return to legislating, Billy Piper, a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell told the Washington Post. “These guys don’t work so hard to win elections to just come up here and be potted plants. They want to accomplish things, and the last several years they have been prevented by Leader Reid from even trying.”

Of course, not everything is rainbows and butterflies in the halls of Congress. Democrats are still attempting to erect political roadblocks on the road to progress, a strategy that has led the once-friendly editorial boards to label them “the new party of no” and to question “their party’s approach to the global economic challenges of the 21st century.”

But majorities are not forever, indeed they are very fleeting in today’s politically fickle climate. In other words, despite all the positive progress and good press no Republican should take the 2016 elections for granted. Fortunately, the party’s focus and investment on state and local races over the last decade has yielded lasting dividends. Our party is stocked with a bevy of up-and-coming stars who have the right mix of personability, personality and politics to win at the national level.

Democrats, on the other hand, are in serious trouble. As Ward Baker, NRSC executive director, writes in a new memo:

You cannot have strong and competitive candidates without an aggressive, bottom-up approach to recruitment. Local and National Republicans have dominated state and House elections for the past few cycles, which has left Democrats with weak candidates who have little experience. Due to this void, Democrats have adopted a “Rookies and Retreads” recruiting strategy. This strategy has produced fundamentally flawed candidates, and given Democrats primary troubles in races across the country.

Baker is right. Let’s take a look at some of Democrats’ recruiting struggles, or worse, divisive primaries, which could put them in a precarious spot come November 2016:

    • Nevada: Harry Reid would have been the most vulnerable incumbent had he stayed in the race. Instead, seeing the writing on the wall, the former Majority Leader decided to step down and anoint a successor, a strategy that hasn’t worked well for him at all in previous Nevada elections. After all, there is a reason that the state is now totally controlled by the GOP, with Gov. Brian Sandoval garnering 70 percent of the vote in 2014 despite, despite its status as an Obama state. And that reason is simple: Nevadans are tired of the Reid political machine.
    • Florida: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already handpicked Rep. Patrick Murphy to be their preferred candidate despite his utter lack of statewide name ID. The problem is that very few people in the party seem to agree with their choice. DNC Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz seems to prefer any number of Florida mayors as potential alternatives, namely because she’s upset that nobody seems to be supporting her candidacy. And then there is the Democratic Progressive Caucus, which is urging controversial Rep. Alan Grayson to jump into the race, an outcome that would inevitably lead to a divisive primary battle.
    • Ohio: Sen. Rob Portman has proven himself to be a Republican rockstar, collecting an unprecedented $10 million warchest and winning his last “competitive” election by 18 percent. Democrats on the other hand are dealing with a divisive primary between also-ran former governor Ted Strickland and inexperienced Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfield. The primary fight is highlighting some deep divisions among Democrats in the state. Things have gotten so bad that as soon as the Ohio Democratic Party endorsed Strickland, prominent Democrats said to “kiss him goodbye” because he’s “a walking deadman.”
    • Pennsylvania: This is the lowlight of Democrats’ recruitment struggles. After striking out on several of their top choices, Democrats settled on Joe Sestak, the same guy who lost the race in 2010. Unsurprisingly, many Democrats aren’t pleased that they were left with the party dregs. “In my estimation, if Joe Sestak is the nominee in 2016 for the U.S. Senate, we will once again lose to Pat Toomey,” said one-time Democratic Party chairman. Unfortunately for Democrats, that opinion seemed to be widely held: “He’s got a great story to tell, at least on paper, but there are serious concerns that he’s going to blow a good opportunity here,” a Democratic strategist said. “He still thinks he’s an admiral. And he thinks everyone should stand up and salute him,” said a Democratic officeholder.

No matter what it’s going to be difficult for Republicans to maintain their Senate majority, but if the GOP keeps nominating great candidates and the Democrats keep flubbing every opportunity then we could be in for a good year.