Republicans are struggling to recruit strong U.S. Senate candidates in states where the party has the best chances to reclaim the majority in Washington.
It’s a potentially troubling sign that the GOP’s post-2012 soul-searching could spill over into next year’s congressional elections.
The vote is more than 18 months away, so it’s early. But candidate recruitment efforts are well underway.
In Georgia, several Republican candidates are considering trying to succeed the retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss. But so far, the two who have entered the race are arch conservative House members Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.
National Republicans are treading carefully to avoid enraging the conservative base in Georgia. But the primary field could eventually include up to a half dozen people, including U.S. Reps. Tom Price and Jack Kingston and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
The GOP is facing the prospect of contentious and expensive primaries in Georgia and perhaps West Virginia, Republican-leaning states where incumbents, one from each party, are not running again.
President Barack Obama is not on the ballot, so Republicans may have their best chance in years to try to retake the Senate. Changing the balance of power in the Senate would put a major crimp on Obama’s efforts to enact his agenda and shape his legacy in the final two years of his presidency.
Republicans need to gain six seats to gain control of the Senate. Democrats will be defending 21 seats to Republicans’ 14, meaning the GOP has more opportunities to try to win on Democratic turf.
Only recently, Republicans were reveling in the fact that several veteran Democrats were retiring in states where the GOP had not had a chance to win in decades. Last week, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana became the latest to announce his retirement in a state that typically tilts Republican.
But so far there’s been a combination of no-thank-you’s from prospective Republican candidates in Iowa, slow movement among others in Michigan and lack of consensus elsewhere over a single contender.
All that has complicated the early goings of what historically would be the GOP’s moment to strike. In the sixth year of a presidency, the party out of power in the White House usually wins congressional seats.
“It’s more about trying to get consensus and avoid a primary that would reopen those wounds, rather than the party struggling to find candidates,” said Greg Strimple, a pollster who and consultant to several 2012 Republican Senate campaigns.