Republicans Face Recruiting Challenges

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Add Kentucky State Senate President David Williams to the list of Republicans who are resisting recruitment efforts by some national Republicans. Some Republican officials want Williams to challenge Sen. Jim Bunning in a primary, hoping that Bunning will yield to pressure and step down voluntarily. The National Republican Senatorial Committee insists that it would back Bunning in a primary, to which one might respond -- yes, but aren't you quietly backing efforts to convince other Republicans to take a look?  (Actually, come to think of it, Bunning couldn't be defeated in a primary anyway). Taking the NRSC at their word that they're OK with Bunning running for re-election, though, they can't be terribly happy with all the leaks that emanate from Republican circles.  (Bunning today threatened to sue the NRSC.)

The upshot is that it seems that Sen. John Cornyn and co. are having a tough time finding viable candidates to run for the Senate -- though it's not necessarily their fault.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush decided not to run in Florida for Sen. Mel Martinez's soon-to-be vacant seat; Ex-Sen. Jim Talent decided not to run in Missouri, setting up a (potentially) nasty two-person primary between an unapologetic conservative with a pedigree, Rep. Roy Blunt, and an unapologetic apostle of a more modern conservatism, Sarah Steeleman.  (Steelman said recently of Blunt: ""Roy Blunt is another white guy in a suit, and I think the public wants change.") The Democratic candidate, Robin Carnahan, will not face a primary challenge.)  Bush was clearly an NRSC recruit; it's not entirely clear whether Republicans wanted Talent to run -- but news leaks from Talent backers certainly forced their hand.

In New Hampshire, Sen. Judd Gregg won't run for re-election; Democrats are favored to win over the seat. Cornyn said he'd do anything to keep Gregg; Gregg remains steadfast in his refusal to run again.

In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) (disclosure note: he's the brother of Atlantic editor James Bennet) faces ... no one right now, with a variety of top GOP prospects having said no. 

Call this the "it sucks to be a Republican" hypothesis. Another is that the GOP has a thin bench; many of its top candidates are known commodities; in Ohio, Democrats will cast Ex-Rep. Rob Portman as the architect of the hugely unpopular Bush administration's economic policies. Blunt, as noted above, is not going to be an avatar of change. And if the few rising stars there refuse to run, then the 2010 GOP Senate slate will be fairly familiar to voters.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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