Following the 2008 elections, Republicans were down, but they weren’t out. They quickly turned things around and fielded quality candidates in time for a GOP tsunami in the 2010 midterm election.
There doesn’t appear to be a tsunami coming in time for the 2014 midterm election, and GOP candidates are taking notice. So far this year, the bigger news has been who isn’t running, rather than who is.
“I think some had hoped among Republicans that 2014 would shape up as a replay of 2010 with the backlash to the presidential election, but it’s not clear it’s turning out that way,” said New Hampshire political analyst Dean Spiliotes. “I think each candidate is looking at the national forces, and some of the margins of the 2012 election.”
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley was the most recent domino to fall out of the running. In announcing he wouldn’t run, Bradley joined a list of Republicans that includes John and Chris Sununu, Bill O’Brien and Kevin Smith, all of whom won’t be running for office in 2014. Chuck Morse is undecided. It’s not that the GOP doesn’t have anybody left, but analysts have noticed that top-tier candidates are opting against challenging any of the incumbent Democrats.
“To be perfectly honest, I am concerned about it,” said Michael Dennehy, a veteran Republican operative in New Hampshire, of the overall lack of GOP candidates. “It illustrates the work that the Republican party in New Hampshire has in store for them.”
“Party of no”
Difficult-to-beat incumbents, the lack of a GOP wave, family obligations and the tremendous toll of running for office have likely all contributed to the lack of candidates, Spiliotes said.
“The calculus is just a lot more in depth than it once was,” Spiliotes said. “It really upends your life in a way that it didn’t used to. I think people are very hesitant to do that until they feel like the situation is exactly right.”
“I think Republicans and Democrats like to wait until they see the best chance of actually winning,” Dennehy added.
If the political winds shift, Dennehy could see some of the candidates who have shown some hesitancy start to reconsider come January or February.
Arnie Arnesen, a liberal political pundit, sees the issues on the GOP side as broader.
“The party doesn’t have any moderates,” she said. “It doesn’t have any reasonable people anymore. It doesn’t have people who are willing to compromise.”
To Arnesen, many of the Republican candidates who would be appealing in a general election, wouldn’t survive a primary where they would inevitably be drawn hard to the right. It’s tough to run to the right in a primary, and turn around and try to be a moderate, she said. The GOP has sort of set itself up as the “party of no” in recent years, she said.
“If Democrats had to learn how to say no, Republicans have to learn how to say yes,” Arnesen said.
The time is now
Dennehy sees 2014 as having the potential to be a very good year for the GOP. That’s why he’s surprised with the lack of candidates. He acknowledged that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan would be strong candidates for reelection. It’s extremely rare that New Hampshire voters don’t give the governor a second term in office.
“When you have the bipartisan lovefest with the budget we just had, in turn, it makes it difficult for key people to turn around and run against her,” Spiliotes said.
But Dennehy sees the time as now.
“Typically, a midterm election with a sitting Democratic president is the best time,” Dennehy said. “The environment is much less controllable in a presidential election.”
Arnesen said Democratic incumbents are hardly unbeatable.
“If Ted Gatsas runs against Hassan, he’s a strong candidate,” Arnesen said. “He’s smart, articulate, organized, he’s got money and name recognition … leadership skills.”
Arnesen said she saw Daniel Innis, the dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Business, as particularly intriguing. Many are expecting former congressman and Manchester mayor Frank Guinta to challenge Rep. Carol Shea-Porter again.
Even if the GOP is unsuccessful in unseating Democratic incumbents in 2014, strong candidates, even in defeat, can help reframe the party’s message, Arnesen said.
Bass for Senate?
Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass has indicated he’s seriously considering challenging Shaheen in 2014.
“I’m not sure what to make of that,” Spiliotes said. “Maybe it’s the party putting pressure on him to have some kind of brand name person in one of the major races.”
While Arnesen said Bass running didn’t make any sense to her, she took it as a sign the party is looking for someone with a reasonable persona. While someone like former House Speaker Bill O’Brien is the posterchild for extremist government, Bass is the exact opposite, Arnesen said.
“The party is desperate for that message,”Arnesen said.
With the hyper-partisan environment in Washington, “opportunities are always right around the corner,” Dennehy said.
“That’s why Charlie Bass is looking right now and probably thinking, ‘I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,’” Dennehy said.
From Spiliotes’s point of view, now is the time to get the wheels turning, whether it’s Bass or somebody else.
“If you’re going to run against Hassan or Shaheen or [Rep. Annie] Kuster … it’s going to require raising a fair bit of money,” Spiliotes said. “It’s not really something you can do at the last minute any more. You should be doing it now. People may get in later, but...you put yourself in a real disadvantage unless you can get a lot of outside money.”
Serious candidates for U.S. Senate are expected to raise $6 million to $8 million dollars. If a candidate waits until January or February, they are losing valuable fundraising time. The hope, Dennehy figured, was that a political wave might make up for that financial disadvantage.