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West Coast Wasteland: Why The GOP Struggles In California

By Emily Cahn, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As 2016 quickly approaches, Republicans are struggling to find top recruits in a trio of competitive House districts in California — a state where the party has suffered defeat at the congressional level for decades.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent a staffer out to the Golden State last week to search for and meet with potential candidates and convince them to run in competitive districts in San Diego, Palm Springs and Sacramento, according to a source with knowledge of the visit.

But after a string of losses in the state, multiple Republican strategists in California are pessimistic about the GOP’s ability to recruit top-tier challengers, especially for 2016, when presidential-year turnout is expected to benefit Democrats. It’s a similar problem Democrats face at the House level across the rest of the country, where GOP waves in 2010 and 2014 have made recruiting in some states a challenge.

Richard Temple, a California GOP consultant, said a major problem for Republican candidates running in the state is that they are weighed down by the national GOP’s brand. He said the image could be fixed if the field of candidates Republicans recruit reflected the party’s growing diversity, but he said without donors believing those candidates can win, getting them to run will be hard.

“I just think the reality is they’re not going to get anybody good,” Temple said. “They can’t make the case for donors to put money here, and that’s the rub. We accept generalized reactions so, the view from donors is (Republicans) can’t win.”

Republican strategists say part of the problem is that Republican hopefuls have seen a downward trend in the number of seats the GOP has held in the state’s massive congressional delegation over the past few decades.

California’s district map is a blue strip along the Pacific Ocean, with Republicans holding districts in the more rural farmland and desert inland.

In 1993, the GOP held 22 of the then 52 seats in the state. Today, Republicans hold just 14 seats in the now 53-member delegation.

In fact, Republicans saw a net loss of one seat in California in 2014 while nationwide the GOP netted more than a dozen House seats to rise to a historic 30-seat majority.

That net loss came despite millions in spending across four different districts to try and oust then-freshmen Democratic Reps. Scott Peters, Julia Brownley, Raul Ruiz and Ami Bera. All four went on to win re-election by varying margins, while Republicans lost the open seat of former Rep. Gary G. Miller, who retired from the Inland Empire-based 31st District.

While national Republicans say they can compete in those four seats they targeted last year, only one of them is rated competitive by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call: Bera’s Sacramento-based 7th District, which is rated a Democratic Favored contest.

But Republican strategists had no names to mention as potential GOP challengers to Bera — a seat Obama carried by a slim 4-point margin in 2012. Last Cycle, Bera defeated former Rep. Doug Ose by about 1,500 votes, after Democrats both ran a strong ground operation and successfully painted Ose as an out-of-touch rich businessman.

As for the other three seats:

1. In Peters’ San Diego-based 52nd District, Republican Jacqueline Atkinson announced a bid earlier this year. But she has struggled in the fundraising game, bringing in just $49,000 in the third quarter — not nearly enough to compete in the pricey media market.

And GOP operatives add that even some Republicans at the local Chamber of Commerce support Peters — a deterrent for other strong Republican candidates to get in.

“Donors have other priorities, and Scott Peters is not one of them,” said one California Republican strategist. “(The NRCC) has been really aggressive in talking to people and courting people … but you’ve got the downtown establishment that likes Scott Peters because they are not ideologically Republican.”

2. Over in Ruiz’s Palm Springs-based 36th District — which Obama carried by a slim 3-point margin in 2008 and 2012 — Republicans had a candidate in Indio Mayor Lupe Ramos, but she dropped out in June citing a lack of enthusiasm for her bid.

“In the case of the Ruiz seat, I don’t think there’s any Republican who can win that,” California Republican strategist Matt Rexroad told CQ Roll Call, pointing to the district’s challenging demographics for Republicans and Ruiz’s compelling personal story. (Ruiz, an emergency room physician by trade, has saved two passengers on flights to the district.)

3. Earlier in 2015, a potential pickup opportunity emerged when Democratic Rep. Lois Capps announced her retirement from her competitive Santa Barbara-based 24th District.

But Republican state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, whom GOP strategists touted as a top recruit, has not lived up to fundraising expectations. And with the district’s historic inclination to support Democrats in presidential years (Obama carried the district by an 11-point margin in 2012), the seat could be a challenge for Republicans in 2016.

Still, while Republicans say 2016 is an uphill climb, they are optimistic the party can make inroads in the state in the future.

“I think for 2016, I think it’s going to be highly unlikely that Republicans mount a significant challenge in congressional races that they did in 2014,” Temple said. “But … the Republican Party is fighting for its competitive life (in California), and it will adapt and survive. That’s what things, people and institutions do.”

(c)2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: San Francisco Civic Center, Election Night 2014. (GPS via Flickr)

Candidates Look To Make Family Legacies In Congress

By Emily Cahn, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When nine-term Democratic Representative Lois Capps of California announced her retirement, all eyes turned to a potential successor: her daughter.

A Democratic operative who has never run for office, Laura Burton Capps has long been seen as a possible successor to her mother. (Her father Walter Capps first held the seat, but died after just nine months in office. Lois Capps won a special election to succeed him.)

The congresswoman’s daughter recently confirmed she is seriously considering a bid for the now-open Santa Barbara-based 24th District. If she opts to run, she would join the many politicians who have sought to follow in their parents’ footsteps and ascend to Congress — and she might be one of a handful who could attempt the feat this cycle.

“The reality is that the names carry weight because they send signals,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who has worked for a number of candidates from political families.

At least three other politicians could try to carry on the family legacy in the House and Senate this cycle.

GOP state Senator Darin LaHood is the odds-on favorite to win a summer special election for the vacated seat of disgraced ex-Representative Aaron Schock in Illinois. It’s a seat his dad, former Representative Ray LaHood, held for more than a decade before leaving in 2009 to take a job as secretary of transportation.

In Maryland, Representative John Sarbanes could try to run for the Old Line State’s open Senate seat. His father, Paul Sarbanes, spent more than three decades in Congress, almost all of them in the Senate.

And in Texas, former state Representative Solomon Ortiz Jr. may run against GOP Representative Blake Farenthold, who unexpectedly unseated the elder Ortiz in 2010.

In all, 18 current members had a mother or father who served in Congress before them, according to CQ Roll Call data, with eight directly succeeding their parent. That’s a drop from 22 in the 113th Congress, thanks to a handful of retirements and members who were defeated last fall.

Members who had a parent serve before them include Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), whose father, great-great grandfather and great-great-great-uncle served in the House and Senate before him. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), is the son of former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II and the grandson of former Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski was appointed to succeed her father Frank Murkowski — by the man himself when he was elected Alaska’s governor.

Running for Congress from a popular political family provides distinct advantages.

For starters, name recognition. There’s also access to the family Rolodex, and a base of donors right out of the gate. Endorsements are usually not far behind.

“Someone of that background typically…without a mom being an elected official would have a very limited ability to come into a race and be in a strong position to win,” California pollster Ben Tulchin said of Laura Capps’ potential.

The younger Capps has the added advantage of being married to Bill Burton, a top Democratic operative who served as deputy press secretary for President Barack Obama after a high-level role in the 2008 campaign.

Not all children of former members make it all the way.

Joshua Hastert, son of former longtime Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, lost a 2010 GOP primary to now-Representative Randy Hultgren for his father’s old seat in Illinois.

Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, failed to win an open Senate seat in Georgia last cycle, despite sharing a last name with her popular father.

Weston Wamp failed to win a race for the second cycle in a row in Tennessee’s third District — territory his dad, former Representative Zach Wamp, held for 14 years before vacating the seat for an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2010. Wamp, in his mid-20s during his first bid, was criticized for trying to run for Congress at a young age without substantive experience.

But one child of a former member did pull off a win last cycle.

Freshman Representative Gwen Graham (D-FL), the daughter of Bob Graham, a popular governor-turned-senator from the Sunshine State, unseated a Republican in a GOP-leaning district, even in a bad year for her party.

Graham and her father campaigned together. But she also ran a near-perfect race, which earned her accolades from Democrats, who immediately mentioned her as a possible future Senate candidate.

“I have never assumed or expected anything because I have a wonderful father and a wonderful family,” Graham told CQ Roll Call on Capitol Hill recently. “And so to me, it was getting to the point where I could stand in front of the people and ask them to support me and what I brought to the race and now what I bring to my service in Congress. It just happens to be that I have a terrific father.”

In fact, some members say they had to work harder to prove to voters they were qualified for the job and were not simply trying to walk into a seat because of their notable surname.

“You have to dispel those notions by showing people that you really have something to offer the community, that you’re just not doing it on name recognition,” Representative Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ), told CQ Roll Call. Payne succeeded his late father, Representative Donald M. Payne, in a 2012 special election after his death.

Anzalone, who did the polling for Graham, said her campaign stood on its own footing, only using her father in one ad.

“It doesn’t always translate; you still have to run a good campaign,” Anzalone said. “But it is more than just the price of admission; it gives you an extra drink ticket, too.”

Photo: We Love The Bush Family via Facebook

Rep. Alan Nunnelee Dies At Age 56

By Emily Cahn, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MI), the stalwart social conservative who spearheaded efforts to ban same-sex marriage in the Magnolia State, died Friday from complications from brain cancer, his spokeswoman confirmed to CQ Roll Call. He was 56.

“Congressman Alan Nunnelee has gone home to be with Jesus. He was well loved and will be greatly missed,” according to a statement from his family.

In May, doctors found a tumor in the right side of Nunnelee’s brain after he was complaining of fatigue. He underwent brain surgery in June to remove the mass, and suffered a stroke during the procedure, which left him with impaired speech and numbness in his left side. On Jan. 26, doctors moved Nunnelee into hospice care at his home in Tupelo, Miss., after they found another tumor had formed and no further treatment was possible.

Nunnelee was born Oct. 9, 1958, in Tupelo to two teenage parents.

His father took a job at a life insurance company shortly after Nunnelee was born, and worked his way up the ladder to be an executive.

After graduating from Mississippi State University, Nunnelee went into the life insurance business with his father’s company — helping it grow before eventually becoming a vice president.

Throughout that time, Nunnelee was involved in the local Republican Party. In 1994, he worked as finance director to now-Sen. Roger Wicker’s election to the U.S. House. At the time, Wicker was a state senator.

Nunnelee went on to win Wicker’s vacant state Senate seat, and served in that role for more than 15 years, becoming a powerful appropriator. He pushed for spending cuts in that role, advocating for the government to spend only what it had rather than take on debt.

Nunnelee was also a stalwart social conservative. In 2001, he backed legislation in the state House that would put “In God We Trust” on the walls of public school classrooms. And in 2003, he helped usher a constitutional amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage in the state — a ban that has since been struck down.

In 2010, Nunnelee defeated one-term Democratic Rep. Travis W. Childers. Childers had won a special election in 2008 after Wicker was appointed to the Senate.

On Capitol Hill, Nunnelee kept to his fiscal conservative roots in his role on both the Appropriations and Budget committees. He supported offsets to disaster funding bills, despite coming from a state often hard-hit by hurricanes. He also was a member of the socially conservative Republican Study Committee.

Nunnelee was largely absent from Capitol Hill after his brain cancer diagnosis last summer. He returned in the fall and attended GOP conference meetings in a wheelchair.

But Nunnelee’s health rapidly declined over the holidays. In December, when he was home in Tupelo, Nunnelee was admitted to the hospital to treat a hematoma in his left leg. The surgery left him unable to travel to Washington, D.C., to be sworn in for a third term, so instead he was sworn in on Jan. 12 by a judge from the North Mississippi Medical Center where he resided.

Nunnelee is survived by his wife, Tori, and three children: Reed, Nathan and Emily.

He is the first member to die in office since Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) died in October 2013.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

Senate Democrats Saw The GOP Wave Before Election Night

By Emily Cahn, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — The executive directors of the Democratic and Republican Senate campaign arms broke down the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections Thursday at an Election Impact conference hosted by CQ Roll Call, giving a candid assessment of the factors that led to Republicans taking back control of the Senate for the first time since 2006.

Guy Cecil, who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the past two cycles, said top-level Democrats knew about a week before Election Day the tide had moved against them and were bracing for losses across the board as results came in Tuesday night.

“We had hopes we could stem the tide, but it became clear to us that it would be difficult to do,” Cecil told the audience.

Rob Collins, who led the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said early exit polling and data from across the country foreshadowed what would ultimately be a great night for Republicans.

As of Thursday morning, Republicans netted seven seats, but that could increase by two within a month.

Alaska’s Senate contest remains undecided, but Democratic Sen. Mark Begich trails by some 8,000 votes with an undetermined number of mail-in ballots yet to be counted. Republican Dan Sullivan is “up by a significant enough margin that we should win, but we’re going to see how the process plays itself out,” Collins said. He noted the NRSC has sent lawyers to the Last Frontier State to oversee the process.

In Louisiana, the contest will be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff between Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. Landrieu received 42 percent to Cassidy’s 41 percent on Tuesday, while a third Republican, Rob Maness, garnered 14 percent.

The GOP’s gain could even reach ten seats if Democratic Sen. Mark Warner somehow lost his current lead of more than 16,000 votes in the still-uncalled Virginia race. Warner attorney Marc Elias said Wednesday that was unlikely, though a recount could still be possible.

Both Collins and Cecil said while control of the Senate is no longer up for grabs, both parties will play heavily in the Bayou State runoff, calling it a whole new race.

“I think Mary Landrieu got what she got,” Collins said of her initial vote tally, but added she is “an extremely tough politician.”

“I think if the Republicans think this is just a long, gentle slide into victory, they’re going to be fooling themselves,” Collins said. “We could wake up Dec. 7 and say we just lost a Senate seat.”

Looking back at the past two years of the 2014 election cycle, Collins and Cecil gave an inside look into what factors played into Tuesday’s wave.

Cecil said that while the DSCC was able to raise historic amounts of money, Republicans ably nationalized the election in a year President Barack Obama remained overwhelmingly unpopular across the country.

“The reality is that the states where this battle played out were largely red states and a couple of purple states,” Cecil said.

He added, “Over two-thirds of all Senate ads that the Republicans ran were about the president, which is a pretty remarkable statistic. … And when you’re doing that in states on this map, it certainly had an outsized effect.”

Collins said the NRSC focused heavily on recruitment, helping the candidates the party saw as more disciplined and electable get through primary challenges to face Democratic incumbents and challengers. In the past few cycles, Collins said Republicans fumbled the chance to pick up the Senate because of poor candidate recruitment.

“There were two bars we had to get over,” Collins said. “The low bar was, could we avoid saying super-alienating things? But the high bar was, could we go into a state held by an incumbent and … present a legitimate argument for change?”

Collins added that Obama was Republicans’ “best surrogate.”

“He kept reminding folks of what they didn’t like about this administration,” Collins said, pointing to Obama’s response on the Islamic State, Ebola and the Veterans Affairs scandal. “I think simple things they could’ve done to get in front of these stories, they didn’t, and it helped us.”

Cecil pushed back on reports that Democrats are frustrated with the Obama administration’s role in the midterms.

“I have no qualms with what the president did for us,” Cecil said. “He traveled around the country, they raised $25 million for Senate Democrats, which was a historic number for the committee. … The reality is, the map is the map is the map is the map.”

Cecil also stressed that dejected Democrats should not let 2014 be a discouragement from continuing to fight in the future.

“This was not a turnout election in the sense that another door knocked would’ve mattered,” Cecil said, saying he most worried about the staffers who put in hours of time and effort into the cycle. “It was a wave election, and it was an election that was decided by undecideds over the course of the last month.”

Looking forward to 2016, Cecil said a more favorable map — in which Republican Senators are up in states Obama won in 2008 and 2012 — will present a better year for Democrats.

“One of the interesting dynamics of the next election cycle is that it is the inverse of this election cycle,” Cecil said.

Because of that, Collins said Republicans are already preparing.

“At the NRSC, we’ve already met with those incumbents and we’ve already started to put together their battle plans,” Collins said, adding, “You can say they are tough states, but you can’t say we can’t win.”

Photo: Clay Aiken volunteers Lynne Wanamaker, left, and Catherine Haymore watch the early returns at the Cafe 121 in Sanford, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. He ran against Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers. (Corey Lowenstein/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

Grassley Aide Attempts To Parlay His Boss’s Popularity In House Race

By Emily Cahn, CQ Roll Call

FARRAGUT, Iowa — Locked in a highly competitive House contest, Republican David Young is looking to capitalize on some of his former boss’s goodwill in the final days of the race.
Last week Young, ex-chief of staff to Iowa GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley, kicked off a four-day tour of Iowa’s 3rd District with the popular senator in tow — hitting each of the district’s 16 counties to greet voters and drum up support for his bid. It’s a pared-down version of what Iowans affectionately dub “The Full Grassley,” in which the 81-year-old senator traverses every one of the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties annually.
On Oct. 2, the tour reached Fremont County, a sparsely populated pocket of farm country in the southwestern corner of the state. About a dozen and a half folks showed up to greet the duo at a dusty and aging Masonic Temple in a town that Young joked has “more deer than people.”
“Even though he worked 1,000 miles away in my office in Washington, D.C., he kept close ties with what was going on in Iowa, because quite frankly when I wasn’t available to solve a problem, he was there,” Grassley told the mostly elderly crowd, which nodded along as he spoke. “I think you know you’ve been well-served by a Republican congressman from this district in the past, and I think that David will be able to serve you the same way.”
Young hopes Grassley’s popularity will help him defeat his Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Staci Appel. The race is currently rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. The seat is open because GOP Rep. Tom Latham is retiring.
The 3rd District encompasses the entire southwestern quadrant of the state, including Des Moines. But Farragut, population 485, is a far cry from the state capital, with a main street housing only a few buildings, many of them shuttered. In a close race like this one, every vote will count, especially for Young in a reliably Republican territory like this one.
“I had really good training to be able to do the groundwork from a guy by the name of Sen. Charles Ernest Grassley, better known in Iowa as just ‘Chuck,'” Young told the crowd. “He’s a man of conviction. You think about a true citizen legislator, and it’s his picture. He comes home to his constituents in Iowa, a 99-county tour each year that’s been dubbed the ‘Full Grassley,’ and he knows how to listen.”
Democrats are targeting the district as a pick-up opportunity, and Appel has led Young in recent public polling of the race. President Barack Obama won the 3rd District by a 4-point margin in 2012.
So Young will need more than Grassley’s help to keep this seat for Republicans. He will also need cash.
As of June 30, the last fundraising report deadline in the race, Appel had $726,000 in the bank compared to Young’s $88,000. Third-quarter fundraising reports, due Oct. 15, will better show the Young campaign’s financial position for the final weeks of the race.
But Young’s campaign canceled television airtime in the last six weeks of the contest, stoking concern about his fundraising capabilities. While he is back up on air, Appel’s campaign will have outspent Young by a 2-to-1 margin on the airwaves if both campaigns’ reservations hold, according to a source tracking buys in the district.
With Democrats clobbering Young on the airwaves, the National Republican Congressional Committee picked up the slack. The committee increased its buy in the district and will now spend more than $2 million to both attack Appel and run positive spots for Young through Election Day.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC, a super PAC supporting Democratic House candidates, are blasting the district with ads attacking Young’s record on women’s issues and the middle class.

Photo via Gage Skidmore via Flickr Commons

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Republican Campaign Chairman Aspires To Historic Majority In Midterms

By Emily Cahn, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden called a 245-seat House majority an “aspirational” but “achievable” goal for the midterms — a more reserved prediction for his party than in previous comments.

“I think going into this cycle we are still poised to get to 245. It is an aspirational goal but also an achievable goal,” Walden told reporters Friday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.”We’ll know in 46 days, but I will tell you that we have every confidence we will pick up seats.”

In May, Walden set a goal for House Republicans to gain 11 seats on Election Day, calling the effort the “Drive to 245.”But fewer than seven weeks before the midterms, it’s clear Republicans would likely have to win nearly every competitive open or Democratic-held seat to achieve this.

Currently, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates nine Democratic-held seats as a Tossup or Tilt Democratic.

Walden said tailwinds are behind his party but ceded that after the decennial redistricting process in 2010 there are fewer seats in play on the map compared with previous cycles.

“It’s really a pretty narrow playing field,” Walden said Friday. “There are a majority that tilt our way, at least this cycle we’re seeing it, and that’s why we have an opportunity to pick up 10, 11 seats.”

House Democrats must net 17 seats to take back the majority — a scenario party operatives said is nearly impossible.

But Democrats have a cash advantage on the NRCC. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $54.5 million in cash on hand as of Aug. 20. The NRCC has yet to release its August fundraising numbers, but as of July 20 it had $48 million in the bank.

Walden dismissed the notion his committee’s cash disparity would have a negative impact on House Republicans on Nov. 4.

“They are spending a lot of money to defend their members,” Walden said. “Generally speaking, they’ve got to do more to overcome the headwinds of the failed policies of President Obama.”

Photo: House GOP via Flickr