*NY Times*-G.O.P. Struggles to Find Candidates for Congress

An interesting article from April 8th, 2008 New York Times.


G.O.P. Struggles to Find Candidates for Congress


Published: April 8, 2008
Published: April 8, 2008

WASHINGTON — Republican leaders are struggling to recruit candidates for Congressional races in the New York region, reflecting a problem for the party in other pockets of the country and giving Democrats an opportunity to build on the gains they made in the area in the last election.
Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, Republican of New York, announcing last month that he would not seek a sixth term.
Heading into this election cycle, Republican leaders in Washington identified dozens of Congressional seats they believed they could pick up in November’s election — some where Democrats narrowly won a first term in 2006, and others where Democrats represent Republican-leaning districts.

But that strategy appears to have run into complications, both in the New York region and in some other parts of the country, as many potential Republican candidates — including public officials and wealthy entrepreneurs — have stayed on the sidelines, despite direct appeals from party leaders.

In some cases, potential candidates see a tough climate for Republicans, largely because of a troubled economy and a protracted war, according to some Republicans.

Some have even started races, only to abandon the effort.

A recent example arose after Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, a five-term Republican, announced on March 20 that he would not run for re-election in New York’s 26th Congressional District, a heavily Republican area that stretches from Buffalo to Rochester.

Days after Mr. Reynolds’s announcement, the man widely considered to be the most formidable Republican candidate to replace Mr. Reynolds, George D. Maziarz, a popular state senator, declared that he would not run for the seat.

He said that giving up his own seat to run for Congress would be too great a gamble.

“It’s very difficult for a Republican in this election cycle,” Mr. Maziarz said in a recent interview. “It’s clearly a competitive seat. And I think it’s more competitive without me.”

Republican leaders play down the difficulty of finding willing candidates. Ken Spain, a spokesman for the House Republicans’ campaign committee, acknowledged the challenges in certain districts but said the party had done a good job of recruitment over all.

“We believe we have fielded one of the best Republican recruitment classes in quite some time,” he said.

But the lack of robust challengers, especially for Democratic freshmen, is clearly a concern. Members of Congress are typically considered most vulnerable after their first term in office. After that, the benefits of incumbency tend to build and protect them from serious challenges.

In central New York, for example, Republicans have been urging Richard Hanna, a wealthy businessman who could bankroll his own race, to run against Representative Michael Arcuri, a member of the Democratic freshman class of 2006. In that year, the party gained 30 seats and took control of the House.

But Mr. Hanna, who formed an exploratory committee last November, has yet to enter the race, puzzling Mr. Arcuri and Democratic leaders in Washington, who had been bracing for a tough election season for freshman lawmakers. As recently as last week, Republican leaders in Washington encouraged Mr. Hanna to run, and they say they believe he still may enter the race.

“I don’t know why the situation is what it is,” Mr. Arcuri said in a recent interview. He suggested that the electoral challenges Republicans are facing, including an increasingly unpopular war, may have led “people who might otherwise run for Congress to think twice.”

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who is in charge of the House Democratic campaign effort for 2008, said Democrats had started the election cycle expecting to spend much of their time and resources defending the seats captured by new members.

“It’s unexpected,” he said, referring to the recruitment problems Republican have faced. “The fact that they have not been able to field candidates in a lot of these districts means we have not had to circle the wagons and play defense.”

The Republican recruitment effort is also facing complications on the Senate side. In New Jersey, John F. Crowley, a biotechnology executive, decided recently not to enter the New Jersey Republican primary, even after being asked to do so by Senator John McCain of Arizona and other prominent Republicans.

Republicans have had difficulty recruiting top-tier candidates in several other states, including Ohio and Indiana. But the problems have been especially pronounced in New York, a heavily Democratic state where Democrats picked up three Republican-held seats in 2006. Republicans are in danger of suffering more losses this year, analysts say.

In the Syracuse area, for example, Republican leaders are scrambling to find a candidate to appear on the ballot in place of Representative James T. Walsh, who recently announced that he would retire at the end of his current term.

Republicans in Washington thought that their strongest possible candidate was William Fitzpatrick, the longtime Onondaga County district attorney, and tried to persuade him to run. But he ultimately declined. Mr. Fitzpatrick did not return a phone call requesting comment. Now, several Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination, even as Democrats have coalesced around their candidate, Dan Maffei, a former Congressional aide who narrowly lost to Mr. Walsh in the 2006 election.

Republicans have also suffered a significant setback in their efforts to defeat Representative John Hall, a freshman Democrat who narrowly won his seat in the suburbs north of New York City in 2006.

At one point, Republican Party leaders had managed to recruit a millionaire who was expected to pour his own money into the race, causing alarm among Democrats. But the candidate, Andrew M. Saul, a vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, abruptly quit the race, citing personal reasons. Now, Mr. Hall is running virtually unopposed.

The problems are also playing out in neighboring New Jersey, where Representative Jim Saxton, a longtime incumbent, announced that he would not seek re-election this year, leaving Republican leaders in a bind.

In an effort to protect the seat, national Republicans leaders approached State Senator Diane Allen, 59, seeing her as a strong prospective candidate, according to one person close to the situation. But the senator decided not to run because she did not relish a contested primary, the person said, leaving a muddled primary among Republicans fighting for their party’s nomination for the seat.


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