Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bad News Comes Early for Senate Republicans

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The 2010 election cycle is just a couple months old, and Senate Republicans have almost equaled their number of retirements from last cycle, when their party lost eight seats. But this time around, Senators with one foot out the door appear to be making their decisions earlier, instead of keeping party strategists guessing.

Just in the last two weeks, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich (R) and Missouri Sen. Kit Bond (R) announced their decisions not seek re-election. They join Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback (R) and Florida Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who announced last year their plans to exit the chamber.

“These Senators did the right thing for the party by making their decisions early, and in each state, Republicans now have a solid bench of potential candidates who are already hard at work,” said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Last cycle, then-Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) officially announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in January 2007, more than 20 months before Election Day. But the next four Republican announcements didn’t come until much later.

Former Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) didn’t announce their retirements until September 2007. And former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) waited even a month later. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) never officially said he wasn’t seeking re-election, but now-Sen. Jim Risch (R) launched his campaign to succeed Craig in October 2007.

Republicans lost three of the five open seats last November, only retaining control of the seats in the two most Republican states (Idaho and Nebraska).

“At a time when statewide candidates need to raise millions of dollars to run a competitive campaign, there is no getting around the fact that an extra six months to raise money, develop an organization and travel around the state provides a tremendous advantage,” Walsh said.

There is no guarantee that Republicans would have won Virginia or New Mexico last cycle if Warner and Domenici had announced earlier. An early Allard decision didn’t help the GOP effort in Colorado.

Republicans would have preferred their incumbents run for re-election. But the early retirement decisions are better than waiting in limbo, and while an early start can’t change the political environment, it does give candidates more time for critical fundraising.

This story first appeared on RollCall.com on January 16, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.