House diary: GOP finds candidate for Weller's seat, not Reynolds's

The dominant story of this year's House races has been the GOP's open seat headaches. Not only are Republicans facing a massive exodus of their caucus, with many of the departing members leaving behind very vulnerable districts, but they have had trouble recruiting in many crucial districts.

No race exemplifies these problem better than IL-11, left open by Rep. Weller. It was clear from the beginning that this would be prime pick-up territory, but GOP problems were conpounded by the uneven recruitment of the two parties: Democrats got state Senate President Debbie Halvorson while the GOP's top choice (Christine Radogno) refused to get in. New Lenox Mayor Tim Balderman became the Republican nominee after the February 5th primary, but abruptly decided to withdraw two weeks later. That left the GOP without a candidate, but with party leaders having the right to select the nominee themselves.

Republicans were hoping to attract a few state Senators who had initially refused to run, perhaps attracting them with the fact that they would not have to run for a primary. But they apparently got rebuked one more time because Chicago Businessman Martin Ozinga is now emerging as the choice of party operatives after he declared himself recently. The final decision will not be made until April 30th, but Republicans can at least be relieved that they got a candidate in the race to allow them to play defense and test the district's readiness to become blue.

Meanwhile, in NY-26, Republicans start off slightly favored to keep the seat of former NRCC chairman Reynolds, who announced his retirement last week. The district leans Republican, but with upstate New York trending increasingly Democratic in recent cycles it will not be an easy hold for Republicans. And the GOP just got its first major recuirtement failure in this district, with state Senator George Maziarz announcing he will not run for Reynolds's seat, despite being considered by many as the front-runner for the Republican nod. The Niagara County Republican Chairman also said he would not be running.

The fact that politicians like Maziarz (or Christine Radogno in IL-11) who were basically promised the Republican nod in GOP-held districts are refusing to jump in the race confirms how grim many Republicans thinks their party's chances are in the fall, at least in congressional races. In essence, some of these refusals come down to a belief that it would be harder to win this year in an open seat than in the next few cycles against an incumbent.

  • Internal Polls: NY-25 and OH-02
We also got two internal polls released by two campaigns of opposing parties yesterday, and like most leaked internals they paint very favorable pictures for those who commissioned them:

  • In OH-02, Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt leads challenger Vic Wulsin 51% to 33%. This is a rematch of the 2006 race which Schmitt barely won.
  • In NY-25, a GOP-held open seat, Democrat Dan Maffei (who came very close to beating the incumbent in 2006) leads two Republican candidates by double-digits, 41% to 29% against Peter Cappuccilli and 41% to 25% against Randy Wolken.
Take those numbers with many grains of salt, since they are internal polls, but neither survey has particularly surprising results. OH-02 is a very Republican district, and, despite the fact that Schmidt had two extremely close calls in a special election in 2005 and in the 2006 general election, it's also expected that she manages to entrench herself over time. NY-25, meanwhile, is a district that Kerry carried in 2004 and in a state in which Republicans are not going well. It's thus expected that the Democratic nominee (who already ran in 2006, so has a better base) starts off favored in what is essentially a generic ballot test.

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