In the recruiting battle for 2012 Senate candidates, Republicans are winning by a landslide.
Just three months into the election cycle, the GOP has locked down heavyweight candidates in seven key Senate races, with top contenders seriously thinking about running in two others.
A senior Democratic operative with Senate campaign experience acknowledged that early candidate commitments on the Republican side are a product of the difficult landscape.
“They’re motivated. And all this goes back to what a tough cycle this is going to be. We’ve got the wind against us,” the strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Among the top GOP gets to date: Attorney General Jon Bruning in Nebraska, former state treasurer Sarah Steelman in Missouri, former Sen. George Allen in Virginia, Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana, former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico, Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona and Rep. Dean Heller in Nevada.
In several states, the Republican field is already overflowing with candidates. In Florida, the largest of the battleground states, at least four serious candidates are waging a challenge against second-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Five Republicans are already gunning for the Texas seat being left open by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
There could be a significant problem looming for Republicans: Some of the candidates whom the political establishment celebrates as recruitment coups are likely to be eyed warily by tea party activists. NRSC Chairman John Cornyn’s promise to stay out of primaries altogether this time around limits the panel’s ability to assist candidates it views as best suited to win in November 2012.