One reason the Republicans managed to snatch the Senate majority away from the Democrats in 2002 was their success in recruiting strong candidates. But G.O.P. recruiting efforts for the 2004 election are running into considerably more trouble. In half a dozen Senate races thus far, Republicans have failed to get their first choices to run. Former G.O.P. Governors Jim Edgar of Illinois and Ed Schafer of North Dakota begged off Senate races, as did Governor Mike Huckabee and former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, the Republicans' best hopes for unseating Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. Representative Jennifer Dunn, the G.O.P.'s first choice to challenge Senator Patty Murray in Washington, and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, a party favorite in Florida, have also said no. And in Nevada, G.O.P. Congressman Jim Gibbons has decided not to challenge Senate Democratic whip Harry Reid, who won his 1998 race by just 428 votes. "I see a very competitive fall in 2004," says Senator Jon Corzine, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Why are A-team Republicans sitting it out? Private-sector jobs are more lucrative for some. Others don't want to give up safe House seats, or they find governorships more rewarding than the highly partisan Senate, where they can get little done. But even though "we couldn't live up to the 2002 recruiting," says a G.O.P. official, the political math still leaves the party "pretty happy where we are for 2004." The Democrats need to pick up two seats to win back the Senate--a tough assignment, since they have 19 seats to defend, compared with just 15 for the Republicans. --By Douglas Waller