The WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is a welcome guest on my program, but sometimes I wonder about his GOP sources. Today’s column is a perfect example. Chris seems to believe that the GOP is reeling from the four announced retirements in the Senate in anticipation of the 2010 cycle: Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Florida’s Mel Martinez, Missouri’s Kit Bond and Ohio’s George Voinovich. More retirements might come along, he muses, and he quotes McCain advisor Fred Davis as saying the spate of retirements “makes an already tough situation even worse.”
Chris never notes that more than a few GOPers are happy to reload in ’10 with young and energetic replacements for long-serving senators associated with the GOP’s collapse in the upper chamber from 2005 though November. He does relay that there are some excellent candidates in the wings:
Former congressman Rob Portman, an almost-certain candidate for the Voinovich vacancy in Ohio, has long been seen as a rising Republican star but had not had an obvious statewide opportunity until now. Ditto Marco Rubio, the young, Cuban former speaker of the Florida House who is expected to announce his candidacy for Martinez’s open seat in the coming days.
“A true shift is underway,” said Alex Vogel, a GOP lobbyist who closely follows Senate races. He added that protecting an open seat is always a challenge but “when you can recruit people like Rob Portman, that’s a great challenge to have.”
It would have been hard to rally Buckeye State Republicans much less conservative activists nationally to Voinovich’s side, and Mel Martinez had similar problems. Portman and Rubio, by contrast, will excite the national base which will help with fundraising and organization. Kit Bond is greatly loved in Missouri, but he’s been there a very long time and a re-election bid wouldn’t have energized a single out-of-state GOPer, whereas the possible return of Jim Talent –well known and widely respected across the grass roots on defense issues– would bring national grassroots attention to the race. Sam Brownback’s different because he is still a leader in the GOP, but he’s been committed to leaving for some time, and Kansas is a pretty good ground on which to wage an off-year election when the White House is held by a Democrat. In short, three of the retirements we have already seen represent net pluses when it comes to the energy that will flow into the 2010 contests.
Each of the retiring senators have served well and have great friends and admirers within the Beltway and in their home states, but from the perspective of someone who has just finished a book on how to retool and reinvigorate the GOP, the certain addition to the 2010 field of younger, more energetic candidates not tied to the collapse of the past few years is a very good development. The new GOP –GOP 5.0– needs a lot of new faces and expanded networks. Portman and Rubio represent a changing of the guard that is timely and welcome, not a cause of concern.