To me, the GOP Senate recruitment efforts in three other states – Illinois, New Hampshire and Delaware – is a telling indicator for how optimistic Republicans should be about their Senate prospects in 2010...These poll numbers suggest that Ayotte and former Congressman Charlie Bass would both be competitive running against Rep. Paul Hodes for Judd Gregg's Senate seat. In Delaware, Castle has a huge advantage over likely Democratic candidate Beau Biden; according to a recent poll, he leads Biden by 21 points---55-34.
In Illinois, it was Congressman Mark Kirk, who had a knack of winning re-election in a suburban Chicago district – even when President Obama publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent (as he did last year). In Delaware, it’s Congressman Mike Castle, a moderate who has already won statewide elections to his at-large House seat for over the past decade.
And in New Hampshire, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is expected to run in the mold of politically successful New England Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Ayotte, who never held elective office, is far from a proven candidate and faces the likelihood of a tough primary. But she holds the highest approval ratings of any Republican in the state, and led Democrat Paul Hodes in a recent poll.
This week, Senate Republicans landed two of those top-tier recruits (Kirk and Ayotte), and have a shot at running the table if they can persuade Castle to run for the Senate. By putting two Democratic-held seats in play, and having a chance at holding onto one of their most vulnerable open seats, Republicans can now credibly argue they have an opportunity to pick up seats next election cycle.
A number of Republicans and conservatives are angry with Kirk and Castle for supporting cap-and-trade legislation in the House. Will disgruntled members of the right swallow their wrath and support these candidates (and other candidates like them)?
See also this Hill story on candidate recruitment in Virginia, where Republicans took a pounding in 2008.