POLITICS: PennAve

Politicians upset with wayward Congress often run to fix it

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Politics,Congress,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg

When former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer surprised nearly everyone by announcing that he would not run for the U.S. Senate, he suggested it was because Washington was a cesspool. It's a view he's held for a while. "I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I'm not senile enough to be in the Senate," he told the Associated Press last year.

Schweitzer's take on a dysfunctional Congress sounds like a potential recruiting problem for both parties: Congress is, now more than ever, an undesirable place to work.

In the House, the Republican majority has shown itself unable to pass a complete five-year farm bill  a legislative achievement that in past congresses has been taken for granted. And the Democratic Senate has become stuck in an endless loop of filibusters, real or threatened.

But potential candidates aren't sprinting away from elected office, national Republicans and Democrats insist. There are still plenty running for it, in part because Congress is in such bad shape.

"Chaos and dysfunction in Washington are a huge motivator for our candidates, many of whom have spent their careers bringing people together to solve problems - not fighting tired, ideological battles," a House Democratic operative said. "When these problem solvers see how this Republican Congress is failing people in their community, they want to work even harder to change Washington."

Republicans have a similar view of the problem.

"Most of the candidates I've interacted with want to come to Washington to fix Washington," said Annie Kelly, a regional political director at the National Republican Congressional Committee who has so far recruited candidates in seven states for next year's election.

Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who recently announced that he would challenge Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in Florida's 26th Congressional District, said he scarcely considered the legislative paralysis in Congress when he decided to run.

"This was a tough decision, and it should be a tough decision for anyone who has a family and small children, as I do," Curbelo said. "But I'm optimistic about government being able to work."

Both parties have still made recruiting missteps, and have needled each other for them, even though it is still early in the process.

A Senate-side Republican strategist said a decision not to run for office is "usually ... a personal situation more than, 'The Senate sucks, (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid sucks, Congress sucks.'"

That was the case with Schweitzer, who had been serious about running, sources familiar with his initial plans said. But he reconsidered after it became clear he was going to face a savage Republican attack over his past  an attack that would last for more than a year.

"It's very clear that his campaign would have imploded," one party operative said.

Montana Democrats say there are other potential candidates willing to run and capable of winning the Republican-leaning state and replacing longtime Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who is retiring.

In Michigan, national Republicans urged Rep. Mike Rogers to run for Senate  but he decided against it.

"I have determined that the best way for me to continue to have a direct impact for my constituents and the nation is to remain in the House of Representatives," he wrote to his constituents.

The Republican strategist ranked Rogers' decision as the most disappointing recruiting failure of the cycle thus far.

In Iowa, Democrat Staci Appel said she would not challenge Republican Rep. Tom Latham  before she had a change of heart and entered the race. In a blog post, the Republican campaign committee still derided it as a "recruiting wreckage stumble."

Ann Montgomery, who has worked previously as Appel's finance director, verbally shrugged off that sentiment, saying Appel told her in early June that she planned to run.

When asked why, Montgomery said, "I think she just wanted to serve."

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