U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, is leading the national charge for his party to recruit candidates for next year’s election.
Scalise recently was named recruiter by the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, which is hoping to pick up as many as 30 seats. Republicans control the House, 242-193.
“Initially at the beginning of the year, a lot of people looked at the historic gains that we had in last year’s election and said that was a high-water mark, but we really feel strongly that there are a lot of other seats that we can still go get in an even better climate for us next year,” Scalise said.
Scalise points to the recent Republican takeover of the seat once held by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., as a sign that more GOP gains can be made across the country. Weiner’s congressional district had traditionally been held by a Democrat. “That shows us that places across the country are in play now,” Scalise said.
Scalise recently traveled to Iowa during the presidential straw poll to interview potential candidates. Democrats have a 3-to-2 edge in the congressional delegation there. Scalise said he hopes to pick up two seats in the state.
Scalise was recruited for the job earlier this year by NRCC Chairman and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas, who asked Scalise to travel to Iowa for the straw poll.
“He asked if I had ever been to the Iowa straw poll and I said ?I’ve never been to Iowa,’” Scalise said. “It was a great opportunity to go see that first-hand, while also meeting with candidates.”
Scalise also recently traveled to North Carolina, where he thinks that the party can pick up as many as four seats in a state where Democrats have a 7-to-6 edge. Scalise met with potential candidates everywhere from a Cracker Barrel to local coffee shops.
“That’s probably going to be the best state for us in terms of raw seats that are likely to switch over,” Scalise said.
Scalise has a criteria in looking for candidates, he said.
“I think the most important thing is someone who is respected back home, well-known in their community, good business people or someone who has a good story to tell and
can represent the conservative viewpoint in Washington,” Scalise said.
“We don’t want to run campaigns out of Washington,” Scalise added. “We don’t pick who’s going to win a primary in a state, that’s what the voters in those states do. We just want to make sure the strongest candidates are on the field so that we can win those seats.”
The party has already recruited a California man that reminds Scalise of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Only 24 and first-generation Indian-American, the candidate has already served on the state board of education. Though he is running in a district that contains part of liberal San Francisco, Scalise said the candidate has already raised $700,000.
“You meet with a really lot of fascinating people, people that are just from all walks of life,” Scalise said. “In North Carolina, I met with a few people who own their own businesses and they never would have thought about running for office.”
“Not only are they concerned about the future of our country,” Scalise said. “They’re concerned about whether or not they’ve even going to have a business to pass on to their kids.”
The candidate field contains its share of politicians ranging from state legislators to town mayors. Scalise has been struck by the nontraditional political novices, he said.
“It’s really inspiring to meet some of these people that would not normally get involved in the political process,” Scalise said.
“When you hear their stories and the passion they have for the country and the things they have to deal with on a daily basis, which are a lot of things we’re fighting for up here. But they’re dealing with it on the front lines at home.”
Scalise estimates that he has met about 40 candidates or potential candidates since getting the post and will be traveling the country more as the election approaches.
“You get to meet a lot of neat people but also people who will be future colleagues of mine,” Scalise said. “It would be good to have that relationship already established with people I will be serving with.”
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@aol.com.