Top-Tier GOP Senate Candidates a Hard Sell for Some Open Seats

Republican recruiters are finding it slow going in convincing top-tier candidates to run for open Senate seats in some states that the GOP needs to fashion a majority in 2014.

In other states, GOP leadership is having difficulty in heading off expensive primaries for Senate candidates who will probably face well-known, well-financed Democrats. The Democrats have done well so far in identifying and recruiting first-rate candidates with name recognition and fundraising abilities in Iowa, Michigan, and probably Montana, where popular former governor Brian Schweitzer is expected to run for the seat left vacant by retiring Senator Max Baucus.

In Iowa, the national party is in scramble mode, hoping to head off the candidacy of Rep. Steve King, a strong conservative and tea party favorite. King hasn't declared yet, but that hasn't stopped the GOP leadership from frantically searching for an alternative:

The party's top national Senate campaign strategists are so concerned about squandering potential opportunities by failing to persuade popular Republicans to run in critical states that they were in Iowa last week to survey the landscape. The visit came after top Senate prospects U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, a prolific fundraiser, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, a rising star, decided against running despite aggressive lobbying by the National Republican Senate Committee.

The committee's senior spokesman, Kevin McLaughlin, and its political director, Ward Baker, met privately Wednesday with state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and state Sen. Joni Ernst, who have expressed interest.

They invited Mark Jacobs, the former CEO of Reliant Energy, to breakfast Thursday. They also tried again, and in vain, it turns out, to persuade Terry Branstad, Iowa's longest-serving governor, to run for Senate instead of seeking another term as governor.

Despite all that, the Washington delegation shrugged off the recruitment troubles. "It's more important to take the time to get it right than it is to rush and get it wrong," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and others have lamented the national party's decision not to intervene in the candidate selection last year, when Republicans lost races viewed as winnable in Indiana, Missouri and elsewhere.

The mission in Iowa for 2014 is to beat Democrat Bruce Braley, a four-term congressman trying to succeed retiring six-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Braley is the party's consensus prospect. He's won Harkin's endorsement and already has raised more than $1 million for his campaign.

In Michigan, GOP brass is working hard to draw former FBI agent and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers into the race. Currently, only little-known libertarian Congressman Justin Amash has indicated any interest in running, and he is reportedly being pressured by both Ron Paul and Rand Paul to forgo a shot at the upper chamber in order to remain in the House as the primary libertarian spokesman in the Republican Party. Neither man will be favored against three-term Rep. Gary Peters, who has the strong backing of both the state and national Democratic Party.

Republican chances in both Iowa and Michigan -- even with open seats -- have always been less than stellar. Both states have have been unfriendly to conservatives in recent elections and President Obama won both states comfortably in 2012.