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Posted at 8:03 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Waiting for Ron Johnson

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Where have all the Ron Johnsons gone?

Two months after the Wisconsin businessman rode his way into the Senate and became the GOP's Case Study No. 1 for the type of outsider candidate it would like to recruit, we have yet to see another like him emerge.

And we wouldn't hold our breath waiting for more.

As Republicans turn their attention toward 2012, we're instead hearing from a lot of the usual suspects, including many politicians who have run for Senate or higher office before ... and lost.

Look no further than Virginia, where former Sen. George Allen is primed to run for the seat he lost in 2006; or to Missouri, where former Sen. Jim Talent is doing the same (and would face another candidate with a statewide loss under her belt, Sarah Steelman).

And those aren't the only potential repeat GOP candidates. The National Republican Senatorial is talking to former wrestling executive Linda McMahon about another bid in Connecticut, New Jersey state Sen. Tom Kean is being mentioned for a repeat bid against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who lost a 2008 Senate primary, said Monday that she is considering a run at Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) seat.

Even Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the early frontrunner to face Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), briefly ran for Senate in 2008.

So what gives? Why aren't we seeing an influx of outsiders or, at the very least, some fresh-faced rising stars like Marco Rubio?

Part of it is that it's so early. Those kinds of candidates are much harder to recruit and much less likely to run. Johnson came from basically nowhere and wasn't even on the national party's radar until late in the campaign.

If you're the National Republican Senatorial Committee right now, there's a ready crop of statewide officeholders and members of Congress at your beck and call, and you know (basically) what you're getting when you recruit them, because they've run for office before. Running someone like Johnson is much more difficult to do, because they've often got dirty laundry that hasn't been aired, and you never know what kind of candidate they will turn out to be.

Republican strategists concede there aren't likely to be too many more like Johnson -- at least not in top races.

"The Senate is a long-term investment by either party," said one GOP strategist. "A party can assume much more risk with two-year term House members in a much larger political body."

The Republicans said they expect a few notable outsiders to emerge, but that those who do come forward probably won't be known for some time -- pointing to Johnson's late emergence in against Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

What's more, recruiting someone who hasn't climbed the political ladder can lead to hard feelings (look no further than former Rep. Rob Simmons's recent comments about the national GOP embracing McMahon). Congress is BIG on waiting your turn, which is why they have seniority.

Now, just because we haven't heard about the GOP's next big recruit with an apolitical background doesn't mean it's not out there or that it's not in the works. The question is whether the GOP is making candidates like that a priority, or if it will stick to the old model.

It's important to note that Johnson wasn't the only Republican to win a Senate race. Some very establishment GOPers did just fine in other Senate races -- former Rep. Rob Portman, Rep. Roy Blunt and former Sen. Dan Coats being the best examples.

Expect to see more candidates along those lines going forward. A Ron Johnson is a pretty rare find.

Family First for Mitch?: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) expressed serious concerns about the strains a presidential bid would put on his family in a recent interview, and those familiar with his thinking insist that it remains a major issue as he ponders a national bid.

"It scares them to death," Daniels said how his family views the prospect of a presidential bid. "And it should."

Daniels has four daughters between the ages of 24 and 31 and there are real concerns about the impact the scrutiny of a national race would have on them and their families.

One source pointed to an interview Daniels gave to the Weekly Standard over the summer as evidence of the seriousness with which he takes the family question.

"Who would want to have your life opened up like that," Daniels told the Weekly Standard. "Who would want to subject his family to it? It's vicious. My daughters are terrified of the idea."

Daniels won't make a decision on the race until late spring -- when the Indiana legislative session concludes. But, if he chooses not to run, look to his family concerns as the main reason.

Lieberman says he can win: Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman told WFSB's Dennis House that he believes he can win another term in 2012 and that if he does run it will likely be as an independent.

Lieberman also told House -- in a taped interview that will run later in the week on the "Face the State" program -- that some of his Democratic colleagues have urged him to run as a Democrat for a fifth term. Lieberman has said he plans to meet with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray (Wash.) to discuss his plans.

As we have written before, Lieberman has no path -- or a very narrow path -- to the Democratic nomination given his endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race and his support for the war in Iraq.

An independent bid is a possibility although hurdles exist there too for Lieberman since he could not run under the independent party banner he used to run and win in 2006 following a Democratic primary loss to wealthy cable television executive Ned Lamont.

Reps. Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy as well as Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are considering runs on the Democratic side while former Rep. Rob Simmons and 2010 Senate nominee Linda McMahon are in the mix for the GOP.


The Fix reported last month that Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is now expected to run for governor rather than president. And now, his schedule seems to be pointing in that direction as well.

Bloomberg reports that former Commerce Secretary William Daley is in the running for President Obama's next chief of staff.

Three candidates, including Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) entered the 2011 race for Mississippi governor on Monday.

Eric Holcomb, a top aide to Daniels, has been selected as the new state Republican Party chairman.

Outgoing New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John Sununu on Monday endorsed Cheshire County GOP Chairwoman Juliana Bergeron to replace him, shunning a tea party candidate.

Former Democratic Governors Association spokeswoman Emily Bittner is Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) new communications director.

Reince Priebus, the frontrunner for Republican National Committee chairman, has added West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart to his list of supporters. Priebus also released his action plan for if he becomes chairman.

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | January 4, 2011; 8:03 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: An open slot in the 2012 Republican field

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