Not All ‘On the Radar’ Candidates Measure Up

April 28, 2010 · 9:00 AM EDT

Two months before the 2008 elections, I wrote a column (Now It’s the DCCC That Is Swimming Against the Tide, Sept. 15, 2008) scolding the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for putting third-tier races on its “Red to Blue” list of top challenger races and for adding some ridiculous races to its second-tier “Emerging Races” and third-tier “Races to Watch” lists.

If you recall, Red to Blue candidate Sam Bennett ended up losing to Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) by 17 points, while Judy Feder lost to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) by 20 points. Both Democrats did better than Josh Zeitz, who was added to the DCCC’s Races to Watch list after Labor Day and ended up losing to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) by only 34 points.

Now, more than six months before the midterm elections, it’s the National Republican Congressional Committee’s turn to push the envelope by adding campaigns that appear to have no chance of winning to its long-shot list of “On the Radar” contests.

Republican operatives are quick to point out that their third-tier “On the Radar” candidates need to meet only very basic goals — for example, build a website, have a Federal Election Commission reporting system in place, have available a very basic media package, etc. — and that candidates in this category don’t necessarily have a path to victory yet.

Some will win (and they will move up to “Contender” and possibly “Young Guns” level), while others may not ever get there.

Fair enough. But putting already credible candidates such as Kevin Yoder (Kan.), Jaime Herrera (Wash.), Jim Ward (Ariz.) and Bruce O’Donoghue (Fla.) on the same list with candidates who have virtually no chance of winning in November only leads to confusion.

What are some of the most obvious examples of On the Radar candidates who shouldn’t yet be on your radar?

Robert Gettemy is a businessman whose current project is (One Million for Jesus Christ), which sells T-shirts with the 1M4JC logo. His March 31 FEC report showed net receipts of $129,000 — and debt of $100,000, suggesting that he had raised a trivial amount of campaign cash other than from his own pocket. (T-shirt sales must be going well …)

Gettemy is running against Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) in Iowa’s 2nd district, by far the most liberal district in the state. It gave President Barack Obama 60 percent of the vote in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) 55 percent four years earlier. Sure, Loebsack owes his election entirely to a huge Democratic wave in 2006, but that’s not enough reason to promote a GOP challenger who, at least right now, has no chance of winning.

Bobby Schilling owns Saint Giuseppe’s Pizza in Moline, Ill., and his campaign website notes that the restaurant is closed Sundays “in order to give more time off for their employees and spend more time with the family.”

Schilling, who is challenging Rep. Phil Hare (D) in Illinois’ 17th district, showed $162,000 raised through March 31, with just under $110,000 on hand. Obama carried the district with 56 percent, while Kerry won it with 51 percent in 2004.

There was a time when the heart of this district was represented by a Republican, Tom Railsback. But that was back in the 1970s. I don’t know whether Schilling will turn into a serious candidate, but currently, he isn’t even in the same room as the radar.

Jeffrey Reetz is On the Radar, too. Reetz owns 30 Pizza Hut restaurants in four states (I don’t know if he has a restaurant in Moline and competes with Saint Giuseppe’s Pizza). His website says that he has lived in Louisville “for a total of 12 years in the past 15 years,” a very strange grammatical construction that suggests that he hasn’t been living in the area recently.

Anyway, Reetz’s latest FEC report showed $178,000 raised for the cycle and a debt of $117,000, suggesting that he has largely bankrolled his effort and actually raised only about $60,000.

I’m quite confident that the NRCC understands that these kinds of challengers are a long way from threatening Democratic incumbents.

So what’s the point of putting them on a list?

“It allows the committee to take inventory of a campaign that might be the next Nancy Boyda or Carol Shea-Porter,” said one Republican insider, referencing two Democratic Congressional long shots who were elected in the wave of 2006, Boyda in Kansas and Shea-Porter in New Hampshire.

True, but the better answer probably is that it doesn’t cost the NRCC anything after all, and adding them to a list gives these long, long shots an opportunity to promote themselves to the local media and hype their campaigns with potential contributors.

In fact, Reetz had a note on the main page of his website noting that he is now On the Radar, while Schilling and Gettemy have posted press releases on their sites noting that the NRCC has put their campaigns On the Radar.

Right now, only 10 Republicans have achieved Young Guns status, with another 40 listed as Contenders. And some of those candidates on the Contender list are a stretch. Let’s just hope that the folks at the NRCC don’t feel compelled to move candidates up to more competitive categories just to pad their number of serious contests.