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Why Would Anyone Want to Run for Congress?

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Minutes after President Obama finished this year’s State of the Union address, Rep. Steve Israel slipped off the House floor, pulled out his iPhone, and began to type. In the address field were the names of people scattered across the country whom Israel, the man in charge of helping Democrats try to win back control of the House, most wanted to run for Congress in 2014.

“Did you watch it?” Israel asked them. “In two years, you could actually watch yourself.”

It was a move ripped straight from the playbook of a college football coach, the equivalent of dialing up a blue-chip running back in the middle of the big game just so he can hear the roar of the crowd. Israel, a fast-talking New Yorker in his second cycle atop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, beams in retelling the tale. “I am a fanatic when it comes to recruiting,” he says, jabbing his fist in punctuation.

Now is the heart of recruitment season, a time when the nation’s top talent scouts fan out from Washington to scour the country’s small towns and big cities for, if not the next undiscovered political star, then at least a viable 2014 congressional challenger. Polls are conducted. Fundraising stats are reviewed. Research, often into the candidates themselves, is commissioned. For those who make the cut, the courtship begins. As House Democrats seek to climb from the minority and Republicans seek to attain 51 Senate seats for the first time since 2006 (navigating intra-party squabbling while doing it), finding that ideal candidate is mission-critical.

“It’s the most important thing that we do,” says Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Without a good candidate, it makes your job a helluva lot harder.”

Wives are wooed. Inspiring role models are found. Frequent-flier miles are accrued. It is not a job for the impatient. Experienced recruiters say it takes at least a couple of months to get most candidates off the fence and into a race. For some, it takes years. Congress can be a tough sell these days, with its popularity rivaling colonoscopies and root canals. Cecil says it took him seven to nine months and an estimated 100 conversations to persuade Richard Carmona to run in Arizona in 2012—and his bid wasn’t sealed until he got a phone call from the president. (And, as a reminder that there are no guarantees in politics, Carmona lost.)

Call, convince, cajole, reassure. Repeat. It is a persistence hunt.

Read more at National Journal

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