In congressional races, Republicans are losing ground
GOP leaders urge a new agenda after several key losses.
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Last week Boehner created a committee of House Republicans to "advise" the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is under fire within GOP ranks for the special-election losses.Skip to next paragraph
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"We can't just be against everything the Democrats are trying to do. We have to be for a positive agenda," says Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, a member of the new panel. "Bad times are a problem for those who are in charge. The 'Pelosi premium' is that the price of a barrel of oil has doubled since she said: 'Elect me and I have a plan to reduce the power of oil.' "
Even before special-election setbacks this spring, House Republicans faced a tough campaign. With nearly 1 in 8 in the GOP caucus retiring or running for higher office, Republicans are defending 25 open seats compared with Democrats' seven open seats. Analysts say Democrats stand a good shot at winning many of them.
Even with rebranding, "the fact is there's a lot that House Republicans just can't change," says David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report in Washington. "They can't do a lot about these Republicans who are retiring."
House Republicans also face shortfalls in fundraising, especially from within their own ranks. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised $44.3 million for the 2008 races, compared with $7.2 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP campaign arm.
Last week, House GOP leaders warned colleagues in a closed meeting that if they didn't step up fundraising for the party, losses in November could be severe.
"To be competitive, the members of the Republican conference must continue to support this institution [the NRCC] with their energy and resources," says NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.
In a May 3 memo, the NRCC said the lesson from the Louisiana special-election defeat is that last-minute ads linking Democrat Don Cazayoux with Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Barack Obama helped Davis gain "substantial ground." "This election speaks to the potential toxicity of an Obama candidacy and the possible drag he could have down-ballot this fall," the NRCC memo said.
But some Republicans say a strategy of linking Democrats to Pelosi and Obama will fail. "People are tired of President Bush and they want a change. You can see it by the turnout and fundraising for the Democrats," says retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R) of Illinois.
"Every special election has its ... local elements to it, but when you start to lose a succession of seats that have been solidly Republican ... that's a big warning sign," says Norman Ornstein, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.