Republicans' Mike Duncan highlights polls unfavorable to Clinton

The chairman of the Republican National Committee defended the GOP's '08 prospects at Wednesday's Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Washington - Mike Duncan has one of the toughest jobs in politics.

As chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Duncan is the leader of the party that controls the White House. Like others in that position in the past, he must unwaveringly defend the record of party and president.

So when Duncan surveys the political scene, he says, "I'm very pleased. I think we are going into '08 with good prospects." Duncan was the guest at Wednesday's Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters.

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Other political experts don't share Duncan's sunny outlook. President Bush's former chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, writes in the latest issue of Newsweek that "In early 2008, by nearly every measure, the Republican Party is in trouble."

The nonpartisan Capitol Hill newspaper Politico recently said the Republican Party suffers from "the funk of the foot soldiers." Among the symptoms Politico cited:

•Ambitious state and local Republicans are deciding this is not the year to run for office.

•Republican contributors are not opening their wallets as frequently as Democrats.

•Republicans are heading to the presidential primary polls in smaller numbers than in previous years.

Duncan, a banker from eastern Kentucky who became party chair in January 2007, counters, "I don't think there is a funk."

He added, "This whole area of fund-raising is one that I would point to and say that we are doing well and we will have the money to get our message out."

And he argued that primary turnout figures do not translate neatly into election results.

"In the last 35 years, turnout in presidential primaries favors the party out of power," Duncan said. "Since '72 the national turnout has been higher for the out-of-power party in all but one election and that was 1980. So this is not unusual. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were both elected in their first terms with a lower turnout in the primaries. So I am not concerned about the numbers."

With cable news programs and newspaper headlines full of bad economic news – which often hurts the party that holds the White House – Duncan was asked whether Republican presidential candidates have ground to make up on the issue of the economy.

"I don't buy that premise," he said.

Republicans can argue to voters that they are the party of limited government despite healthy growth in government expenditure during George Bush's term, Duncan said. "In 2006, after the [congressional election] loss, we understood that we had lost our way on spending and that last year was a good start at correction."

As Bush speechwriter Gerson noted in his column, there is one "political figure who could cause depressed, fractious Republicans to bind their wounds, downplay their divisions, renew their purpose, and join hands in blissful unity…. And that figure is Hillary Clinton."

So it is not surprising that Duncan happily recited research the GOP has run on how voters see Senator Clinton. The survey was taken Jan. 13-15 among 800 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

"Senator Clinton will say or do anything to get elected," Duncan said. "Our polling shows that less than half of the people believe she is honest and trustworthy … 65 percent believe she will say or do anything to get elected … over two thirds – 68 percent – believe she will raise taxes. So that gives me a great deal of optimism because I also understand the message our candidates will have."

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