House Republican leader optimistic about fall elections

Rep. John Boehner argues that his party might even regain the majority.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

House Republican leader John Boehner argues that political pundits are wrong and that his party will pick up seats in the House in the 2008 election and might even regain the majority it lost in November 2006.

"We will gain seats this year, period. I mentioned the difficulty, the challenge we will have in earning back a majority. But that is my goal.... I am leading an effort for us to earn our way back, and I think it is possible," Representative Boehner said at a Monitor-sponsored lunch with reporters on Thursday.

The blunt-spoken Boehner said that "part of the basis" for his optimism is that the presidential primary battle between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama could lead lasting scars. "One side is going to be sorely disappointed when they have a nominee," the House minority leader said. "What isn't measured, and can't be measured, is the number of people who are disappointed who just don't show up and vote.... The longer this goes on, there are going to be some very disappointed people."

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The eventual Democratic nominee will have weaknesses that Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, can exploit, Boehner said. "We are going to face either one of the most polarizing people in American politics or the most liberal senator in the United States Senate," he said.

Impartial experts take a much dimmer view than Boehner of the Republicans' chances of picking up seats in the House this fall. If Republicans win a majority of House seats, Boehner would be in line to be speaker.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report (no relation to the writer) says that, "If elections were held today, Democrats would be poised to gain between five and ten seats in the House." A respected political handicapper, the Cook Report also observes, "Most Republicans outside of the party's spin room view the prospect of regaining the majority as a longer-term proposition. Instead, the real question is whether the GOP can hold the election to something near a wash or Democrats are poised for another double-digit gain."

"I am not here suggesting to you it will be an easy walk back for us to earn our majority," Boehner said. "I understand the difficulty, but I am here to suggest to you that it is going to be a far better Republican year than most people realize."

While his predictions were optimistic, they were delivered along with some tough talk about the Ohio Republican's own party. Referring to the fact that Democrats are outdoing Republicans in fundraising this political cycle, Boehner said, "On the resource side, we are not doing well." But he added, "We will have what we need to be competitive."

Commenting on the large number of Republican House members who have announced their retirement this year, Boehner acknowledged, "There are some retirements that were probably good – good for the member who was in the seat and better for us in terms of holding onto the seat."

Boehner said he viewed himself as a leader "trying to rebuild our team" and "stand on principle." He noted, "The Republican brand has been damaged, but I don't want to lay it at the feet of the [Bush] administration. There are a lot of people to blame. We kind of lost our way when it comes to the issue of fiscal responsibility, earmarks out of control. And frankly, by [February] '06, when I became the majority leader, I was trying to plug the holes and keep the ship afloat."

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