Monday, April 28, 2008

Cole seeks to nationalize election
with Sen. Obama, Speaker Pelosi
By Aaron Blake from THE HILL
All politics is officially no longer local at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).NRCC Chairman Tom Cole signaled Monday that he is set to nationalize the 2008 battle for the House by tagging the “liberal” label on Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Cole’s predecessor, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), insisted amid a tough national environment for the GOP that House races are all unique to their locales. Just two years later, though, Cole (Okla.) is ready to flip that strategy on its head and emulate what Democrats used to great effect in 2006.Obama’s and Pelosi’s negatives aren’t as high nationwide as the Democrats’ chief villain figure, President Bush, but Cole said the strategy can work for two reasons: because much of the battleground is GOP-leaning territory, and because Pelosi’s and Obama’s numbers get worse as her name ID climbs and his nomination battle drags on.

“Our candidates are trying to turn those things into, now, referendums on Pelosi and on Obama,” Cole said. Despite enjoying wide support early and wooing independents, Obama was recently rated the most liberal member of the Senate by the National Journal and has endured some of his toughest weeks on the campaign trail this month.

According to internal NRCC numbers obtained by The Hill, Obama has a 32 percent favorable and 58 percent unfavorable rating in Mississippi’s 1st district, where Republicans nearly lost a special election last week to a Democratic takeover. The race will go to a runoff May 13.
His numbers were better but similar, 37-50, in Louisiana’s 6th district, where a special will be held Saturday.

Pelosi’s numbers in those two districts were 18-39 and 24-47, respectively. “We like the way that’s unfolding,” Cole said. “We would rather be running national elections.”
The GOP candidate in Mississippi, Greg Davis, launched a hard-hitting television ad over the weekend that features the controversial comments of Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It criticizes Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D) for not condemning them or Obama’s remarks that people in Pennsylvania were “bitter” and clung to guns and religion.

The NRCC and the conservative group Freedom’s Watch are also using ads to attach the Democrat in the Louisiana race, state Rep. Don Cazayoux, to Obama and his healthcare plan.
The state GOP in North Carolina is also using the Obama-Wright relationship in an ad against two top Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Both House districts are very competitive, despite voting at least 59 percent for Bush in 2004, and feature Democrats who oppose abortion rights. Obama’s campaign has sent a letter to volunteers pleading for help with Childers’s campaign, while Cazayoux’s campaign emphasized after the NRCC and Freedom’s Watch ads were launched that he hasn’t endorsed any candidate or healthcare proposal.

About 60 districts currently held by Democrats voted for Bush, while less than 10 GOP-held districts voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). So the terrain will be similar in many other races targeted by Republicans.Cole attributed the close Mississippi race to the geographic strengths of the candidates and a bruising GOP primary, and the tight Louisiana contest to wounds from GOP candidate Woody Jenkins’s past campaigns.

National GOPers have privately grumbled over what they see as a weak candidate in the Pelican State. Cole was careful with his words, but he likened the situation to March’s special election in Illinois, where former Senate and gubernatorial candidate Jim Oberweis lost and was later decried for the baggage he inherited from three failed statewide bids.

“Woody Jenkins has been around a long time,” Cole said. “It’s the same thing we had, to some degree, with Oberweis. You get some scar tissue if you’re in politics and you make tough calls and tough decisions.” Despite all these local factors, Cole said that, as the general election approaches, voters will start to become more aware of the national picture and what voting for Democrats entails.

The shift comes about 15 months after Cole expressed skepticism about the anti-Pelosi strategy’s effectiveness in the 2006 elections, during which it was employed in isolated instances. “Sure worked, didn’t it?” he said at the time. “We were trying everything. ‘All politics is local, except if Pelosi wins it’ll be terrible.’ … We were just in a fix.”

Democrats pointed out that Republicans tried, to some extent, to make Pelosi an issue in the Illinois special election, and that now-Rep. Bill Foster (D) used a TV ad recorded by Obama for his campaign.Even though it is Obama’s home state, they stress, it is a conservative district.
A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Doug Thornell, said the NRCC is trying to make up for poor recruiting and a lack of credibility with voters.

“Even former NRCC Chair Tom Davis (R-Va.) said, the ‘House Republican brand is so bad right now that if it were a dog food, they’d take it off the shelf.’ ” Thornell said. “So if Cole wants to hitch his wagon to George Bush and the national GOP brand, it wouldn’t be the first strategic error he’s made this cycle.”

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