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« Strategy Memo: Little Help From His Friends | Blog Home Page | Competition In Texas? »

Losing Candidates Under The Bus

Today, we wrote about the troubling scene inside the House Republican Conference just days before a special election in Mississippi to replace now-Senator Roger Wicker. After special election losses in Illinois and Louisiana in recent weeks, tension between House Minority Leader John Boehner and NRCC chairman Tom Cole are said to be running at an all-time high.

But even though generic congressional ballot questions show Democrats running more than a dozen points ahead of Republicans -- the latest survey, from CBS and the New York Times, had it at 18 points, the same gap as before the 2006 elections -- the NRCC has been reluctant to admit a national problem.

GOP strategists have excused their party's poor performance in previous special elections by blaming flawed candidates. After the loss in Illinois, Boehner reportedly told members at a closed conference meeting that Jim Oberweis, the Republican candidate, lost his home precinct by a four-to-one margin. That statistic was repeated religiously by Republican members and staff in subsequent conversations with the media. The problem, though, is that Oberweis won his home precinct by an approximately three-to-two margin.

After Republican candidate Woody Jenkins lost his special election, the NRCC pointed to the fact that previous polls had shown Democrat Don Cazayoux leading by ten points, and he won by just three after advertising sought to link him to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Nationalizing the race, they said, had closed the gap. Still, Republicans on Capitol Hill said Jenkins, who has a long history in Louisiana politics, had too much baggage.

Even the GOP candidate in neighboring Mississippi is getting in on the act. "Greg Davis [the mayor of Southaven, Mississippi and the party's candidate in that special election] and Woody Jenkins are two completely different candidates," Davis manager Ted Prill told Politics Nation.

But Davis is also being touted as a less than perfect candidate, and sources throughout Washington already have the talking point down: Davis is the mayor of a town in the Memphis suburbs, far away from the district's population center, in Tupelo. Childers' home county is just north of Tupelo, and in the South, several top Republicans pointed out, georaphy matters. If the GOP loses again, they will point to the fact that Davis was simply a candidate from the wrong part of the district.

Fair or not, that's how Republican leaders in Washington are casting their losing candidates, instead of taking blame themselves. It's probably a wise solution, given that a devastating loss in November could lead to both Cole and Boehner's ouster from their leadership posts. "The two offices are positioning themselves to avoid blame or to lay blame," one top Republican leadership aide outside of Cole's and Boehner's office told Politics Nation. "The rest of leadership is just trying to avoid a family fight."