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DCCC, NRCC Both Raise $9M In June

The two parties' House campaign arms each raised $9 million in June, impressive sums for both. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee now has nearly $34 million on hand, a two-to-one advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee's $17 million.

The NRCC announced its June haul at a press briefing this afternoon. NRCC Chairman Jeff Sessions said it was the committee's best June total since June 2006, and the party now has $8.5 million more in the bank than at this time in 2008.

Democrats, who released the numbers in a brief e-mail, were expecting to be outraised last month but turned in a good month of their own. The DCCC notes that at this point in 2006, the party had a nearly $5 million cash-on-hand advantage over the NRCC.

Both committee's June fundraising numbers were an improvement from May, when the NRCC raised $5.4 million to the DCCC's $5.1 million. At the end of May, the DCCC had $28 million to the NRCC's $12 million.

On the line is majority in the House, as Democrats try to hold on to a 39-seat lead. With Democrats down in generic ballot polling and President Obama's approval rating below 50 percent, Republicans are moving forward into the last three months of the election cycle with a majority-or-bust attitude.

"Midterms are always a referendum on the party in power," Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), deputy chairman of the NRCC, told reporters today. "And this is the mother of all referendums."

Strong Quarter For Open Seat Republicans, Dem Incumbents

By Kyle Trygstad

Republicans are flying high after what the party is calling a banner fundraising quarter, as financial reports due yesterday showed GOP candidates leading in the most competitive open seat races. The strong second-quarter showing is the latest evidence of what most political observers believe will be a good election year for Republicans.

"With only 110 days until Election Day, Republicans are running strong nationwide," Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote yesterday in a memo to reporters, "and we're confident that our candidates will have the resources that they need in order to communicate their message and wage very competitive races this November."

In the open Democrat-held seats of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, the Republican candidates all outraised their Democratic opponents. In the Keystone State, Pat Toomey took in $3.1 million during the second quarter, which featured a high-profile and expensive Democratic primary between nominee Joe Sestak and Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak, though, pulled in nearly $2 million and still has about that much on hand.

Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, favored to win Vice President Biden's former seat, outraised Democrat Chris Coons and now has more than twice as much money on hand. In the race for President Obama's Illinois seat, Rep. Mark Kirk brought in $2.3 million despite a brutal run in the press, and raised well more than Democrat Alexi Giannoulias' $900,000 take.

In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats ($1.5 million) raised more than twice as much as Rep. Brad Ellsworth ($600,000), though Ellsworth still holds a lead in cash-on-hand. And thanks to another $7.5 million of her own money, Linda McMahon, the leading Republican in Connecticut, begins the third quarter with a $3.2 million to $2.1 million cash advantage over Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who raised $1.6 million.

Republicans also led the fundraising race in most of their own open seat states, including Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. In Kentucky, though, Republican Rand Paul raised just $1.1 million. That was slightly more than Democrat Jack Conway, but Conway loaned his campaign $400,000, giving him an edge in overall receipts.

Marco Rubio had another impressive fundraising quarter, bringing in $4.5 million to set a new state record. However, Gov. Charlie Crist, now running as an independent, had a relatively impressive $1.8 million haul despite leaving the GOP a month into the fundraising quarter, and he now has $8.2 million left in the bank. Rubio has $4.4 million on hand after spending $4 million over the last three months, and Democrat Kendrick Meek has $4 million after raising $1 million in the second quarter.

Democrats, meanwhile, are hanging their hats on the fundraising quarters of their most vulnerable incumbents: Harry Reid (Nev.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Russ Feingold (Wisc.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).

While polling shows all six Democrats in competitive re-election races, they all pulled off healthy fundraising quarters and all but one led their Republican opponent. Reid's challenger, Sharron Angle, topped Reid by a $200,000 margin, though the Senate majority leader still holds a commanding cash-on-hand advantage ($9 million to $1.8 million).

In Arkansas, Rep. John Boozman had a subpar fundraising quarter despite his sizeable lead in the polls and Lincoln's competitive and expensive primary campaign. The embattled Lincoln now has four times as much money as Boozman.

In California, Boxer keeps stockpiling cash while Fiorina continues to recover financially from the GOP primary. After raising $4.6 million, Boxer has more than $11 million in the bank, while Fiorina, who self-funded a large portion of her primary campaign, has less than $1 million.

Republicans will need to overcome these Democratic cash advantages to win back the Senate, as the party must turn several of these seats red to take the majority.

Republicans Outraise Democrats For Governor's Races

By Kyle Trygstad

The Democratic Governors Association announced today raising $9.1 million over the last three months and $17 million from January through June, a new record for the campaign committee. The DGA now has $22 million left to spend through November, which is more than it spent in the entire 2006 election cycle, according to a press release.

The DGA's second-quarter fundraising is $10 million less than the Republican Governors Association raised during that time. The RGA announced yesterday that it pulled in $18.9 million from April through June. Since the beginning of the year the RGA has raised $28 million -- $13 million more than its highest-ever midyear fundraising mark.

"To be honest, given the mass donor exodus from the RNC, we never expected to outraise the RGA. But we have marshaled historic resources to compete aggressively across the map," said DGA executive director Nathan Daschle. "With marquee states like California, Florida and Texas up for grabs, more Americans could have a Democratic governor after November than ever before."

With four months left before the gubernatorial elections that will have a lasting effect on next year's redistricting, the RGA has $40 million on hand -- $18 million more than the DGA.

Gallup: Independents Favor GOP By 12%

By Kyle Trygstad

Independents are sticking with Republicans in the 2010 midterms, Gallup's latest monthly tracking poll shows. In June, 46 percent of unaffiliated registered voters said they preferred the Republican in their congressional district's House race, compared with 34 percent who leaned toward the Democrat.

That's largely how the numbers have broken down every month since March, and it's good news for Republicans who are aiming for the majority in Congress. Since 92 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans favor their own party's candidate, the leaning of independent voters is a "key component in determining overall preferences leading up to Election Day, and the eventual outcome of the election," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes.

President Obama's standing among registered independent voters could be weighing down the numbers at the congressional level. Since March, an average of 42 percent of independents have approved of the job he's doing as president, while 51 percent have disapproved.

"Independents' preference for the Republican congressional candidate in their district has been consistent this year," writes Jones. "Still, one in five independents remain undecided. The preferences of these voters, as well as which independents turn out on Election Day, will have a major impact on the direction and magnitude of seat change in the midterm elections."

The two parties are currently statistically tied in the generic ballot test, as Democrats hold a 0.4 percentage point lead in the RCP Average. However, because Republicans traditionally have stronger turnout and polls have shown the party is more enthusiastic about voting this year, Democrats need to extend their lead in the generic ballot to feel better going into November.

NRCC Has Outraised DCCC By $1M In 2010

By Kyle Trygstad

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised nearly $5.4 million last month, outdoing its Democratic counterpart for the second straight month. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brought in $5.1 million.

The NRCC has now outraised the DCCC in three of the first five months of the year and has cumulatively topped it by $1 million in 2010, raising $30.2 million from January through May to the DCCC's $29.1 million.

However, with more than $28 million, the DCCC still has more than twice as much cash-on-hand. The NRCC has $12 million in the bank.

The two party committees will likely be spending their money differently over the next four-and-a-half months, as Democrats look to hold their large majority and Republicans aim to win back the House after four years in the minority.

Rep. Barton Retracts Apology To BP

By Kyle Trygstad

Facing mounting pressure from his own party, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) retracted his apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward, which he offered to the oil executive this morning in his opening statement as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"I am ashamed of what happened at the White House yesterday," Barton said this morning. "It is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown - in this case a $20 billion shakedown."

Hayward testified today and answered the panel's questions late into the afternoon. As he testified, the White House and Democrats from both chambers of Congress blasted the congressman for apologizing to the oil company.

Republicans joined as well, with Florida Rep. Jeff Miller the first to call on Barton to step down as ranking member of the committee. Miller represents the western-most district in Florida's panhandle. House GOP leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued a joint statement calling Barton's initial comments about a White House shakedown "wrong," adding that BP acknowledged repsonsibility and "offered an initial pledge of $20 billion."

Here is Barton's full statement of regret, apologizing for his earlier statement:

"I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident. BP and the federal government need to stop the leak, clean up the damage, and take whatever steps necessary to prevent a similar accident in the future.

"I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident."

NPR Poll Spells Trouble For Dems In November

By Kyle Trygstad

A new poll of the battleground congressional districts finds reason for deep concern among Democrats. The poll, conducted for NPR by Democratic polling firm GQR and Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, tested the 60 most competitive Democratic districts and shows an increasingly difficult environment for candidates of the majority party.

"The results are a wake-up call for Democrats whose losses in the House could well exceed 30 seats," GQR notes in its findings.

In the Democratic districts, several findings were most disconcerting for the party: just 34% said they would vote to re-elect their representative, whom the questioner named; in a separate question, 56% said they will not vote to re-elect their representative because new people are needed to fix Washington; and when both the Democratic and Republican candidates were named, 47% said they'd vote for the Republican and 42% chose the Democrat.

Also tested were the 10 most competitive Republican districts, where 53% say they'll vote for the GOP candidate and 37% for the Democrat.

Messaging will also be a problem for Democrats. As GQR notes, "We tested Democratic and Republican arguments on the economy, health care, financial reform and the big picture for the 2010 election. The results consistently favored the Republicans and closely resembled the vote breakdown. Democrats are hurt by a combined lack of enthusiasm and an anti-incumbent tone."

Graphs and a full list of the districts included in the survey can be found here. Full results are here. NPR's write-up of the poll is here and quick break-down is here.

Gallup: Dems Increasingly Seen As Too Liberal

By Kyle Trygstad

Nearly half of Americans now believe the Democratic Party is too liberal, while some see the Republican Party as slightly more moderate than it was just two years ago. Gallup's new survey shows that perceptions of Democrats are now approaching what they looked like just after the 1994 midterm cycle.

"Currently, by 49% to 40%, more Americans perceive the Democratic Party as too liberal than say the Republican Party is too conservative, giving the Republicans an advantage in an important election year," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes.

Two years ago, during an election year that Democrats increased their congressional majorities and won the White House, 50% said the views of the Democratic Party were "about right," and 39% said they were too liberal. Now, just 38% say they're about right and 49% say they're too liberal.

That's just 1 point below the party's all-time high of 50% in a survey conducted after the Republicans had retaken control of Congress in 1994. The increase in liberal views of the Democrats has largely come from independents and Republicans, with 12% more independents and 8% more Republicans viewing the party as more liberal.

As for Republicans, just about the same number of people say the party's views are too conservative or about right. In 2008, 43% said GOP views were too conservative and 38% said they were about right. Now, 40% say they're too conservative and 41% say they're about right. Still, the number of people who see the GOP as too conservative remains near its highest point since the early 1990s.

"In their efforts to attract widespread voter support in general elections, parties and their candidates generally want to avoid being perceived as too ideologically extreme," Jones writes. "With Election Day more than four months away, however, the Democratic Party has an opportunity in the 2010 campaign to try to alter voters' perceptions of the party's ideology."

Super Tuesday's Under-the-Radar Races

Today's elections feature top-tier Senate and gubernatorial races in California and Nevada, as well as a Senate runoff in Arkansas and competitive GOP primary in the South Carolina governor's race. Those are just the highlights of a full slate of primaries, but there are a handful of intriguing races that will likely fly under the radar as the results pour in tonight.

Here are five races that may not make major newspaper headlines but are certainly ones to keep an eye on:

Iowa's 3rd District GOP Primary

The Iowa Republican Party is preparing to hold a July 10 convention to decide the nominee in the 3rd district, where no one in Tuesday's crowded primary is expected to meet the 35 percent threshold to win the nomination. The GOP sees the district has a potential pick-up opportunity, as Democrat Leonard Boswell runs for an eighth term in office.

One could also be necessary in the 2nd district, where four Republicans are vying to take on second-term Democrat Dave Loebsack.

Conventions are in many ways much different animals than primaries. As state GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said last week on local TV, "It's not the kind of campaign that's waged on the airwaves, but literally hand to hand and house to house." The winner will be decided by 422 previously elected district delegates.

By most accounts, the three leading candidates in the 3rd district are aviation security consultant Dave Funk, financial adviser and former Iowa State wrestling coach Jim Gibbons and state Sen. Brad Zaun.

Continue reading "Super Tuesday's Under-the-Radar Races" »

Republicans Want Their Jobs Back

Steve Pearce wants his job back. After leaving behind the House two years ago for greener pastures on the north end of the Capitol, Pearce got shellacked in the general election by Tom Udall, then a fellow representative and now the junior senator from New Mexico. Republicans, who in the previous session of Congress had two of the state's three House seats and one of its Senate seats, are now unrepresented in the 111th Congress -- and Pearce aims to change that.

His journey back got a little closer Tuesday night when he handily defeated Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell-area farmer, in the GOP primary. The win sets up what's expected to be a competitive general election fight against freshman Democrat Harry Teague for the 2nd district seat. All three of the state's congressmen are freshman Dems, but Teague looks to have the most difficult race ahead of him in the Republican-leaning district on the Mexican border.

Pearce is not the only former member looking to get back to Capitol Hill. Ousted in 2008, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Tim Walberg of Michigan are hoping a stronger year for Republicans nationwide assists their comeback campaigns; as are a couple of 2006 casualties like Mike Fitzpatrick, knocked out of his Philly-area seat, and Richard Pombo, who's actually running in a neighboring Northern California district.

Also hoping for a second shot at Congress are unsuccessful GOP challengers who lost vacant Republican districts in 2008, like Maryland's Andy Harris, Ohio's Steve Stivers and Virginia's Keith Fimian. Same with Doug Hoffman, who, under odd circumstances, lost New York's 23rd district in a November 2009 special election.

Apparently it's the year of do-overs for Republicans across the country -- only time will tell if voters think so too.

10 Things To Watch On Super Tuesday

By Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

While the May 18 primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania had their fair share of intrigue, the real Super Tuesday of the 2010 midterm cycle's primary season is June 8. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will be making his major league debut for the Nationals just a few blocks down South Capitol Street, but it's a safe bet that many on Capitol Hill will have their eyes glued to the election results in 11 states.

With so many contests to take in, here are 10 highlights and things to watch for as Super Tuesday unfolds:

Harry and the Republicans

While establishment Republicans in Nevada don't agree on Sharron Angle's ability to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, there's little disagreement she's the nominee Reid would prefer to run against. Angle's non-mainstream views on several issues (like shifting Social Security to a free market alternative and calling for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations) worry many of the standard bearers who prefer Sue Lowden, a former state senator and chairwoman of the Nevada GOP.

Angle's endorsement by the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth gave her a boost in the polls, and she took the lead in two separate polls released Thursday. But no matter who wins Tuesday -- Angle, Lowden or Danny Tarkanian, who are the most likely -- that person will enter the general election race with a significant fundraising disadvantage. As of May 19, Reid had more than $9 million, and none of the three Republicans had as much as $300,000.

But the GOP sees a sitting duck in Reid, who continues to straddle 40 percent support in the polls. Anything under 50 percent should be worrisome to an incumbent, but a party leader near 40 percent is far worse.

Continue reading "10 Things To Watch On Super Tuesday" »

Fresh Faces, Same Places

Rightly or not, the inability of Republicans to pick up the 12th district seat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday has jarred loose the 2010 storyline that Republicans are destined to win back the House. This oddly shaped, gerrymandered district tucked into southwestern Pennsylvania quickly put the GOP on the defensive for failing to win a swing district in a year the party should be winning just such a seat.

But Tuesday's results also cemented into place the idea that voters in states around the country are simply ready for somebody new, and both parties are now adjusting their game plans to that end. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said Tuesday night that Republicans "will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November." Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen quickly called for a press briefing with reporters, scheduled for this morning, to discuss the lessons Democrats took from Tuesday.

"Bill Halter's a fresh face, Jack Conway in Kentucky . . . Joe Sestak -- these are the ones that are winning," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday on MSNBC. "I think there is an enormous mood of anti-incumbency, and it extends to the Republicans, not just the Democrats."

Individual campaigns in states across the country are certainly picking up on this, too. Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Jeff Greene, both running for the Senate in Florida, and North Carolina Senate candidate Cal Cunningham -- all newcomers to statewide and national politics -- used the primary results in Pennsylvania to take shots at their more politically experienced opponents.

While Mr. Cunningham is technically the establishment-backed candidate, he served only one term in the state senate and is using his runoff opponent's 14 years of statewide elected office against her.

2010 Continues To Defy Conventional Wisdom

There were no major surprises on what was the busiest voting day to date Tuesday, as voters again signaled that support of the Washington establishment is no virtue this cycle. Nowhere was that more clear than in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, where favored candidates lost their party's nomination.

In the Keystone State, it was 30-year Senate veteran Arlen Specter. The longtime Republican left the GOP last year to avoid losing a primary on Tuesday to conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey. Instead, the 80-year-old Specter lost the Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak.

The convincing margin of defeat came for Specter despite endorsements not just from the White House, but Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Ed Rendell, and the state party. Specter becomes the third incumbent to lose his party's nomination in the past 10 days.

In Kentucky, ophthalmologist Rand Paul made a statement on behalf of the tea party movement he embraced with his 23-point dismissal of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had received both behind-the-scenes and ultimately public support from Senate Minority Leader and Kentucky native Mitch McConnell, as well as other establishment party figures.

In both cases, the parties immediately moved publicly to mend fences, as November results remain the most important goal. "We will wholeheartedly support Congressman Sestak as the Democratic nominee," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated.

Continue reading "2010 Continues To Defy Conventional Wisdom" »

Republicans Heading To Tampa In 2012

The Republican National Committee's Site Selection Committee is recommending the party hold its presidential nominating convention in Tampa-St.Petersburg in 2012, the RNC announced this afternoon.

Tampa beat out Phoenix and Salt Lake City for the event. Minneapolis-St. Paul hosted the 2008 event.

"We are honored and privileged to accept the bid from Tampa, Florida to host the Republican National Convention in 2012. ...The Tampa area boasts state-of-the-art facilities, exciting and vibrant downtowns, and a clear enthusiasm from the community to host our convention. We look forward to joining our compatriots in the Sunshine State for our convention in 2012," RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a released statement.

Mike Allen first reported the news this morning.

Florida is an important swing state in every election, and Republicans hope holding their convention there could provide somewhat of a boost to their nominee. However, Republicans have not carried their convention's host state since 1992, when George H.W. Bush won Texas.

Democrats, who were in Denver in 2008, have won every convention-hosting state since Michael Dukakis lost Georgia in 1988.

Except For N.C., Both Parties Win On Primary Night

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall finished short of winning the 40 percent necessary to take the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr. The result was the one aberration in an otherwise good night for the two national parties, which got their favored candidates in the other two states holding contested Senate primaries on Tuesday.

In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic primary and will face former Rep. Rob Portman in the general election. In Indiana, former Sen. Dan Coats won a competitive Republican primary and will likely take on Rep. Brad Ellsworth, whom Democratic leaders in the state are expected to select as their nominee next month.

The Ohio and Indiana seats are open following the retirements of Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

In North Carolina, Marshall received 36 percent, followed by Cal Cunningham with 27 percent and Ken Lewis with 17 percent. As the top two finishers, Marshall and Cunningham will face each other again in a June 22 runoff, a costly addition for Democrats who would rather turn their attention toward Burr.

The Marshall campaign has already requested that Cunningham drop out of the race in deference to Marshall winning a plurality of the votes.

Continue reading "Except For N.C., Both Parties Win On Primary Night" »

Cornyn: NRSC Backing "Not Necessarily Helpful" In Primaries

Hours before one of the National Republican Senatorial Committee's prized recruits is set to announce his decision to bolt from the GOP, Sen. John Cornyn (R) conceded that the national party may have been better off with a hands-off approach to primary battles.

"I think more than any time I've seen in the recent past, instead of a Contract for America, voters want a Contract from America. In other words, they want to be listened to, not lectured to, and not to have their choices made for them," he told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor today. "In this political environment, it's not necessarily helpful for candidates running in the states to have the national party chairman endorse them."

Cornyn was asked repeatedly about Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) looming decision on his Senate candidacy in Florida and the implications of his anticipated independent run. He defended his decision as NRSC chairman to back Crist despite the fact that Marco Rubio was already in the race.

"When Jeb Bush told me he wasn't going to run I looked around to the most popular Republican in the state, and it was pretty clear who that was," he said. "At the time we made the endorsement Governor Crist was one of the most popular governors in America, and I would say it's been a breathtaking change of circumstance to see him now contemplating this course after seeing his numbers plummet so dramatically."

Continue reading "Cornyn: NRSC Backing "Not Necessarily Helpful" In Primaries" »

War Chests Bulging For Vulnerable Southern Dems

Chairman Pete Sessions recently referred to the National Republican Congressional Committee's slew of candidates across the country as a "geographically balanced machine." It will need to be just that for the party to win back House control in the November midterm elections.

While the South has been a natural base for the party and a place many assume the GOP can pick up seats in a favorable year, several Southern Democratic incumbents in competitive districts currently boast overwhelming fundraising advantages over their GOP challengers. After the first fundraising quarter of 2010, at least eight Southern Democrats have more than 10 times as much cash on hand as their closest GOP challengers, and for some of them the margin is far greater.

This includes Reps. Mike Ross (AR-4), Jim Marshall (GA-8), Mike McIntyre (NC-7), Heath Shuler (NC-11), Rick Boucher (VA-9) and Nick Rahall (WV-3) -- whose districts were all won by John McCain in 2008. Others in districts Barack Obama carried with 55 percent or less are John Barrow (GA-12) and Bob Etheridge (NC-2).

They all have more than $800,000 in the bank, while none of their Republican opponents have as much as $100,000. McIntyre was actually outraised by $20,000 in the first quarter but still has an $800,000 cash-on-hand advantage.

Money isn't everything, and the enthusiasm gap is currently a detriment to Democrats nationwide. But even in the most favorable political environments challengers need cash to knock out incumbents. The financial disadvantage disclosed in the latest fundraising reports perhaps takes a few of these districts off the board of competitive races.

Of course, not all Democratic incumbents in the South enjoy such large leads in the money race, and Republicans have solid challengers in other potentially vulnerable districts. Some of the most vulnerable Democratic districts nationwide are open seat races in the South, where Democrats retired for various reasons -- some to run for higher office, some to avoid a difficult re-election bid.

But winning back the majority will require the GOP gaining many of its seats in states like Arizona, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- places Democrats were successful the last two election cycles.

The NRCC is confident it can do that and argues that the environment will overcome some of the fundraising disadvantages it will likely face in races across the country.

"Most Republican challengers are unlikely to outraise incumbent Democrats, but that doesn't mean they won't be in a strong position to compete in this political environment," said NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay. "For every dollar that Democrats raise, they will be forced to spend hundreds more defending their job-killing agenda that has led voters to abandon their party in droves."

Sessions: 40 Or Bust

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions told reporters this afternoon his goal is to win 40 seats this November and take back the majority in Congress.

"Anything less, I did not fulfill my mission statement," he said.

It's a big hill to climb, and it begins next month with special elections in Hawaii and southwestern Pennsylvania -- two vacant Democratic seats where Sessions likes the GOP's chances.

"Both of these are drawn for and are Democratic districts," Sessions said, lowering the expectation bar in case of a GOP loss. But, he said, "We've fielded a great candidate in both races."

Sessions stressed that the NRCC was challenging Dems in the four quadrants of the country -- Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West -- saying, "We are a geographically balanced machine." But PA-12 also fits right into the area where a large number of Democratic districts are being targeted.

Sessions calls them the Ohio River Valley districts, which lie in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even down to Mississippi. This is where Democrats picked up a large number of seats in the last two elections, and Republicans now feel that the environment is right for the party to win them back.

While he believes the poor political environment for Democrats will ultimately be the deciding factor in November, Sessions and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the vice chairman in charge of finance, noted that GOP candidate fundraising is in great shape -- 121 challengers and open seat candidates have more than $200,000 cash on hand, and 16 challengers outraised a Democratic incumbent in the first quarter.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee notes that its most challenged incumbents -- mostly new members in what they call the Frontline program -- have an average of more than $1 million cash on hand.

Hensarling also announced that the NRCC itself raised $8 million in March, its highest grossing month since becoming the minority party. The committee now has $10 million on hand, $4 million more than a month ago. That still leaves it well behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raised $9.77 million last month and has $26 million on hand.

GOP Loaded With Self-Funding Candidates

Some of the top Republican House candidates in the country have self-funded large portions of their campaign coffers, a plus for a party aiming to win back Congress this year.

One-third of the 39 candidates that have reached the second tier of the National Republican Congressional Committee's three-step campaign organization program have given or loaned their campaigns significant amounts of money, recent Federal Election Commission filings show.

If Democrats hold on to their three remaining vacant seats in special elections this year, the GOP will need to pick up 40 seats to win back the House. Even with the national political landscape favoring them, GOP challengers need cash to keep up with incumbents that have been raising money for more than a year.

The NRCC had just $6 million in the bank at the end of February, so candidates able to raise vast amounts of money -- including from their own personal bank accounts -- are attractive. The committee's Democratic counterpart has more than three times as much on hand.

The candidate who's loaned his campaign the most so far is Tom Ganley, who's challenging second-term Rep. Betty Sutton in Ohio's 13th District. Despite raising just $16,000, Ganley has shelled out $2 million of his own money and has nearly 10 times as much cash on hand as the incumbent.

Another top self-funder is Randy Altschuler, who's loaned his campaign more than half of the $2 million he's brought in. He's running against fourth-term Rep. Tim Bishop in New York's 1st District on Long Island.

The other 11 Republicans who've reached the NRCC's "Contender" status and are partially self-funding their campaigns include (candidate, district, amount loaned and/or contributed to campaign):

Continue reading "GOP Loaded With Self-Funding Candidates" »

SRLC: Romney Wins Straw Poll

NEW ORLEANS -- Mitt Romney won the Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll today with 24% of the vote -- garnering 1 more vote than Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich tied for third with 18%.

There were a total of 1,806 votes cast. Romney received 439 votes, Paul 438.

The poll, meant to take the pulse of Southern GOP activists, has little meaning, but Romney -- who did not even attend the event -- will surely use it to tout his credentials. He was even able to defeat Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February and pushed his supporters to attend this event.

Romney, as David Weigel reported, received some help from Nancy French's Evangelicals for Mitt, who offered "around 200 tickets for free, for anyone who wants to come and support Mitt Romney."

Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist won the straw poll at the 2006 SRLC in Memphis, where he bused supporters in to boost his vote total. However, Frist did not end up running for president. John McCain, the frontrunner at the time, threw off the credibility of the results that year by encouraging his supporters to vote for George W. Bush.

This year's straw poll ballot did not offer a line to write-in a candidate not listed. The candidates on the ballot included: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Gary Johnson, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Mike Pence, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Not on the ballot were Haley Barbour, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and John Thune.

Continue reading "SRLC: Romney Wins Straw Poll" »

SRLC: Republicans Seek Unity For 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- One of the biggest threads of the 2010 midterm elections has been whether Republicans will stay unified enough to win back one or both chambers of Congress. That storyline reared its head today on Day Three of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

The split between the national party and conservatives around the country blew up a year ago when Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was endorsed minutes after announcing his Senate candidacy, despite the presence of a conservative primary opponent named Marco Rubio.

The recent flurry of criticism for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and his handling of the committee's spending has not helped matters either. Steele will speak later today, and -- if the questions former Sen. Rick Santorum got during the Q-and-A session he held following his speech are any indication -- Steele is going to have a mixed reception.

Despite the name, some conference-goers said they don't consider themselves Republicans and would be happy to support a candidate of any party -- as long as they have similar principles and beliefs.

A couple of these people spoke up during the Q-and-A session with Santorum. The first audience member to speak asked Santorum why he and former President George W. Bush endorsed Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, over conservative Rep. Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary.

"So many of us want to give money to the RNC but we won't anymore because we want to pick and choose our candidates -- because the RNC would choose Specter over Toomey," she said.

Well, Toomey's running again, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Specter a year ago before he switched parties. It also withheld an endorsement of Toomey until former Gov. Tom Ridge decided not to run.

Santorum defended the decision, saying he based it on the fact that two Supreme Court seats were about to open up and -- with a small majority in the Senate -- he wanted to ensure Bush's nominees were approved. What he didn't say was that as the NRSC decided in 2009, in 2004 Specter's politics appeared to be a better fit for the state.

In the wake of the 2008 elections, that's why the NRSC backed Crist over the more conservative Rubio. It's a decision NRSC Chairman John Cornyn regrets, but the principle is one both parties will continue to follow. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour even emphasized it in his speech today and said the party needs to be open to candidates all along the Republican end of the political spectrum.

Barbour, who now chairs the Republican Governors Association and led the RNC in 1994, also stressed that unity is critical to the party's chances in November.

"This message of unity is so important and we cannot let ourselves be torn apart of the idea of purity," said Barbour. "In a two-party system, both parties are necessary coalitions, and we want our coalition to drive our policies."

"How do we in in 2010?" Barbour added. "We stick together."

Santorum urged Tea Party members to run against Republicans in primaries, and Barbour maintained that whoever wins the primaries "will be our candidate." That's part of the outreach to the Tea Party that has laced most of the major speeches over the last three days.

"The Democrats' fondest hope is to see the Tea Party or other conservatives split off and start a third party," said Barbour. "Barack Obama is...praying for the conservative vote to be split in 2010. We can't let that happen. We've got to stay unified."

Three Republicans To Watch In 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty all skipped this year's Southern Republican Leadership Conference. They once stood alone as the three frontrunners for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, but two others stepped up this week and solidified their spots at least alongside them at the top of the ladder.

Rick Perry, still relatively unknown nationally for someone who governed Texas for the last 10 years, and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, delivered presidential candidate-esque speeches on the first two days of the conference. With delegates from 14 southern states on hand, their appearances could help lay a foundation for a national bid -- if they do indeed decide to run.

Before either spoke, one high ranking Republican official brought up both names to RealClearPolitics as two of the three Republicans, along with Mitt Romney, with the best chance of defeating President Obama.

Gingrich, known around the country for nearly two decades, openly addressed the subject, saying he would decide whether to run for president by next February. He offered his usual command of the issues and history, and displayed his ability to be both wonky and energetic.

Words don't do justice for Perry, whose arm movements and speaking style make lines from his speeches far more dramatic than they seem on paper. He's currently running for re-election, but is clearly attempting to build a national following.

Perry interrupted his speech to direct the audience to text "FIRED UP" to his text messaging service, a tactic the Obama campaign successfully utilized in 2008.

He also offered a campaign slogan for those running for Congress this year, but sounds like something he could say in two years as well: "I'm going to go to Washington D.C. and make it as inconsequential in your life as I can."

The third Republican to watch isn't someone likely to run for president in 2012, but she could become a fast-rising player in Congress. With a calm speaking style, Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, delivered a biting, even-tempered speech that received perhaps the biggest ovation of the conference so far.

Cheney said last June that she wouldn't run this year but left the door open to a future bid. As a Northern Virginia resident, Cheney could have a couple options: Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) is up for re-election in 2012, and if 10th District Rep. Frank Wolf (R) wins re-election this year, he will be on retirement watch after serving 30 years in Congress.

"2010 and 2012 are going to be critical years in the long history of this great republic," Cheney said Thursday night. "We have to stand up and fight."

Republicans will be pushing her to do just that.

SRLC: Health Care The Top Rallying Cry

NEW ORLEANS -- Health care reform is giving GOP leaders a shiny trophy of evidence to prove to its base that party control of Congress must change this year. Speakers here at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference have all criticized the legislation, and if the activist audience's reception is any indication, this will be the No. 1 rallying point in the fall elections.

While the state of the economy could decide many of the congressional elections this year, no issue excites the GOP base like health care.

"One of the most arrogant power plays in American history," Liz Cheney called it.

"The most radical president in American history has now thrown down the gauntlet on the American people," said Newt Gingrich.

"The mother of all unfunded mandates," said Sarah Palin.

"This is no time to be timid," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "We must repeal this bill."

"We need to stay focused on what really matters," like national security, said Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Recent polls on the subject are wide-ranging, with more people opposing health care reform by between 3 and 21 points. However, none show a plurality supporting it. The RCP Average now shows 40 percent favor it and 52 percent oppose.

Whether it is good policy or not, Republican candidates will run on it and Republican voters will rally around it.

By winning back Congress in November, Jindal said, "we put our country back on the right track so we make sure that we continue to be the greatest country on Earth."

SRLC: Palin Mocks Obama, Environmentalists

NEW ORLEANS -- Sarah Palin is the rock star of the Republican Party, drawing the biggest crowd yet in the three-day conference and signing autographs for adoring fans who rushed the stage.

Palin delivered the first major speech of the day, and her mere presence excited the crowd. Her loudest ovation came before she uttered a word of her speech, which focused on domestic energy production. It wasn't Palin's most rousing speech, but it centered on the issue many Republicans believe is her strength.

"Let's drill baby drill, not stall baby stall," Palin said of President Obama's recent offshore drilling announcement.

She mocked Democrats' concern for the environmental impacts of drilling in Alaska -- where she said the majority of people want it expanded -- as well as the reluctance to put wind farms off the coast of New England. Palin also criticized Democrats' "snake oil science" and "this global warming, Gore-gate stuff."

"We have the resources, we have the ingenuity," she said. "Now all we need is the political will."

That's nothing a "good ol' fashioned election can't fix," she added.

Like the other speakers and the general feeling among conference-goers, Palin intimated that the midterm elections this November are a chance to put the country on a different path: "We're writing the new chapter in this proud history. I say we just stand together and take our country back."

Palin also touched on Obama's foreign policy and "Obamacare," which she called "The mother of all unfunded mandates."

Newt Gingrich stressed last night that he'd like to see the party move away from the tagline super-glued to it by Democrats. Palin, however, has no problem with it as long as Democrats are in power.

"There is no shame in being the Party of No," she said. "What's wrong with being the Party of No?"

SRLC: Gingrich Rips Obama's 'Secular, Socialist Machine'

NEW ORLEANS -- Few politicians not in the middle of a campaign enter a room quite like Newt Gingrich. While every other speaker at the SRLC entered from backstage, Gingrich walked in from the back of the ballroom with "Eye of the Tiger" blaring through the speakers.

Gingrich isn't running for office now, but he's leaving the door wide open for a bid. Asked by an audience member after his speech whether he would run for president in 2012, Gingrich said: "In February 2011, Calista and I will probably have to make a decision about whether or not to run."

But, he cautioned the audience to keep their sights on 2010. "If we will work as hard as we can from now until Election Day...when we win control of the House and Senate this year, Stage One of the end of Obamaism will be a new Republican Congress in January that simply refuses to fund any of" Obama's agenda.

Stage Two, Gingrich said, is to be prepared to offer positive alternatives "to ensure that Obama joins Jimmy Carter as a one-term president." That's part of Gingrich's push for the GOP to shed its "Party of No" tag that Democrats have successfully attached to it.

Gingrich warned the 2,500-large audience that "this is the most radical administration in American history." He said Obama has a "fantasy foreign policy" and heads "the worst administration since Herbert Hoover." He even attacked the president's jump shot, saying, "We need a president, not an athlete."

"You watch, this economy is not going to recover," Gingrich predicted.

The former speaker of the House is on a mission "To Save America," which happens to be the title of his book that is being released next month. "And the subtitle of it is Stopping Obama's Secular, Socialist Machine," he said.

That machine, Gingrich said, is made up of labor unions and "liberal tenured faculty," among many other groups he said enabled Obama to become president.

"My prediction is: We will win in '10 and in '12, decisive elections," he said.

SRLC: Liz Cheney Lays Into Obama Agenda

NEW ORLEANS -- Any Republican in the hotel ballroom who hadn't heard Liz Cheney speak before likely walked away impressed. In a nearly 30-minute speech, the former vice president's daughter laid into the Obama administration over health care, foreign policy and national security, concluding that the country simply deserves better.

"2010 and 2012 are going to be critical years in the long history of this great republic, and we have to make our voices heard," said Cheney. "We have to stand up and fight."

Cheney called the health care reform bill "one of the most arrogant power plays in American history." On national security, she said "someone needs to keep reminding this president that foreign terrorists do not have constitutional rights."

She called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reception in Washington two weeks ago "disgraceful," and said President Obama doesn't understand that "the world is safer when there is no daylight between the United States and the state of Israel."

The speech received rousing ovations during and after, and opened the three-day Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Next on the docket tonight is Newt Gingrich, whom many Republicans here hope will run for president in 2012.

SRLC Kicks Off In New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- The Southern Republican Leadership Conference kicks off here tonight and serves as the unofficial launch of the 2012 presidential election season. Republican activists from around the country are descending on the Hilton New Orleans Riverside with newfound energy the party's lacked in the last two election cycles.

One of tonight's featured speakers is Newt Gingrich, who helped usher in the Republican Revolution in 1994. His speech tonight will focus on how Republicans get back to power in 2010.

"To win in 2010 and 2012, it's not enough to say no to the radical agenda of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid," Gingrich said in a released statement. "Tonight's speech will explain why real leadership requires Republicans to offer a compelling vision of safety, prosperity, and freedom that stands in vivid contrast to Obama's secular, socialist, machine now running Washington."

Gingrich is rumored to be considering a run for president. Other featured speakers over the next few days who are considering bids include Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Haley Barbour. However, Tim Pawlenty,Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee will not attend.

Liz Cheney and Mary Matalin are scheduled to speak tonight. Palin, Perry, Bobby Jindal and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, are speaking Friday. And Saturday features speeches from Barbour, Paul, Santorum, RNC Chair Michael Steele and House GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence.

Steele, RNC Face Toughest Criticism Yet

Staring down the most inviting election cycle the party has seen in six years, the Republican National Committee could be tempting fate as its already controversial leader comes under the hottest criticism he's seen in his 15 months as chairman.

With the party's spending outpacing its relatively good fundraising, Michael Steele critics are on the rise -- and they're going public. A $2,000 expenditure at a West Hollywood, California strip club may have been the breaking point, but issues have been bubbling beneath the surface for months.

Sean Mahoney, one of 168 RNC committeemen, announced his resignation yesterday in a letter to Steele, which was provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader. "The scandal represents a pattern of unaccountable and irresponsible mishaps that ought to unnerve every fiscal conservative," he wrote.

Speaking last night with RealClearPolitics, Mahoney said "the issue at hand is bigger than Chairman Steele," and that he deserves credit for his work last year in helping elect Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia -- but something needs to change.

"He was all hands on deck for both elections and that's what the RNC is supposed to be all about," Mahoney told RCP. "But there's been a disappointing drumbeat of stories about irresponsible spending at the RNC. A lot of folks are deeply concerned about spending habits at the RNC and are frustrated that a lot of those funds they're sending to Washington are being spent inefficiently."

Mahoney, a party activist who says he'll continue to work to get conservatives elected this year, is reportedly considering a bid for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, and his publicized resignation will certainly help him receive some attention from the local and national press. But he's far from the only Republican to express concern for what's going on at national party headquarters on First Street Southeast.

Continue reading "Steele, RNC Face Toughest Criticism Yet" »

RNC Member Resigns In Protest

The echoes of the Republican National Committee's unchecked spending habits uncovered in recent weeks reverberates again today as a New Hampshire committeeman resigned his seat in protest. In a letter sent to Chairman Michael Steele today, and reported by the Union Leader, RNC Committeeman Sean Mahoney criticized the party's inability to control spending in government and in its own national headquarters.

"The recent scandal involving RNC funds being used to entertain a small crowd at a Los Angeles strip club is the straw that broke the camel's back," Mahoney wrote. "The scandal represents a pattern of unaccountable and irresponsible mishaps that ought to unnerve every fiscal conservative."

While Steele may not have been directly responsible for the $2,000 strip club expenditure, as chairman he's ultimately held responsible for the actions of the committee -- good and bad -- and has also been criticized for his own lavish spending habits. In a letter sent last night to national committeemen and donors, as reported by Politico, Steele attempted to assure them that money would be spent only toward the committee's goal of electing Republicans to office.

The letter sought to explain the departure of RNC chief of staff Ken McKay, who officially resigned yesterday. In turn, Curt Anderson, a party strategist and Steele adviser, announced he would no longer work with the committee, explaining that "McKay's departure is a huge loss for the Republican Party."

Mahoney's resignation today is somewhat of a culmination of events and the clearest sign yet of the mistrust many Republicans have toward the national party.

"I would prefer to stand with the hundreds of concerned taxpayers in Manchester, New Hampshire who have courageously cut back their family budgets to make ends meet rather than with a crowd of self-important politicians who spend other people's money with reckless disregard," Mahoney wrote. "The Committee has clearly lost its way."

Man Arrested For Threatening Cantor's Life

A man has been arrested for threatening the life of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a Richmond, Va., area representative and the second ranking Republican in the House.

"Over the weekend, Congressman Cantor was notified by law enforcement that a threat was made against his life," Cantor press seceretary Brad Dayspring said in a released statement. "Law enforcement officials informed Congressman Cantor that the threat was determined as credible and they were responding accordingly. The Congressman was later notified that an arrest was made and a suspect was in custody."

Several media outlets have reported that the man is Norman Leboon, 33, of Philadelphia. Leboon is accused "of threatening to kill Cantor and his family in a YouTube video posted online this month, according to U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy and FBI Special Agent in Charge Jan Fedarcyk," the Washington Post reports.

The arrest follows a tense week on Capitol Hill that included health care reform protesters hurling insults and slurs at Democratic members of Congress; pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak announcing he and his wife had received several threatening phone calls at their home; and several more Democrats and Republicans announcing they had received threats in some form.

Cantor, himself, reported that a bullet had been shot through a window of his downtown Richmond campaign office, though police later stated they believed it was a stray bullet.

Obama and the Politics of Health Care Reform

President Obama mocked the press and others today for their focus on the politics of health care reform -- how individual votes will impact members and how the passing of the legislation will affect Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole.

"A lot of reporting in Washington, it's just like SportsCenter," Obama said during a rally at George Mason University in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. "It's considered a sport, and who's up and who's down, and everybody's keeping score. And you got the teams going at it. It's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."

But the politics do play an integral role in how some members vote, especially those sitting in Republican leaning districts and serving just their first term in Congress. Politico looked at individual members in an article just this morning. And Republicans themselves continue to argue this could mean the end to the Democratic majority in Congress.

"I don't know how this plays politically. Nobody really does," said Obama. "I don't know what's going to happen with the politics on this thing. I don't know whether my poll numbers go down, they go up. I don't know what happens in terms of Democrats versus Republicans."

Trying to boost spirits before the House votes on Sunday, Obama focused instead on the bill's impact. "I do know that this bill, this legislation, is going to be enormously important for America's future," he said.

Over the river and up Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader John Boehner railed against the bill in his weekly press briefing, leaving no question how he thinks the 2010 midterm elections will turn out as a result of the bill's passage.

"The American people do not want any part of this," he said. "If anyone thinks the American people are going to forget about this vote -- just watch."

Dreier Slams Dems' Health Care 'Gymnastics'

As House Democrats consider a new legislative option for moving health care reform to President Obama's desk, Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) said only an up or down vote in the House on both the Senate bill and its reconciliation accompaniment would be appropriate for such a large piece of legislation.

"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics by which they're going to avoid accountability," Dreier told reporters today during an off-camera briefing.

Under the proposed solution by Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the committee could "deem" the Senate bill passed upon passage of the accompanying reconciliation bill, which would fix some of the issues that House Democrats had with the Senate's bill. The move would theoretically save Democrats in vulnerable districts from technically voting for the Senate bill; they would only be voting to fix it and remove certain undesirable aspects from it, such as the now infamous "Cornhusker kickback."

But their vote, which Dreier said could take place Sunday, would still directly result in the passage of the Senate bill. Because there would be no vote on the Senate bill itself, "There is absolutely no accountability," Dreier said. "To resort to these kinds of tactics to deal with this is just plain wrong."

"While the process of lawmaking should be ugly, I have never seen it as ugly as it seems to be coming before us this week," he said. "The fact is every amount of energy that is being applied today is trying to avoid the accountability of an up or down vote on this process."

Reporters noted to Dreier that Republicans used similar tactics for large pieces of legislation when they were in power from 1995-2006. Dreier and one of his advisers said there was no comparison and that instances of deeming a bill passed without a vote were "pretty rare."

However, Dreier did admit that what the Democrats are doing is well within the rules. "It's something they can clearly do if they have the votes."

"There was nothing of this magnitude that was done" under GOP control, Dreier said. "The notion of having the federal government move to take control of what is one-sixth of the economy is something that deserves a much more open process than we are getting here."

In recent weeks and over the weekend, Democrats have sought to put the focus on what health care reform would mean for Americans and take the spotlight off the process of passing it.

"The one thing I'm sure of is that the American people don't know or care much about the sequencing of parliamentary procedures," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's "not about procedure. It's about what are we going to do to protect the American people and give them the security they deserve?"

Noting Axelrod's statement, Dreier flatly disagreed, saying: "Process is substance."

DCCC's Red-to-Blue List Highlights GOP Survivors

House Democrats this week issued their Red-to-Blue list -- 13 seats they hope to pick up or save in the fall. They might have called it the "Two-Time Republican Survivors" list.

In a year when the tide has turned against Democrats, the list is heavy with GOPers who managed to hold on by their fingernails through two of the toughest cycles for Republican incumbents in memory. On the target list are people like Reps. Dan Lungren and Mary Bono Mack of California, Ohio's Pat Tiberi and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Also on the list is Joe "You Lie" Wilson of South Carolina -- whose shouted objection during an Obama speech to Congress has stirred national interest in his race. He and two-time challenger Rob Miller have already raised more than $6 million, making theirs the most expensive House race in South Carolina history.

In total, President Obama won nine of the 13 districts on the Red-to-Blue list. Two of 13 are open Democratic districts -- John Tanner in Tennessee and the district of Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, who is vacating against party wishes in order to challenge newly converted Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary.

Two of the open Republican seats have also been vacated by strong GOPers pursuing Senate bids -- Mike Castle in Delaware and Mark Kirk in Illinois. Even if Democrats pick up the House seats, it could be a poor trade if they lose Senate seats previously held by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee promises money and manpower support for challengers to the targeted 13 -- brave talk considering Democrats will have to devote resources to defending plenty of their own vulnerable seats.

Is GOP Better Served If Health Care Passes Or Fails?

The two committees responsible for electing Republicans to the House and Senate indicated yesterday that GOP candidates will be well served by running on health care reform, which Democrats are still attempting to get to President Obama's desk. Yet an interesting question has arisen -- would Republicans be better off if the legislation passes or fails?

Publicly, the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee say passing the plan would be disastrous for Democrats. However, both are also making efforts to stop it.

In a memo to House candidates, NRCC Executive Director Johnny DeStefano wrote that challengers can affect the outcome of health care in Congress right now by warning their Democratic opponent that their vote will not be forgotten.

"Regardless of how your opponent voted in the past, you can make a major impact on his or her political calculations by reminding these Democrats that a 'YES' vote on the Senate-passed bill will guarantee them an all-out, full-throated blitz from your campaign and national Republicans throughout the spring, summer, and fall," wrote DeStefano.

Likewise, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn told reporters yesterday that Democrats would be wise to give up on the party's current reform plan, if they know what's good for them in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "are being told that it's better to pass something" than nothing, said Cornyn. "But if they pass this bill, this is going to be the issue in November 2010. If they don't pass it and move on to something else, they at least have a fighting chance."

Pelosi and Reid "seem to have no regard for their members' electoral prospects," Cornyn added.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said today on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" that the Democrats' best move would be to pass the bill, and explain to Americans exactly what's in it and why they should like it. Republicans won back Congress in 1994 shortly after Democrats ended their health care reform efforts.

"In 1994, it was the end of September -- six weeks before the election -- that they gave up on health care," he said. "So it was late in the process, they failed on it, they didn't explain it, the president did not give a major speech saying what it is."

Asked why Republicans wouldn't just let the Democrats vote on the bill if they're certain it will hurt the party in November, Cornyn dismissed it, saying: "There's politics and then there's policy."

The same dynamic is true in the NRCC memo, which calls for Republican challengers to help defeat health care reform while simultaneously noting that any Democrat who votes for it will pay for that vote in the election.

"We are on the road to victory," DeStefano concludes. "Now we must work together to capitalize on the monumental opportunity to stand with the American people and prevent an historic disaster."

Cornyn: 'Evolving' 2010 Landscape Lets NRSC Expand Field

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's cash advantage in his bid for re-election in Nevada is not enough to improve his standing among voters in November.

"I doubt, even spending $10- or $20-million, people are going to change their minds about Harry Reid," Cornyn said at a press briefing on the 2010 midterm elections.

Down 18 seats and looking at a favorable political landscape this year, Cornyn's NRSC faces the fiscal reality of competing in the large number of states it will take to win back the Senate. Yet he dismisses the notion that the party won't have enough cash to do it.

While noting that he'd "always like to have more money than the other guy," GOP challengers in several states will be going up against deep-pocketed Democratic incumbents like Reid.

Despite a strong fundraising month in January, which brought the committee's cash-on-hand total to $10.65 million -- more than $2 million less than its Democratic counterpart -- Cornyn has admitted the NRSC will need financial assistance from the Republican National Committee in order to help under-funded candidates.

Still, Cornyn called the party's financial situation "evolving," as the dynamics of races around the country continue to change. One example is North Dakota, where Gov. John Hoeven now appears to have an open road to victory in November -- a crucial pick-up in the GOP's quest for control of the upper chamber.

When the NRSC was recruiting Hoeven last year -- before Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) announced his retirement in early January -- the committee had to assure him it would spend significant money on the race. With Dorgan gone, Cornyn said, "it looks like we may not have to spend anything."

Continue reading "Cornyn: 'Evolving' 2010 Landscape Lets NRSC Expand Field" »

GOP Sending Message With Weekly Address

The Republican Party's Weekly Address will be delivered tomorrow morning by Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, who surprised the political world in December by switching to the GOP after being elected to Congress in 2008 as a Democrat. Griffith practiced medicine for 17 years before starting his own business and later entering politics.

So as Democrats push a health care reform package through Congress, Republicans are putting out front a doctor who switched parties partially because of the issue.

"The fact that a doctor who left the Democratic caucus is delivering the address this week is no coincidence," said a senior GOP aide. "This is a shot across the bow of any 'moderate' Democrat in the House who is considering voting for a health care bill loaded with tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and notorious backroom deals."

Griffith's district also happens to be heavily Republican. John McCain won 61 percent of the vote in 2008. Despite switching parties, Griffith will still have a tough time being re-elected this year, as he faces a competitive GOP primary.

UPDATE: CNN reports that a House Minority Leader John Boehner-headlined fundraiser for Griffith in Huntsville on Monday will be protested by both Tea Party groups as well as Democrats -- what some might say is an unusual and rare pairing.

Also, a Democratic source passes along this attack ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which aired during the 2008 campaign. The ad accuses Griffith of "shameful conduct" as a doctor, as well as "warehousing cancer patients, underdosing them so he could make more profits through protracted treatments."

McDonnell Makes Surprise Appearance At CPAC

With the ballroom packed with Ron Paul supporters, who are awaiting the libertarian congressman to speak, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell made a surprise appearance on stage -- entering to a roaring, standing ovation. Virginia Attorney Generla Ken Cuccinelli spoke here earlier in the day.

"Thank you for what you did for me. Thank you for what you're going to do for conservative candidates all across the United States of America," said McDonnell, who boasted his big win in a state President Obama won in 2008.

CPAC: GOP's Relationship With Conservatives

CPAC's Friday session has been highlighted so far with speeches by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. There was even a taped video message from Rush Limbaugh, who received a roaring ovation as he introduced the "Blogger of the Year" -- Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com.

The most lively part of the day so far, though, was an intriguing panel discussion on the struggle between security and freedom. Those involved included former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, libertarian Bob Barr, California Rep. Dan Lungren and Viet Dinh, an assistant attorney general in the previous administration. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared briefly and was promptly heckled by a few for his support for the Patriot Act.

While Bachmann called Republicans the "majority-in-waiting," Chocola -- who's group takes aim at Republicans in primaries, as well as Democrats -- said he hasn't yet seen evidence the party is ready to lead again.

"Can Republicans be trusted with a renewed majority?" asked Chocola, a former Indiana congressman. "I have to admit standing here today, I simply don't know. ... I'm not convinced that they have learned the lessons of the 2006 and 2008 elections."

Chocola noted the national party's backing of Dede Scozzafava in New York's 23rd District, Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and now-Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter -- all instead of more conservative candidates.

Chocola's speech put a spotlight on the delicate relationship between conservatives and the Republican Party -- a common thread throughout the three-day conference and the 2010 midterm elections, where contentious GOP primaries have popped up around the country.

Pawlenty took the opportunity to introduce himself to conservatives, as he starts down what will be a long road toward November 2012. His likely opponent, Mitt Romney, spoke yesterday, and offered a defense of George W. Bush and scathing criticism of President Obama. Pawlenty didn't mention Bush, but outlined his record as governor and the conservative principles he'll follow. As The Hotline's Reid Wilson notes, the crowd's ovations for Pawlenty were noticeably more subdued than those given Thursday for Romney and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio.

Pence, who's spoken at the conference nearly every year since coming to Congress in 2001, defended his party against the attack line levied for the past year by Democrats, who call Republicans the "Party of No." Although the GOP usually combats that offensive with evidence of the ideas it has brought to the table since Obama took office, Pence embraced the label.

"I say 'no' is way underrated in Washington, D.C.," he said. "Sometimes 'no' is just what this town needs to hear. When it comes to more borrowing, the answer is no. When it comes to more spending, the answer is no. When it comes to more bailouts, the answer is no. And when it comes to a government takeover of health care, the answer is no."

Spring Training For 2012 Presidential Candidates

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training this week, and Republicans considering running for president are warming up to the political season right now at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Appearing at the three day event are Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty -- who are all but certain to run -- as well as Mike Pence, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

This week's conference is just the start. Speaking in less than two months at the Southern
Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans are Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal, along with Gingrich, Pawlenty, Pence and Santorum.

The SRLC is billed as "the most prominent GOP gathering prior to the next national convention," and features a presidential straw poll -- Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist won the Hotline-run poll in 2006, with Romney finishing a surprise second.

CPAC witnessed several interesting moments during the 2008 presidential race. Allen won the annual CPAC straw poll in 2006, edging out John McCain. At the time, Allen appeared well on his way to being the frontrunner for the nomination, but he committed a politically fatal mistake several months later while stumping for his re-election.

In February 2008, Romney announced at CPAC that he was dropping out of the presidential race -- a deflating speech for conservatives.

"I entered this race because I love America," said Romney. "And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside, for our party and for our country."

Following Romney's speech, McCain made a plea for conservative support, which he would need heading into a competitive race against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

"I am acutely aware that I cannot succeed in that endeavor, nor can our party prevail over the challenge we will face from either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, without the support of dedicated conservatives," McCain said.

Potential candidates are making similar pleas this week.

CPAC Opens With Renewed Confidence

A year ago, in the wake of humbling losses in the presidential and congressional races, leaders of the conservative movement were debating its strategy and even its viability at the ballot box. Still, the feeling among many was that Republicans in Congress had simply ignored their conservative values and were now being punished by voters -- and that patience would be required as voters eventually found their way back.

As the annual Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off today, however, what was just a sense of optimism last year has already amplified into renewed confidence. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said in an interview with RealClearPolitics that the party is back on track and expects there not only to be a Republican majority in Congress next year, but a conservative majority.

Pence has been a harsh critic of his GOP colleagues -- as well as Democrats -- since coming to Congress in 2001. A former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Pence railed against increased government spending under Republican leadership in several CPAC speeches over the last few years, and likened the party to a ship that had not only gone off-course -- but "run aground."

"My speech theme this year is what a difference a year makes," said Pence, who will deliver his annual CPAC speech on Friday. "My goal is going to be to bring to the eight-to-10,000 people there that a year ago I thought we were on the verge of a great American awakening -- but I had no idea."

In November 2008, Barack Obama won states Democrats hadn't even contested in decades, including Pence's home state of Indiana, which had voted Democratic just once since 1940. Now, Democrats across the country are worried for their political health, as analysts believe Republicans will pick up a substantial number of seats in the House and Senate.

Regaining the majority in Congress remains a tall order for the GOP, as Democrats hold an 18-seat edge in the Senate and 77-seat hold on the House. However, polling shows that independent voters, who played a big role in Obama's victory, are trending back toward Republicans, and Democrats in swing districts and states are in trouble.

Continue reading "CPAC Opens With Renewed Confidence" »

Indiana Makes Senate Winnable For GOP

For a Democrat running in a Republican-leaning state in 2010, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh was in relatively good shape when he announced his retirement Monday afternoon. He had $13 million in the bank and a substantial lead in both public surveys and polling conducted by his campaign. Yet the second-term senator is stepping away from elected office for the first time in 24 years and becomes the fifth sitting Democratic senator not to run this year.

The news surprised both local and national Democrats, most of who only learned hours before -- some even after -- the news leaked out. He had completed the necessary paperwork to get on the ballot, and had recently polled the race. Still, a White House official with ties to Bayh said he had talked about the possibility of retiring "for years" and believed the decision truly had nothing to do with the increasingly perilous political environment.

Bayh said as much at a news conference Monday afternoon in Indianapolis.

"My decision was not motivated by a political concern," he said. "Even in the current challenging political environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election."

Bayh's retirement instantly puts Indiana on a growing list of pick-up opportunities for the GOP this year. President Obama and Vice President Biden could see their former Senate seats in Illinois and Delaware go red, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country.

North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan is retiring and his seat is considered the GOP's for the taking, while Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln are in bad shape as well. Throw in the longer shot chances of scoring two upsets in the blue state trio of California, Wisconsin, and Washington, and Republicans can now visualize a path - albeit still a very difficult one - to recapturing a 51-49 majority in the upper chamber.

"The Indiana Senate seat is one that we will fight to hold onto," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.). "We will have a strong Democratic candidate on the ballot there."

Continue reading "Indiana Makes Senate Winnable For GOP" »

Trust In Government at Historic Low

Could Washington be any less popular? Not really, according to recent polling. Public approval for Congress and the political parties are at historic lows, while President Obama's approval rating has been in decline for the past nine months.

A New York Times-CBS News survey released last night reported a 15 percent approval rating for Congress. "Most Americans are now dissatisfied or even angry with government - and much of that frustration is directed at Congress," the poll's press release stated. "Levels of distrust and cynicism about government are at or near 15-year highs."

In Gallup's polling, congressional approval is down to 18 percent -- a point reached just twice in the past 36 years. The all-time low, 14 percent, came less than two years ago. The demographics most responsible for the decline in approval have been liberals and Democrats -- the party in control of Washington.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll out this week found 26 percent approving of Congress, which -- other than a mid-2008 dip -- was the lowest it's been since 1994, when Democrats lost the majority.

In the last three Post-ABC surveys in which the question was asked, at least 17 percent of voters have said they don't trust either party to cope with the country's problems over the next few years. Until September, party distrust had only climbed as high as 16 percent once -- in February 1994. And in November 1994, just 37 percent said they were inclined to re-elect their representative to Congress -- 36 percent say the same now.

Further evidence of the distrust in Washington came in a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday. Just 28 percent said they approve of the way either party in Congress is handling its job, and two-thirds blamed both parties equally for the legislative gridlock in Washington. Meanwhile, 18 percent said they trust the federal government to do what is right at least most of the time, including only 2 percent who trust government "almost all the time."

The Post-ABC poll found the GOP leading the congressional generic ballot vote by 3 points, and Republicans lead the RCP Average by the same margin. With unemployment near 10 percent and support for Congress as low as it is, it's not surprising that Republicans -- the party out of power -- are expected to have a good electoral year.

With more than 30 incumbents in the House not running for re-election and several open Senate seats, the public were already going to see many fresh faces in Washington next year. The level of distrust for government, though, portends even more new members will be heading to the nation's capital in 2011.

GOP Recruiting Stocked With D.C. Ties

It may be a decidedly anti-Washington year in politics, but Republicans are putting their bets on some D.C. veterans to take back the Senate. The latest example is former Indiana Senator Dan Coats, who served in the House and Senate for 18 years and is now challenging Democrat Evan Bayh.

And Mr. Coats is hardly the only Republican Senate candidate running with experience in Washington, which in another year might be seen as a recruiting coup for the GOP. Others include Congressmen Mark Kirk in Illinois, Mike Castle in Delaware, John Boozman in Arkansas and Roy Blunt in Missouri. Also running are former Congressmen Rob Portman in Ohio, Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

Polls would seem to suggest the 2010 political landscape won't be a good one for Washington insiders in either party, if that's possible. But Democrats have the most incumbents to defend and the mood facing incumbents hasn't been this bad since 1994, when the GOP stormed back to control Congress. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday found only 36% of voters say they are likely to vote to re-elect their current representative.

Yet there's plenty of evidence that Republicans also haven't won back the public trust they squandered during the GOP corruption and pork barreling of the last decade. With a 44% favorable rating, the GOP is even less popular than it was in 2006 when Democrats won back both chambers of Congress. All things considered, it's probably a year for new faces or outsiders -- though some Republicans obviously hope it's also a good year for Republicans who were somewhere else or kept low profiles during the Bush years.

NRCC's First 'Young Guns'

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced this morning the 10 candidates who have met enough organizational benchmarks to reach the so-called "Young Guns" status. Benchmarks include fundraising, volunteer recruitment and even a certain number of door knocks.

"After already demonstrating their ability to build competitive, effective, and winning campaigns, these 'Young Guns' are ready to win on Election Day," read the NRCC press release.

Here are the first Young Guns of the 2010 cycle: Steve Chabot (OH-01); Tim Griffin (AR-02); Andy Harris (MD-01); Pat Meehan (PA-07); Steve Pearce (NM-02); Martha Roby (AL-02); Dennis Ross (FL-12); Steve Stivers (OH-15); Vaughn Ward (ID-01); Allen West (FL-22).

NRCC Touts Recruits In Expansive '10 Landscape

Republicans continue to expand their offensive efforts in House races this year, with the National Republican Congressional Committee announcing this week that 29 candidates moved forward in their campaign organization program.

The move coincides with the Cook Political Report now identifying 50 Democratic seats as competitive. As things stand today with two Democratic vacancies (and one soon to come: Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii will resign his seat to run for governor), Democrats hold a 77-seat lead. Should Democrats keep the three seats, Republicans would need to pick up 40 seats to win back the House.

The death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) Monday leaves open yet another swing district Democrats will need to defend without an incumbent -- and another bull's-eye for the GOP. But Republicans are also setting their sights on Democrats in their first or second terms who helped the party win back Congress. While Michigan Rep. Vern Ehlers will reportedly become today the 17th Republican to retire, most of those districts are considered safe.

With the new additions, the NRCC now has 63 candidates in its Young Guns program, which was designed to help GOP challengers develop well-organized campaigns to defeat Democratic incumbents. Thirty-three have reached "On The Radar" status -- the first of a three-step process toward becoming a Young Gun -- and 30 are now ranked as a "Contender."

"These candidates are putting the pieces of a winning campaign in place by meeting the rigorous goals laid out by the Young Guns program and aggressively paving their way toward victory on Election Day," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. "The progress of these candidates is not only a testament to the Young Guns program, it is a sign of the hostile political environment that Democrats have created for themselves."

Among the On the Radar candidates is former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who was knocked from Congress in 2006 by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and is hoping to win his seat back. Moving up to Contender was another former congressman running for his seat, Tim Walberg of Michigan, as well as Keith Fimian, who is taking on Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) for the second year in a row following Republican congressman Tom Davis's retirement.

As Republicans step up their recruitment and organization processes this year, new polls show evidence of a diminishing 2010 political landscape for Democrats. Gallup reported yesterday that the two parties are now tied in generic ballot testing at 45 percent apiece -- which the polling firm deems a lead among likely voters for Republicans.

"The closeness of the two parties over the past several months on this 'generic ballot' measure is similar to that found in most Gallup readings from 1994 through 2005 (spanning the period when Republicans won control of the U.S. House and subsequently maintained it for more than a decade)," reports Gallup's Lydia Saad.

"Because Republicans are generally more likely than Democrats to turn out to vote, particularly in midterm elections," Saad continued, "a tie between Democrats and Republicans among registered voters probably corresponds to a Republican lead among likely voters."

Paul Ryan: 'One Guy From Wisconsin'

Rep. Paul Ryan, a sixth term Republican from Wisconsin's 1st District, has become the leading figure in the GOP's argument against the sustainability of President Obama's new budget blueprint.

President Obama praised the recently-turned 40-year-old last week at the House GOP's retreat in Baltimore for bringing forth a solid idea to put the country back on track, and this week -- after the president's budget was introduced -- Ryan has hammered two of the administration's financial experts in hearings on Capitol Hill.

Ryan's biggest complaint about the budget is that it fails to bring the deficit below 3 percent of the GDP, a mark previously cited by OMB Director Peter Orszag as the line of credibility. To get there, the White House has called for a fiscal commission made up of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as administration appointees.

In an interview with RealClearPolitics on Wednesday, Ryan, who is ranking member of the House Budget committee and a senior member on Ways & Means, said he has major concerns about the transparency and fairness of the process.

"We do have legitimate concerns because it's stacked from a partisan basis two-to-one against Republicans," said Ryan. "This is something that's going to be written and introduced after the elections, and then voted on before the next session in a lame duck session of Congress. That doesn't strike me as open government."

Ryan is also unclear why the administration can't get the budget below 3 percent on its own, without help.

"If even Orszag says that it's not a credible budget minus the commission, the deficits are not sustainable using the administration's own methodology," said Ryan. "So we have a budget here that's not credible and not sustainable under the administration's own admission. And that to me is a huge dereliction of duty."

"I'm one guy from Wisconsin with a small staff, and if I can put out a plan that solves our fiscal crisis, surely the head of our government can do the same," he said.

Continue reading "Paul Ryan: 'One Guy From Wisconsin'" »

GOP To Obama: Pelosi's The Problem

BALTIMORE, Md. -- President Obama and House Republicans had a rather candid, at times combative, but overall a fascinating and rare public exchange on the successes and failures of the administration's first year in office here today. Republicans came in determined to show that they in fact have been more than the "party of no" that Democrats portray them as, while Obama called on the opposition to tone down what he deemed as hyperbolic attacks.

In the end, what emerged from the session was a clear sense of how Republicans could potentially frame this year's midterm elections. Multiple Congressmen rose to hail the president's promises and intentions but argued that he has been ill-served by an obstinate House Democratic leadership, and specifically Speaker Pelosi.

That point was driven home most effectively, perhaps, by Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), a former colleague of Obama's in the Illinois state Senate. He said he had enjoyed collaborating on tough issues with Obama in Springfield, but wondered what had changed.

"You've gotten the subtext of House Republicans that sincerely want to come and be a part of this national conversation toward solutions, but they've really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi," Roskam said. "The obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic caucus."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the GOP conference chairman, was more blunt, waving a compilation of his party's ideas, and saying to the president that the summary "is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months."

Continue reading "GOP To Obama: Pelosi's The Problem" »

Pence: Obama To "Get An Earful" From Republicans

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told reporters today that he expects not another "lofty speech," but a honest dialogue between President Obama and House Republicans that will leave him with a clearer sense of the party's vision.

"There has been a perception greatly propagated by the majority in Congress and many in the administration to suggest that we are the party of no ideas," Pence told reporters this morning ahead of Obama's speech. "We will take this opportunity to respectfully but firmly remind the president of our alternatives. ... [He] won't leave here today without having a much clearer idea that Republicans have had will continue to offer our responsible alternatives to the big government policies of the liberal Congress."

He said Republicans stand ready to work with the Democrats and argued that it is the majority party, not the GOP, who has acted as the party of no. Pence said he may remind the president that the last time he met with the Republican conference was the day before the stimulus vote nearly a year ago. It was in good faith that they invited him to speak with them again today.

"The issue of compromise has to begin with the Democrats and the White House abandoning their practice of reflexively saying no to every Republican proposal, which is in fact the history of the last year in Washington," he said.

Continue reading "Pence: Obama To "Get An Earful" From Republicans" »

Indiana Rep. Buyer (R) Retiring

Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer (R) will reportedly announce today that he not seeking re-election this year. WISH-TV in Indianapolis reports Buyer is retiring because his wife is ill.

Buyer's retirement leaves Republicans with 15 open seats to protect next year. That's a few more than Democrats, however more Dem seats are considered competitive.

Buyer has represented Indiana's 4th District since 1992 and won with at least 60 percent of the vote in each re-election since. John McCain carried the district by 13 points in 2008; four years earlier, George W. Bush won it by 39 points.

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Pence Discusses Decision Not To Challenge Bayh

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (R) turned down this week a chance to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (D) in what appears to be a good year for GOP challengers. A poll released Monday even found Pence, the third ranking Republican in the House, leading Bayh, a former two-term governor who's running for his third term in the Senate.

"It was easily the hardest political decision of my career," Pence said this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "We ultimately came to the decision -- I'll leave it to people like you whether or not we would've been able to succeed in that race -- but for us in my role as chairman of the House Republican Conference, I just believe that my duty was right where I am right now, working with our team to restore a conservative majority to Capitol Hill."

Bayh's father, Birch Bayh, served three terms in the Senate before being defeated for re-election in 1980. Evan Bayh has won five statewide elections -- secretary of state in 1986, governor in 1988 and 1992, and senator in 1998 and 2004.

Meanwhile, Pence has moved up to the upper ranks of the House Republican Conference and would be giving up a chance to move even higher if he challenged Bayh -- especially if the GOP wins back the House this year, something Republicans believe they can do.

"I really believe that Republicans will retake the majority in 2010," Pence said this morning. "So it was really a choice for me of where could I make the most difference for the things that are most important to me this year, and our family believed that was to stay in the House."
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Gov. McDonnell's GOP Response Excerpts

Here are excerpts from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's offical Republican response, which he will deliver from the Virginia Capitol following President Obama's State of the Union address. The excerpts were distributed by the governor's office.

JOBS

"Good government policy should spur economic growth, and strengthen the private sector's ability to create new jobs. We must enact policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation, so America can better compete with the world. What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation, and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class."

Continue reading "Gov. McDonnell's GOP Response Excerpts" »

Senate Republicans Have High Hopes For Speech

Just out of their annual conference, Senate Republican leaders told reporters they hope to hear several things from President Obama tonight during his first official State of the Union address: that he's putting the health care bill "on the shelf" to focus on jobs, not letting the Bush tax cuts expire this year and clearing up confusion about prosecuting terror suspects.

"What we're hearing is the hope of the American people that tonight the president concentrate on jobs, on debt, on terror," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Senate Republican Conference chairman. "And if he stopped right there and focused on that until he got all three on a better track, we believe most Americans would be happy with that."

Asked what grade they would give Obama on his first year in office, all seven senators on stage at the press conference remained quiet and none stepped forward to the microphone. After a few moments of silence, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, "We're pretty tough graders."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) professed his preference that Obama rethink his plans for Guantanamo, saying it was the best place to hold military commissions and house terrorists.

He also referenced an NPR poll out today that found Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot by 5 points. It's a far cry from Election Day 2008, when Democrats led it by 12 points and increased their majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"People are much more open to voting for Republicans -- and we saw that in New Jersey and Virginia and Massachusetts -- certainly than they were in November 2008," said McConnell.

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State of the Political Landscape

As President Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, few Democrats expected the first year of his presidency to end with the party in such poor shape politically heading into this year's midterm elections. So before we hear about the overall state of the country, here is a quick rundown on the state of its politics:

• House Democrats hold a 256-178 majority in the House, with one vacant seat (Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., resigned this month), while Senate Democrats hold a 59-41 seat advantage following the Massachusetts special Senate election of Scott Brown (R).

• Nearly 20 percent of Democrat-held congressional districts (49) are listed as competitive races by the Cook Political Report; 5 percent of Republican seats (10) are competitive.

• After losses in New Jersey and Virginia last November, Democrats' advantage in governors' offices is down to 26-24. In the 2010 elections, 11 Democrats are retiring or term-limited, as are 11 Republicans. Of 14 races rated as "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report, 10 are Republican-held seats.

• In 2008, John McCain won 49 congressional districts where a Democrat was elected to the House; one such Democrat, Parker Griffith, recently switched to the Republican Party. Barack Obama won 34 districts that elected a Republican.

• Ten Democrat-held congressional districts are competitive open-seat races, where the incumbent is retiring. Republicans so far have two such seats.

• Seven of Democrats' 18 Senate seats up for re-election this year are considered competitive, according to Cook; four of 18 Republican seats are competitive.

• Democrats are in serious danger of losing both President Obama's and Vice President Biden's former Senate seats. In both cases, the appointed senator is not running for re-election (in Illinois, that's a good thing), and the party failed to recruit its top choice candidates -- Attorneys General Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Beau Biden of Delaware.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in deep electoral trouble, trailing two Republicans who may not even end up on the general election ballot. The GOP is reportedly still seeking a top-flight candidate to take on the vulnerable Reid.

• Arkansas is a microcosm of Democrats' troubles. Its congressional delegation currently stands at five Democrats and one Republican. With Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder retiring and Sen. Blanche Lincoln facing a potential GOP knock-out, Republicans could hold four of the six seats in the 112th Congress.

• Democrats' best news this year has been the retirement of five-term Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who was likely to lose in November. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal currently holds big leads over his potential GOP opponents.

• Pennsylvania is one of the more awkward situations, as the White House and Democratic leadership promised Sen. Arlen Specter significant support if he switched parties. Now, he's up against Rep. Joe Sestak in a bitter Democratic primary and trailing Republican Pat Toomey in early polls. Plus, he no longer represents the 60th vote.

• Democrats are looking at four GOP-held Senate races in particular as potential pick-up opportunities, all of which the Republican incumbent is retiring: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

• The national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees had great fundraising years, outpacing both Republican counterparts. This will certainly help in protecting its many incumbents in GOP-leaning districts, while some Republican challengers may not get significant monetary assistance from the national party.

While the landscape looks rough for Democrats, party leaders say they were not caught by surprise as they were in 1994, when Republicans dominated the midterm elections two years after Bill Clinton won the White House. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, maintains that the party was expecting a tough political environment, as history shows the party that wins the White House often loses congressional seats in the following midterms.

"Even as the president was being sworn in -- and we were all still celebrating the election of President Barack Obama and even bigger majorities in the Congress -- we told our members to prepare for a very challenging cycle," Van Hollen told reporters in December, adding, "This is not going to be 1994 all over again."

Some Republicans, however, think it could be, and put the blame squarely on Democratic congressional leaders who "overreached" on their agenda last year. In a memo last month, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party expects "to make significant, if not historic, gains" in the House this year.

Senior RNC Member Defends Chairman Steele

At the 2009 Republican National Committee winter meeting, it took six ballots for Michael Steele to be elected chairman. Morton Blackwell, a senior committeeman from Virginia, didn't vote for Steele on any of the ballots, but after a string of successful election wins for Republicans and amid continued criticism of the party chairman, Blackwell is coming to Steele's defense.

"I will make you a prediction -- in future years, people will look back and credit Michael Steele with being one of the most successful national chairmen in history," Blackwell said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "I have to tell you that I and everybody I know in the Republican Party of Virginia are really delighted at the massive support and assistance that the RNC gave in helping us to win our statewide elections here in Virginia last November."

Republicans swept the elections for Virginia's statewide offices, and also won the governor's race in New Jersey and, improbably, a special Senate election in Massachusetts this week. However, the outspoken Steele continues to be criticized for overexposure, speaking gaffes, fundraising and spending, and a self-promotional book tour.

The Washington Times reported last week that senior RNC members were preparing a motion barring Steele from holding any more book promotion events. The 168-member committee would vote on the motion during next week's winter meeting in Honolulu. Blackwell, who's serving his sixth four-year term, says he was unaware of the motion.

On handling the committee's finances, Steele's been criticized for spending more than the committee is taking in. In a press release today, the RNC announced raising $6.6 million last month, leaving it with $8.4 million in the bank to end the year. However, that's far less than the party had just six months ago, when it ended June with $23.7 million on hand.

There has been tension between Steele and congressional Republicans for months now. Among other issues, House Republican leaders bristled at a recent Steele statement that he didn't think the GOP could win back the House in 2010. Also, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that he was not in favor of the RNC holding its annual meeting in Hawaii.

"Do I want voters to think that Republicans do nothing but go to beach resorts in January? No," Cantor told reporters.

The meeting is being held at the lavish Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. Although the RNC pays for its staff to attend, the 168 members are required to pay their own way. Due to the cost, the other two committee members from Virginia are not able to attend, and have charged Blackwell with voting for them next week.

Blackwell, who knows and likes Cantor, defended the decision to go to Hawaii, and said it was nothing new for there to be some tension between the party's separate organizations.

"The case was made that we have never met in Hawaii, at least not in living memory," said Blackwell. "Hawaii has a Republican governor and the Hawaii party very much wanted to host it at least once -- because they've traveled many, many times for the meetings here."
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Who Won and Lost In The Supreme Court Decision

If there was any question which political party was the winner and loser in the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, just take a look at the instant reactions by congressmen and senators. Although the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill was technically bipartisan, many Republicans have been against it from the beginning and were overjoyed following the 5-4 decision that overturned key parts of the bill.

"Freedom won today in the Supreme Court," said House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, who's considering a run for Senate in Indiana. "In 2003, the Supreme Court unwisely supported the oppressive restrictions on free speech that were part of the 2002 campaign finance law. At the time, I was honored to stand with Senator Mitch McConnell and various state and national organizations in challenging this historic error in court."

McConnell, now the Senate minority leader, was similarly approving of the decision. "For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process," he said. "Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all."

The "deprived" McConnell mentioned are corporations, whose limitations on political donations were lifted with this ruling. As Michael Waldman, executive director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school, wrote today in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "An immediate question raised by the...decision is whether this will flood elections with suddenly legal corporate money."

Democrats absolutely think it will -- and don't like it. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said the decision "will allow the money of corporate interests to flood the political process, will undermine free and fair elections and further erode voters' confidence in our system of Democracy." He called it "a major victory for oil companies, banks, health insurance companies and other special interests that already use their power over Washington to drown out the voices of regular Americans."

Some political operatives aren't so sure it's a win-lose situation for the parties just yet. Roy Behr, a Democratic consultant in California, says, "Predicting the long-term impact on a decision like this is a lot like trying to predict the weather six months from now -- the truth is we really don't know." However, Behr said, for candidates with a few deep-pocketed donors, "this could be an incredibly liberating decision."

"There could be hundreds of thousands if not millions in spending that candidates wouldn't have seen before," he said.

In his Daily Beast column and in an e-mail to RCP, Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to John McCain and George W. Bush, notes that big donors from both parties are the real winners -- and there's one main loser.

"It's great for labor. It's great for business. It's lousy for voters," McKinnon told RCP.

House Republicans Tout New Leverage

Along with holding a Capitol press conference, House Republican leaders hit the TV rounds yesterday in the wake of the GOP's Senate win in Massachusetts on Tuesday. The win, they said, was evidence that Americans don't want the health care reform currently being negotiated by House and Senate Democrats.

"While it was a lot about health care, it's not just health care. It's all the spending and debt that's being accumulated here. It's their national energy tax. It's their -- bringing the terrorists to America to put him on trial," Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) told Greta Van Sustren on FOX News. "The American people are opposed to all of these policies, and they are saying, stop."

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) appeared on at least three TV shows on CNBC, FOX News and CNN, while Mike Pence spoke with Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC.

"The American people are tired of the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, the takeovers that have been accelerated under now Democrat and previously under Republican administrations," said Pence. "They want us to put our fiscal house in order in Washington, D.C., and want us to set aside all these big government schemes and focus on the kind of measures that are going to get this economy moving again."

Meanwhile, Democrats indicated that health care reform was moving forward. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as much yesterday during her speech to the mayor's conference on the Hill. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn concurred during his appearance alongside Cantor on CNBC.

"I do believe that we will have a health care reform bill, and we will have one that the American people can be proud of," said Clyburn.

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AZ-3: Shadegg (R) Retires, Adds To List

Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (R) is retiring from the House after eight terms. Hailing from the Phoenix suburbs, Shadegg was first elected in the Republican Revolution year of 1994.

Shadegg, who had considered a Senate bid in the past and briefly retired in 2008 before reconsiderng, becomes the 14th Republican to announce his retirement this year -- most are running for higher office. Shadegg joins Henry Brown (SC-2) and George Radanovich (CA-19) as the only three not running for higher office.

At the presidential level, the district has given Republican candidates double-digit wins the past two elections, however Democrats spent a considerable sum to defeat Shadegg in 2008. He prevailed with a 12-point victory.

Here is how the national party campaign committees are reacting to the news (at least publicly)...

DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer:

"For all of the Republican spin, the numbers don't lie: There are 14 Republican retirements versus 11 for Democrats. So instead of drinking Eric Cantor and the NRCC's Kool-Aid, House Republicans continue to show a lack of confidence in their ability to take back the House as Republican retirements are mounting and their own members refuse to invest in the NRCC."

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions:

"John Shadegg has been a strong conservative voice and a dedicated leader for our Republican Conference and the people of Arizona since he was first elected in 1994. Congressman Shadegg is a close personal friend who has worked tirelessly to promote important Republican principles and his efforts will certainly be missed. Third District voters have consistently supported Republican values and we are confident that this seat will continue to be represented by a Republican who shares Congressman Shadegg's beliefs in fiscal responsibility and limited government."

GOP Pushing Reid To Step Down

The calls for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to step down from his leadership post likely will not end with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's comments Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"Whether he steps down today, or I retire him in November, either way he will not be the majority leader in 2011," said Steele.

Although the RNC chairman is facing grumblings within the GOP about his own leadership position because of some of the things he's said -- as well as his new book and the committee's fundraising numbers -- his sentiments yesterday will likely be echoed by other Republican leaders as Congress swings back into action this week (in the House) and next (in the Senate).

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) criticized Reid on TV this morning, and his committee pushed the argument in press releases throughout Monday morning -- including digging up Reid's reaction in 2002 to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's infamous comments.

"This is a double standard from Senator Reid, and there's no doubt that voters in Nevada will see through his hypocrisy as he refuses to step down as Majority Leader," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. "Fortunately, Nevadans will finally have an opportunity to retire Harry Reid and his controversial rhetoric for good in November."

Reid's re-election prospects took another hit this weekend as a Mason-Dixon poll revealed he trailed by as much as 10 points to two relatively unknown Republican challengers.

GOP Insiders See Romney, Not Palin, As Nominee

A plurality of Democratic operatives say Mitt Romney would be the GOP's strongest nominee in the 2012 presidential contest, while Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, barely makes the top 10.

In National Journal's first polling of GOP insiders on the 2012 race, 29 percent say Romney is the strongest candidate. He's followed by South Dakota Sen. John Thune (15%), Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (13%), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (11%), Newt Gingrich (6%), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (5%), Jeb Bush (5%).

Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Palin round out the top 10 with 3 percent each. Also receiving votes were Dick Cheney, Michael Bloomberg, Eric Cantor, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Colin Powell, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum.

Romney also holds a wide lead when GOP operatives were asked who they think will win the nomination. Pawlenty finished a distant second, followed by Thune, Barbour, Daniels and Palin.

NJ's Jim Barnes, who runs the poll, notes that "although the Insiders Poll doesn't have a terrific record of quickly sorting out who will actually win a nomination, it helps stake out the playing field -- and identify the serious players."

Florida GOP Chairman Greer Resigns

Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer announced today he is stepping down from his post amid complaints about his service -- including the misappropriation of money -- though he maintained he was not asked to resign by the governor or any other GOP leader. Greer admitted the party's internal battle between the conservative and moderate wings weighed on him, and he finally decided over the last couple days he could no longer effectively lead.

"It was obvious to me that some of these people were not going to stop" their attacks on him, Greer said, without ever mentioning the names of those "who have expressed concerns" with his chairmanship. Greer's comments came during a conference call with reporters.

Greer's resignation comes days before the party's annual meeting, when he said plans were in place to "embarrass" him.

"Over last six months there have been a very vocal group in our party that has been very active in seeking to oust me as chairman," he said. "They have distorted facts -- the misspending of money -- and talked about my support of Governor Crist for the U.S. Senate race. ... These distractions and attacks within the party is not what we should be doing."

The conservative-moderate battle is highlighted in the Senate primary, between the more moderate Gov. Charlie Crist and conservative Marco Rubio. Conservatives, unhappy with Crist's moderate stances and support for legislation like the economic stimulus package, have jumped behind Rubio's candidacy and sparked a divide that has proved to exist in other states as well.

Greer said "some forgot that our number one focus and objective is to win elections," highlighting his support for a 'big tent' party rather than holding a conservative purity test for candidates. He also stated his pride in opening up the party to minorities and all candidates on the political spectrum.

"I am not a purist," he said. "I leave here as chairman very proud."

Following Greer's announcement, Crist announced his support for a successor -- State Sen. John Thrasher.

"Sen. Thrasher is a dedicated public servant, and I look forward to working with him to ensure Republican victories this election cycle," Crist said in a statement released by his campaign. "He will do a great job, and I have tremendous respect for him."

With Few Options, GOP Continues Health Care Fight

With Democrats in the House and Senate reportedly opting for the ping-pong method of combining bills rather than the more formalized conference process, Republicans are left with few if any opportunities to halt progress on or even kill comprehensive health care reform. GOP hopes of stopping it now mostly rest on Democrats' intraparty differences, however party leadership is adamant that Republicans are not giving up and that Democrats' day of reckoning will come soon.

"There is much not to like here. I haven't given up on stopping it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday on Dennis Miller's radio show. "I think we've got another month or so to fight this out and we're going to fight it 'til the bitter end."

McConnell and other Republicans argue that despite the potential for no conference, Democrats in the two chambers remain far apart on a number of issues, such as the inclusion of the public option, stricter abortion language and how to pay for it. The GOP will also begin attacking the process, as the lack of a conference removes Republicans from the negotiating table and allows the bill to move forward faster.

The backroom negotiations are a sticking point with the GOP, which last year routinely complained about being left out of the legislative process, despite promises from President Obama that he was open to their ideas.

Despite media reports, House Democratic leaders have yet to confirm that no formal conference committee will be held. One House leadership aide maintains that whatever form the negotiations take, it will not simply be the House considering the Senate bill -- the less progressive of the two and which barely passed last month on a party-line vote.

Discussions among Democratic leaders and committee chairmen on the House side are set to begin today, as well as a full caucus meeting Thursday, as they set their priorities for the negotiations. The Senate won't return for another two weeks.

Republicans, though, are still calling for the health care negotiations to be televised on C-SPAN, as Obama promised during his campaign. The president has instead left negotiations for the most part in the hands of party leaders in Congress, who appear more eager to pass a bill than allow further bipartisan discussions that could continue to slow the process.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) offered a resolution that would require the health care reform conference to be televised, though action on that bill was blocked by Democrats.

"Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), told RealClearPolitics. "Skipping a real, open conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises. It would be a disgrace -- to the Democratic leaders if they do it, and to every Democratic Member who lets them."

Should the compromised bill pass both chambers, Republicans are expected to attempt to repeal it. However, with Obama in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in Congress, the tact will likely make more waves on the midterm election campaign trails than have any real chance of working.

As for the political ramifications of passing health care, GOP critics point to Nebraska as an example of the dangers to Democrats' electoral health -- a state whose Democratic senator's re-election prospects already look perilous because of his support for the bill, three years before he must face voters.

A poll last week found Sen. Ben Nelson trailing Republican Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points, with 55 percent holding an unfavorable opinion of him. A day after the poll's release, Nelson aired a TV ad during the Nebraska-Arizona college football bowl game to defend his health care vote.

"This will be one of several, if not the biggest issue in the fall election and you've seen what it's already done to the credibility and career of one senator from Nebraska, and I think there will be others," McConnell said on "The Dennis Miller Show." "He's not up in '10, but this is one of those votes that's going to be remembered for a long time."

California Rep. Radanovich (R) Retiring

Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) announced today he will not seek re-election in 2010, citing the health of his wife.

"As many already know, Ethie has been valiantly fighting ovarian cancer for nearly three years. My family needs me, and I intend to be by their side to win this battle," Radanovich said in a statement.

Following a string of retirements by Democrats in swing districts, most had been watching for more on that side of the aisle to step down with a difficult political landsape next year. Although more Republicans in the House have announced their retirements than Democrats, Radanovich becomes the first to do so without seeking higher office -- most of the other 12 are running for governor or Senate.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions remains confident the seat will stay in GOP hands. John McCain won California's 19th District with just 52 percent, down significantly from George W. Bush's 61 percent take in 2004. However, 2008 was a strong year for Democrats with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and 2010 looks far more perilous for Dems in GOP-leaning districts.

"I am confident that the Republican nominee will emerge victorious from this race and will follow in Congressman Radanovich's legacy of fiscal responsibility and limited government," Sessions said in a released statement. "As George did for so long, the Republican in this race will also fight for the Central Valley's agricultural and water supply interests."

Radanovich endorsed State Sen. Jeff Denham in his retirement statement this afternoon. The 8-term congressman ran unopposed in 2008 and never won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote.

The retirement of Radanovich, first elected to Congress in 1994 when the GOP took back Congress, means no more than 14 Republicans from that class will remain in the House in 2011.

GOP Numbers Improving In National Polls

After setbacks this fall, some Democratic strategists argued that the political environment is not anti-Democratic, but anti-incumbent. And for much of the year, Republicans' poll numbers have been worse than that of Democrats. But that appears to be changing.

** In a CNN poll, 40 percent say the country would be better off with Democrats in charge of Congress, while 39 percent say Republicans. In a previous survey conducted mid-summer, Democrats had a 10-point advantage on that question. At the start of the year, the margin was 56-31 in favor of the Democrats.

** In a Quinnipiac survey, voters now give similar grades to Republicans and Democrats in Congress: 30 percent approve of the GOP, while 33 percent approve of Democrats. That is down from a high of 45 percent for Democrats in March, while the GOP number has largely held steady, if not ticked slightly upward.

** In a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll, 51 percent view the Democratic Party favorably, while 46 view it unfavorably. That's down from a 61/34 split in November 2008. The GOP still has a negative net-approval, with a 44/54 split, but that's improved from 36/58 in last November. And in a series of questions on specific issues, Republican numbers are up while Democrats' are down, in some cases rather significantly.

** A new Bloomberg poll shows the GOP's net favorable rating is now -5, while the Democratic party's rating is +3. In a generic ballot test, the GOP leads 42-38.

That's quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.

GOP Attacks Health Care & Energy Bills as Job Killers

Republicans are taking every chance they get to paint Democrats' proposed policies -- any of them, but especially health care -- as job-killing measures. And recent polling shows the tactic could be paying off.

With 10 percent unemployment in the country, even President Obama's meeting with a bipartisan, bicameral group of congressional leaders Wednesday at the White House did little to bridge the divide among the parties on how best to create jobs. While the purpose of the meeting was job creation, Republican leadership from both chambers left arguing that passing health care or climate change legislation -- as Democrats are trying to do -- will actually lead to fewer jobs.

"At the same time we're having a jobs summit -- talking about creating jobs -- you're trying to pass a job-killing health care bill, a job-killing cap-and-trade bill, a runaway EPA administrator imposing heavy costs on the economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who attended the White House meeting, said at an afternoon press conference at the Capitol. "Health care, cap and trade, all of that imposes heavy cost on job creation."

"You see one job-killing idea after another coming out of the administration and Washington," added John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

At the meeting, House Republican leaders John Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (Va.), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Dave Camp (Mich.) handed Obama a letter of criticisms for his job-creating plans, as well as a list of their own proposals they say will create more jobs. The leaders later vocalized their criticisms of the administration and Democrats in Congress during a post-meeting press conference.

"Look at the national energy tax. You look at their health care proposal. It's going to raise the cost of employment and make it more difficult for employers to bring people back to work," said Boehner.

In emphasizing this point -- tying nearly every major policy initiative of the Democrats to a negative effect on the economy -- the GOP has raised its standing on handling the economy in the voters' eyes. A new survey out Wednesday by Ipsos-McClatchy found that congressional Democrats' 21-point lead over Republicans in November 2008 in the handling of economic issues has now dwindled to a statistical tie.

At the White House meeting, Republicans did say they were open to new legislation that could help create jobs. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Boehner indicated he would like to support a bipartisan job-stimulating bill, and McConnell told reporters that he would like to as well.

However, don't expect GOP attacks on other Democratic policies to let up in the near future.

"We're willing to talk about some kind of job-creating measure," said McConnell, "But the best thing we could do to get the economy rolling again would be to stop these [health care and cap-and-trade] measures from becoming law."

Sanford, Former RGA Chair, Keeps Low Profile

CEDAR CREEK, Texas -- When the Republican Governors Association kicked off efforts to take back a majority of governorships in the 2009-10 cycle, it was South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) leading its efforts. When we interviewed him in February, he also was leading Republican opposition to the proposed stimulus package and the subject of 2012 speculation.

As the organization meets here this week, however, Sanford has kept a decidedly low profile, avoiding most of the open press sessions like this morning's health care press conference. The photo below was a rare glimpse by myself and several other reporters as we shuttled between events.

sanfordrga.jpg

Back home in the Palmetto State, meanwhile, Sanford's woes continue. Today the speaker of the State House "has called on Gov. Mark Sanford to release a disputed investigative report into the governor's possible ethical or criminal violations stemming from his travel and use of campaign funds," The State reports. Yesterday, the state ethics panel ruled that the governor "will face an ethics panel next year to answer charges that he may have violated state law," per AP.

GOP Govs Blast Health Care Bills, Claim Dems Also Wary

rgahcare.jpgCEDAR CREEK, Texas -- Republican governors expressed strong opposition to versions of health care legislation being considered in the House and Senate, saying both would impose heavy burdens on state governments that are already struggling to balance their books.

In making a joint statement at a press conference here today, the 17 Republican governors on stage said that they spoke as well for many of their Democratic colleagues.

"We've not typically intervened on subjects like this, but we didn't know who else would do it," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said. The non-partisan Nationals Governors Association, he added, "has been paralyzed by partisan reluctance to say what many Democratic governors have said to us privately and a few have said publicly."

Daniels also said many representatives of the business community on hand for this conference have told them that they're make their concerns public as well, for fear that their "business interests would be threatened."

"We just hope that in some way we can contribute to the national dialogue this morning," he said. "There's a far better way forward. Before it's too late let's find it."

Twenty-two of the members of the Democratic Governors Association did release a letter earlier this year in support of the federal policy. The White House has also highlighted the support of former Republican officials.

The major concern that governors outlined was changes to Medicaid that would result in what Gov. Haley Barbour called a $25 billion tax on the states.

"We're concerned about the federal government overreaching and trampling the prerogative of states across this great country," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. "At a time when state budgets that are tighter than ever, that's not only going to be burdensome. But also from a policy direction, it heads our country in the wrong direction."

Continue reading "GOP Govs Blast Health Care Bills, Claim Dems Also Wary" »

RGA Notebook: The Palin Chronicles

newgovs.jpgAUSTIN, Texas -- As noted yesterday, the RGA kicked off here Wednesday in the shadow of a blockbuster media tour by one of its former members -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. As she promotes her own tome and potentially sets up her future political move, the question was posed to victorious candidates in New Jersey and Virginia why the former vice presidential nominee was not on their list of surrogates this fall.

New Jersey Gov.-elect Chris Christie first answered by saying he intentionally avoided bringing any national party leaders into the state in an effort to keep the focus on his own solutions specific to the state. But after it was pointed out that figures like Jeb Bush, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney made stops in the Garden State, Christie offered a new explanation.

"The people I asked to come into campaign for me were either someone like Mayor Giuliani, who I have known for the better part of a decade, or two governors who had faced the same kind of things and could talk about those issues in an intelligent way to show how Republican ideas had fixed those fiscal problems in those states," he said.

Virginia's Bob McDonnell said that he had initially reached out to Palin at an early stage in his run for governor seeking her involvement. But she "was in such incredible demand" and busy with work in Alaska that an early visit was not possible. By the time she resigned her post, McDonnell then claimed, "we had pretty much already arranged all of the folks that we had for the home stretch for fundraisers, including several current and former governors."

Continue reading "RGA Notebook: The Palin Chronicles" »

Perry: Time For Governors To Push Back

CEDAR CREEK, Texas -- Hosting more than 20 of his colleagues outside the state capital tonight, Gov. Rick Perry said that Republican governors are the ones carrying the torch for the GOP in opposing an overreaching Democratic administration in Washington, as the RGA made a strong case for the philosophical leadership of the party.

Just as Senate Democrats were unveiling legislation to reform the nation's health care system, Texas' governor called for a simpler approach to governance that emphasized tax cuts, lower spending and less obtrusive regulation.

"By and large, it's been those Republican governors who have had the courage and the will and the discipline to push those types of changes through," Perry said at the opening public session of the Republican Governors Association Conference here tonight. "We have a federal government today that is wanting to ... create one-sized fits all policy for all of the states. I happen to think it's time for a substantial number of governors to have the courage to stand up and push back on Washington, DC."

It was the strongest message of the featured speakers tonight, but one that could define the gathering as Republican state leaders celebrate double wins in New Jersey and Virginia. Perry, as well as Govs. Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels, emphasized the idea of states driving policy and competing with one another, rather than the federal government implementing one universal policy on all 50.

"I get pretty passionate about the Tenth Amendment," Perry told his fellow governors and hundreds of other attendees at a resort outside Austin. "We don't need to back away from in the least bit."

Continue reading "Perry: Time For Governors To Push Back" »

Live From Austin

I'll be here in Austin covering the RGA Annual Conference, previewed here this morning.

Keep checking back for updates on what the Republican Governors are saying about their 2009 victories and 2010 prospects. You can also get instant updates on what's going on at some of the sessions by following me on Twitter.

Republican Governors Seek To Build On '09 Successes

As Republican governors gather outside Austin today for their annual conference, the atmosphere will be a far cry from their gathering a year ago. Then, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stole the spotlight in what was her first major public appearance since the GOP ticket lost the presidential election. This year, Palin again is center of attention as she kicks off a book tour in Michigan. While 300 media credentials were issued last year, the RGA expects only a few dozen reporters this year.

But the mood is different for another, more important reason for the Republican leaders gathering here -- they're celebrating big wins in New Jersey and Virginia weeks ago, and expecting that momentum will continue in 2010 when the battlefield grows considerably larger.

"This year there's a lot more smiles," RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. "The focus among the governors last year was how are we going to win back a majority of governorships. This year, that remains the focus. But it's always a lot more joyful when you're actually gaining members this year."

Twenty of 24 Republican governors are attending, in addition to Governors-elect Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, and several candidates seeking office in 2010. The RGA plans to contrast what's going on in these Republican-lead states with the goings on in Washington, DC, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told reporters Tuesday evening.

"Unlike our Republican friends in DC, governors are able to implement effective, conservative policies that are gonna regain the trust in our party's ability to govern," he said. "We knew that there are Republicans that are concerned all across the country. What they're seeing out of the governors, and particularly what they're seeing out of RGA, is an organization that is being very effective and very efficient with their dollars."

Gov. Haley Barbour, the RGA chairman, said the organization expects to be able to do more to help its incumbents and challengers next year than in any previous cycle. The organization spent $13 million in New Jersey and Virginia, and has $25 million on hand as the next cycle begins, which he credited to an aggressive small donor effort that has allowed the group to be "less reliant on corporate money."

In that vein, Palin is still very much a part of the the RGA's 2010 plans. The group purchased a large supply of "Going Rogue" at a considerable discount, and will reward new donors with a copy signed by Palin herself.

"I suspect we're going to raise a whole lot of money with this," Barbour said. "She's mighty good to do this -- she was a great colleague."

The event is a showcase for all the governors, but particularly those who are building national profiles with an eye toward 2012. In addition to Barbour and Perry, Govs. Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels will be featured as the group plans to discuss specifically the views of RGA members on the latest developments in Washington.

RNC Radio Ad In NY-23: Vote Conservative

So much for pushing moderateness in this Northeastern swing district.

"Vote conservative," says the announcer in a new 60-second, RNC-sponsored radio ad in New York's 23rd District. Now that GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava has left the race, the national Republican campaign committees are pushing Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.

Scozzafava was lambasted by the GOP's conservative base for her relatively liberal positions on such issues as abortion, taxes and spending. The new RNC ad mentions the word "conservative" five times in the ad, which is airing today and tomorrow in New York's North Country media markets.

"Let's tell the liberals, enough is enough," the announcer continues. "No more bailouts, taxes and budget busting spending. It's time to create jobs, with proven conservative ideas like lower taxes. Let your voice be heard, join the movement to bring real conservative change."

You can hear the ad here.

National GOP Reacts To Scozzafava Decision

Republican House leaders John Boehner (Ohio) and Eric Cantor (Va.), and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), released a statement earlier today reacting to the news that Dede Scozzafava had suspended her campaign in New York's 23rd District special election three days before the election:

"As the House stands on the cusp of the forthcoming vote on a trillion-dollar healthcare reform measure, it is vital that we unify behind a candidate that will support reining in massive government spending and work with Republicans in Congress to restore fiscal sanity and propose thoughtful measures to get our nation's economy on the right track. "With Assemblywoman Scozzafava suspending her campaign, we urge voters to support Doug Hoffman's candidacy in New York's 23rd Congressional District. "He is the only active candidate in the race who supports lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and opposes Nancy Pelosi's agenda of government-run healthcare, more government and less jobs. "We look forward to welcoming Doug Hoffman into the House Republican Conference as we work together for the good of our nation."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele released a statement as well reinforcing the RNC's support of Hoffman:

Continue reading "National GOP Reacts To Scozzafava Decision" »

Gallup: GOP Not Trusted On Health Care

When it comes to health care reform, Republicans in Congress are trusted less than their colleagues across the aisle and President Obama, according to a new Gallup survey (Oct. 16-19, 1521 A).

Just more than one-third (37%) of American adults have a great deal or fair amount of trust in congressional Republicans on reforming the nation's health care system, while nearly half (48%) trust congressional Dems and more than half (55%) trust the president.

Only counting those who said they have a "great deal of trust," 4% said Republicans, 10% said Democrats and 23% said Obama.

Republicans not only lag in trustworthiness among the nation as a whole, but also among members of their own party. Just 61% of Republicans nationwide trust the Republicans in Congress on health care, while 81% of Democrats trust congressional Dems and 86% of Democrats trust Obama.

As for independents, 36% trust Republicans in Congress, 39% trust Democrats and 51% trust Obama.

NRCC Identifies Its Most Potent Recruits

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced today that 41 candidates currently in its Young Guns recruitment program have reached the level of "Contender" or "On the Radar." The program sets certain benchmarks for Republican challengers in open and Democrat-held districts to reach -- including volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and a set number of door knocks -- which the NRCC believes will help the candidate have success.

"These candidates have become formidable contenders by meeting the rigorous goals laid out by the Young Guns program and putting in place the pieces for a winning campaign," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas). "The early progress of these candidates is not only a testament to the Young Guns program, it is a sign of the changing political environment that Democrats will have to face next year."

There are 32 candidates currently at the On the Radar level, the first of the three-step Young Guns program. Nine are currently identified as a "Contender." Click through to see the full list.

Continue reading "NRCC Identifies Its Most Potent Recruits" »

RNC Fundraiser Featuring Ensign Canceled

RCP got its hands on an invitation to a Republican National Committee fundraiser scheduled for next week in Las Vegas, with embattled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) listed as one of the "special guests."

The "Sun & Fun In The Desert" event was scheduled for October 16-18 at the Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino. Also listed as special guests were RNC co-chairman Jan Larimer, and Rep. Dean Heller (R). The invitation, which was received just last week, sought contributions from PACs of $5,000 to $15,000.

When asked about the event, a spokesperson for the RNC first said that Larimer may not attend, then later said the event itself may have been canceled. Sure enough, a Palazzo employee said the event was taken off their schedule just today. An Ensign spokesperson referred calls to the RNC. Further requests for comment from the RNC, as well as requests to the Nevada GOP and Heller's office have not been returned.

The cancellation of this event comes as leading Republicans have sought to distance themselves from Ensign, once rumored as a potential White House candidate but now facing calls to resign over alleged impropriety stemming from an affair with a former staffer.

RNC on Nobel: What Has Obama Done?

RNC chair Michael Steele's statement on President Obama's Nobel win reflects the sense even among supporters of this White House that this was quite surprise.

"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain - President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action."

NRCC: Fire Nancy Pelosi

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The National Republican Congressional Committee is pushing supporters to sign a petition to "Fire Nancy Pelosi." A petition, of course, cannot actually remove the Speaker of the House from her position, but the NRCC hopes the accompanying request for campaign donations may help the GOP win back control of the House.

"As one of the most polarizing figures in American politics, Pelosi is once again putting party politics ahead of our national security," the e-mail states. "Her actions as Speaker of the House are putting our country's security on the line and it's up to us to stand up in opposition to her disastrous far-left agenda."

The e-mail, distributed today, refers to the Speaker as "General Pelosi," which is what the NRCC called her earlier this week when it stated that General McChrystal should "put her in her place."

Pelosi responded to that remark today, calling it "inappropriate" and language she hadn't heard "in decades."

McCain: Afghanistan Tests Obama As Commander In Chief

The decision facing President Obama will test his leadership as the nation's commander in chief, Sen. John McCain said today after a White House meeting on Afghanistan.

"Of course it is," he told reporters after the meeting. "I'm sure the president is very aware of that, and that's why he's going through the process that he's going through."

The former Republican presidential nominee urged his former rival to act "with deliberate haste" in making a determination on Afghanistan, saying that time "is not on our side." He said that while a number of options should be considered, the White House should give special weight to the recommendations coming from commanders in the field.

"They were correct in employing the strategy that succeeded in Iraq. That strategy, adjusted to the different conditions in Afghanistan, can work in Afghanistan as well," he said.

He also took issue with the notion believed to be coming from the White House that the Taliban should be targeted differently than al Qaida.

"We all know that if the Taliban come back, al Qaida will come back," he said. "I don't think it's a proper reading of both history and the situation to somehow think that al Qaida will not quickly emerge in Afghanistan if it falls to the Taliban."

Continue reading "McCain: Afghanistan Tests Obama As Commander In Chief" »

Job Numbers Released, GOP Pounces

In what has become a monthly routine, Republicans took the opportunity once again to cite new unemployment numbers in criticizing Democrats for the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning that unemployment had risen a tenth of a point to 9.8 percent, the highest since June 1983.

"Today's troubling report underscores the need for Democrats in Washington to scrap their job-killing agenda and act in a bipartisan way to put Americans back to work," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The stimulus bill was signed into law by President Obama February 17. Since then Democrats have continued to tout the progress the economy has made since the beginning of the year, and Obama has maintained that things would be even worse had there been no stimulus. The president's Council of Economic Advisers reports that the package has created or retained 1 million jobs.

Just yesterday, Vice President Biden announced new targets for the stimulus package and touted "great progress in the first seven months" of its implementation in 2009.

Republicans, however, disagree and have utilized fresh unemployment data from the BLS to help prove their point.

"Continued job loss does not equal success despite claims to the contrary, and the American people deserve stronger economic leadership," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to push ownership of the recession on President Bush in an attempt to deflect the brunt of criticism off Obama. In a briefing with reporters in mid-September, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted that 650,000 jobs were lost on average in the last three months of Bush's term -- far less than 263,000 lost in September and 227,000 in August.

Hoyer also conceded that whether the GDP rises or not, "the American public is focused on jobs," which are a "lagging indicator."

"While the recession may be over, it is clear that we have not started to gain back jobs, which is absolutely essential," he said.

Obama and many Democrats in the House and Senate can most likely thank much of their electoral success on a down economy in 2008. Republicans hope to capitalize on it as well in 2010 by pronouncing a government-funded economic stimulus package a waste of taxpayers' money.

"As unemployment continues to climb, we are reminded again that wasteful government spending is not the solution to what ails this economy," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "The American people know that true economic recovery starts with fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C., and tax relief for working families, small businesses and family farms."

Dem Party ID Margin Dropping

Democratic party identification is at its lowest mark since the second quarter of 2005, while GOP ID is at its highest point since the first quarter of 2006, according to Gallup's quarterly party identification report.

At 48% Democrat or lean-Democrat and 42% Republican or lean-Republican, the six-point gap is the smallest since 2005. Although the number of people identifying themselves as Republican has remained stable, more independents now lean Republican (15%) than Democrat (13%) for the first time in at least four years.

The report is based on five polls conducted of 5,090 adults between July 1 and Sept. 30.

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Steele: Where's The Focus From Democrats?

Citing President Obama's trip to Copenhagen Thursday to sell Chicago's Olympic bid, RNC chairman Michael Steele accused the White House and Democrats in general of losing focus.

"Is the focus health care? Is the focus cap and trade? Is the focus energy? Is the focus job creation?" Steele asked. "I think the president needs to, along with the members in Congress ... tell the American people what their focus is going to be in the fall and into next year. Because I don't see tell-tale signs of economic strength but rather continued weakness in the job market; continued weakness in the Wall Streets and Main Streets of America that create the wealth we need to stimulate the economy."

Steele, speaking on a conference call with reporters this afternoon, said it was "noble" of President Obama to want to help his home town's bid, sending the first lady would have been enough in his eyes.

"I think that at a time of war, I think in a time of recession, at a time where American are expressing rather significantly their concerns and frustrations ... about health care, about the economy, about a host of domestic issues, and even international issues -- while nice, it is not necessary for the president," he said. "This administration has been pushing like hound dogs on getting a health care bill pronto. If it's that important to the president, then stay home and get it done."

Asked about Steele's criticism, White House press secretary Robert Gates jokingly asked who he was rooting for to host the 2016 games. "Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio?"

He also noted that Obama wouldn't be staying in Denmark long enough even to find out who the winning city would be so that he could keep working on health care and Afghanistan.

Who's he rooting for?

(LAUGHTER)

Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio?

(LAUGHTER)

I don't know. Maybe it's Madrid.

RNC Outraises DNC By $1M

The Republican National Committee outraised its Democratic counterpart by $1 million in the month of August, according to reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission. The RNC pulled in $7.87 million last month, compared with the Demoratic National Committee's $6.89 million.

"The RNC had another very strong fundraising month in August," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "We remain committed to broadening the appeal of our party by taking a strong principled message on health care directly to the people."

The RNC has close to $21 million cash on hand, while the DNC ended the month with a little more than $15 million. In July, the DNC far outraised its GOP counterpart, taking in $9.28 million to the RNC's $6.26 million.

In August, the Democrats' House campaign arm outraised the GOP's, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee outraised the Dems for the second month in a row.

Wilson Apologizes For Outburst During President's Speech

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has swiftly apologized for shouting out during President Obama's speech to Congress tonight (RCP Video has the clip).

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."

Reaction to the moment came quickly -- John McCain called on him to immediately apologize during an interview on CNN. South Carolina Democrats issued the following statement:

"Once again a South Carolina Republican has embarrassed our state. Never has any member of Congress shown such disrespect for the president during a speech.  One would think that as a member of the military, Joe Wilson would have more respect and patriotism than he displayed tonight. When Congressman Wilson insulted President Obama, he also insulted the American public. Joe Wilson is a poor example of a statesman and an American. He owes an apology to the president and the American people."

Wilson's so-called heckle was noted on many of the network telecasts, and is dominating conversation online. It's interesting to note that the last comment on Wilson's Twitter page reads: "Happy Labor Day! Wonderful parade at Chapin, many people called out to oppose Obamacare which I assured them would be relayed tomorrow to DC."

The question going forward is how much the moment will be seized on by Democrats in branding Republicans as obstructionist. Obama himself had criticized the "partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government."

Boustany Will Deliver GOP Response To Obama Speech

Republicans are choosing a rather low-profile member of Congress to deliver the party's response to President Obama's high-profile speech to lawmakers Wednesday night. Rep. Charles Boustany (R), a doctor who is serving his third term in the House, will be the second straight Louisianan to deliver a presidential response speech, following Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).

"Dr. Boustany has been a tireless advocate for reform that lowers health care costs and expands access for the American people at a price our nation can afford," House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement announcing the choice.  "He understands why a Washington bureaucrat - as Democrats have proposed - should never get between a doctor and his patient."

"As a doctor, I know we must lower costs and improve care, which we can accomplish by focusing on strengthening the doctor-patient relationship and working in a bipartisan way," Boustany says in the same statement.

Support For Obama's School Speech?

After the White House released President Obama's planned remarks to students tomorrow, some conservatives are signaling support for his message.

"Just read President Obamas speech to students. ... It is a good speech and will be good for students to hear," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on Twitter. "Remember that Presidents Reagan and Bush also talked to students nationwide. As long as it is non political and pro education it is good."

The National Review's Jim Geraghty called the speech, as prepared for delivery, "not only uncontroversial," but "the finest of his presidency so far. Kids need to hear there's no easy route to success."

During his AFL-CIO speech, the president himself drew some knowing laughter as he alluded to the speech he'd be giving tomorrow. Speaking on Air Force One, press secretary Robert Gibbs gave an unprompted assessment of some of the controversy leading up to the remarks, saying: "I think it's a sad, sad day that the political back and forth has intruded on anyone speaking to schoolchildren."

"If one kid in one school hears one message and goes from being a D student to a C student, then the speech is worth it," he said. "If one kid decides not to drop out of school, then the speech is worth it. ...
It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an 'Animal House' food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard, to engage parents to stay involved, and to ensure that the millions of teachers that are making great sacrifices continue to be the best in the world."

Republicans Jump On Latest Job Numbers

You knew this was coming. Republican leaders are piling on the increased unemployment numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which announced the rate jumped three-tenths of a point to 9.7 percent.

Yesterday the vice president touted the success of the stimulus, which provided fodder for Republicans today. The White House just announced that Biden will address the latest job numbers at a previously scheduled event on the Recovery Act at noon.

Here is a sampling of the press releases in our inbox:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: "Yesterday Vice President Biden gave yet another speech to try to convince the American people that President Obama's stimulus bill is creating the jobs he promised ... Today's unemployment report proves that this Administration is ignoring reality ... The president's economic experiment simply isn't working, and Americans shouldn't expect his government-run health care experiment to work, either."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "Since President Obama signed his stimulus bill into law, nearly 2.5 million people have lost their jobs. In the eyes of the American people, that is not success. Families across the country are struggling to cut costs and cope with a tough job market, and they see a massive disconnect between that reality and the President's agenda."

House GOP Study Committee Chairman Tom Price: "Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the White House continues to tout the alleged success of their so-called stimulus bill. The Democrats' unprecedented level of government borrowing and spending will not stimulate job creation, nor has it stopped the job losses being experienced by so many Americans."

Continue reading "Republicans Jump On Latest Job Numbers" »

RNC Targets Seniors in New Health Care Ad

The Republican National Committee is launching a new television ad on health care that targets senior citizens. The ad, airing nationally on cable stations as well as on other channels in Florida, features Chairman Michael Steele advocating for a "Seniors Bill of Rights."

"Join us in supporting a new Seniors' Bill of Rights. Let's agree in both parties that Congress should only consider health reform proposals that protect senior citizens," Steele says in the ad. "Oh and President Obama, it's not too late to change your mind. Stand with us and stand with senior citizens. After all, they've earned it."

The Democratic National Committee responded to the ad this morning. "Michael Steele and the Republicans are unbelievable," said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse. "After failing to stop the President on the Recovery Act, the budget, equal pay for women and children's health care, Republicans have decided that they have no other choice when it comes to blocking health insurance reform than to lie to the American people and try to scare seniors."

Here is the ad:

NRCC Targets Foster, Kratovil on Health Care

If freshman congressmen Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) turn on their TVs at home this week, they may see their own faces alongside a headshot of Nancy Pelosi in a new ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The ad targets the Democrats on the issue of health care.

"Foster already votes with Pelosi 90% of the time, now what do you think he'll do?" the narrator states in the ad. "Call Foster, tell him to oppose Pelosi's cuts to Medicare."

Both Democrats succeeded Republicans in the 2008 elections. Foster took over Illinois's 14th District, formerly represented by Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, in a March 2008 special election against Jim Oberweis. Foster won a full term in November.

Kratovil won Maryland's 1st District, whose moderate Republican incumbent, Wayne Gilchrest, was defeated by a more conservative challenger in the GOP primary. Kratovil defeated Andy Harris (R) by less than 1 point in the general election.

NRCC Targets Arcuri, Space

The National Republican Congressional Committee is launching a 30-second TV ad in the districts of Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) that ties them to Nancy Pelosi and a health care reform plan that includes "higher costs, tax hikes, and, get this, massive cuts to Medicare."

RNC Raises $6M in July

The Republican National Committee announced this morning that it raised $6 million last month, leaving it with nearly $22 million cash on hand and no debt. The take is down from it's $8 million haul in June, but in line with its April and May fundraising totals.

"The RNC continues to mount a very effective fundraising effort and we are extremely thankful to the Americans who have contributed to the financial success of our Party. The Republican Party will be successful in the coming elections this fall and in 2010 thanks to the generosity of our donors," RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a released statement.

Would Gubernatorial Wins Signal GOP Comeback?

If Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie win gubernatorial elections this fall, some Republicans will be eager to call it the first sign of a comeback for the party. One person who won't be, apparently, is Gov. Haley Barbour, chair of the Republican Governors Association.

Asked specifically about the contest in New Jersey on a conference call today, Barbour said: "Chris Christie is ahead in the polls in New Jersey because people in New Jersey don't like what Jon Corzine's done." It's the Democrats who are eager to nationalize the race, he added, while Republicans like him "think that race, and I hope that race, is decided very much on local and New Jersey issues."

It's not surprising in New Jersey, where Republicans have not won a statewide election since 1997. Christie is hardly calling attention to his partisan affiliation, something national party leaders praised. And even in a blue state, they don't think President Obama will make a difference.

"Barack Obama didn't get Jon Corzine's job approval down to 35 percent," Barbour said. "Christie's ahead in the polls in New Jersey because people in New Jersey look over the four years that Corzine has been governor, and they don't like the results."

This week, the RGA hosted 29 candidates who will be running in 2010 races around the country, as well as nine incumbents. These governors are being encouraged to, like Christie, shape their message not on any national message but based on what are the top concerns in their states.

"I think the Republicans are going to do surprisingly well in 2010 based on the caliber of the people we've been talking with," said Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, herself a Republican governor in a deep blue state.

UPDATE: Check out DGA Executive Director Nate Daschle's response after the jump.

Continue reading "Would Gubernatorial Wins Signal GOP Comeback?" »

Barbour Criticizes Obama's Health Care Haste

Leading Republican governors seemed to downplay the statements from Sarah Palin while embracing to an extent the passion of town hall participants who have been vocal in their opposition to health care reform.

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), chair of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters this afternoon that one reason people are reacting so strongly around the country is because they think the White House is moving far too quickly on an issue of tremendous concern.

"The Obamas took six months to pick a dog. How come they [had] to pass a health care bill before the August recess?" he said. "Everything has been, 'We gotta do it right now.' The American people realize this is too much, too far, too fast, too many trillions of dollars."

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.) took a swipe at Democratic leaders for diminishing the voice of ordinary Americans, saying the town hall meetings are "democracy in action."

"For some Democratic members of Congress to call that anti-democratic is just ludicrous," he said, no doubt referring to the op-ed today from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "They want to blame things on Astroturf, [but] these are citizens that are very concerned, very fearful for their jobs, and their family, and their future health needs."

Continue reading "Barbour Criticizes Obama's Health Care Haste" »

Boehner Calls "Un-American" Attack "Outrageous"

The ongoing debate over the tenor of the town hall meetings continues.

House Minority Leader John Boehner is now reacting to the USA Today op-ed this morning from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The Democratic leaders criticized the vocal opposition who are disrupting town hall meetings, saying their effort to drown out "opposing views is simply un-American."

In a statement, Boehner accuses the Democratic leaders themselves of working "to silence any opposing views." "Every poll taken in the last month shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about, if not outright opposed to, the Democrats' plan because of the cost and consequences it would mean for their own health care," the Ohioan says. "Each public forum should give every participant the opportunity to express their views, but to label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan 'un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible."

The statement concludes that when Congress returns from recess, "Democrats should scrap their costly plan and finally work on bipartisan reforms that give Americans what they are seeking: better access to affordable care."

RNC Targets Blue Dogs

The Republican National Committee is launching radio ads in the districts of the four Blue Dog Democrats who helped the House Energy and Commerce Committee approve the health care reform bill.

The four targeted Democrats are Reps. Bart Gordon (TN-06), Zack Space (OH-18), Baron Hill (IN-09) and Mike Ross (AR-04). Click on the districts to hear the ads.

The district-specific ads say the Democrat "folded like a lawn chair" and say about the health care bill: "It's big government. It's big money. And it'll hit you where it hurts." Listeners are asked to call their Member of Congress and "tell him to stop voting with Nancy Pelosi."

Democrats are running ads in GOP districts blaming Republicans for doing just the opposite -- working to halt the health care reform bill. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting more than two dozen House Republicans with radio ads, automated calls and other tactics.

McDonnell Giving Weekly GOP Nat'l Address

In a move that should give the Virginia gubernatorial nominee some more national exposure, Bob McDonnell was chosen to give the weekly Republican national address this Saturday. The speech will air nationally on TV and radio.

According to his campaign, McDonnell will discuss "the need for new jobs and more opportunities in Virginia and nationwide," as well as "proactive policy proposals that will help create the good-paying jobs of tomorrow" and "the importance of preventing the enactment of policies that would endanger the jobs of today and impede American competitiveness in the global economy."

McDonnell is currently up in the polls by more than 10 points against Democrat Creigh Deeds.

NRCC Memo to GOP Candidates

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a memo to GOP candidates nationwide with issues and ideas to focus on during Congress's five-week recess.

"Vulnerable Democrats are limping into the August recess in their most-weakened condition since the inception of their majority," the memo reads. "This presents a prime opportunity for Republican candidates to spend the next five weeks on the offensive."

The NRCC wants its candidates to focus on a lack of job creation from the economic stimulus bill, health care as a "massive government takeover," and the climate change bill as "nothing more than a tax that will affect anyone who turns on a light switch."

"Democrats are leaving Washington on the defensive, and as a Republican challenger candidate, you must do everything you can to own the issues and frame the debate," the memo concludes. "Keeping these themes in mind, Republican candidates can effectively communicate and frame the debate. If your opponent wants to stand by their support for failed economic policies, then you might consider asking them: 'Where are the jobs?' "

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced this morning what it's calling a "major advertising and grassroots offensive" on health care in some two dozen GOP districts. The campaign will focus on Republicans siding with health insurance companies "at the expense of affordable health care."

"This August we are going district-by-district to hold Republicans accountable for trying to obstruct health insurance reform through their scare tactics and just-say-no protection of big insurance companies," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

GOP's Three-Step Program

Sitting around a conference table in the GOP's Capitol Hill headquarters yesterday with a group of political reporters, Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, broke down his organization's strategy for winning back control of Congress. After the loss of more than 50 House seats in two election cycles, the re-energized NRCC is pushing challengers and incumbents to earn its support.

The retooled "Young Guns" program for well-organized GOP challengers in Democratic districts is broken down to a three-part process where goals such as volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and a set number of door knocks must be met to enter the program and then advance.

"We want every single candidate to be in [the program], even when there's a competitive primary," Sessions said. "We believe that if you follow the three steps, you will find yourself maybe the winner of the primary -- though we don't guarantee that."

Thirteen challengers are already in the Young Guns program, including former Reps. Steve Pearce in New Mexico and Steve Chabot in Ohio, and two have already been endorsed -- Adam Kinzinger in Illinois's 11th District and Dennis Ross in Florida's 12th District. Democrats picked up the Illinois seat last year, and GOP Rep. Adam Putnam is retiring from the Florida district, which John McCain barely won in 2008.

Sessions said there would be at least twice as many challengers needed to defeat 40 Democratic incumbents for control of the House, though he refused to predict how many the GOP would pick up this year. The overarching theme will be "the effectiveness of the economy" and the way Democrats have conducted their aggressive agenda.

"We are going to work the angle that it is Democratic members who support Nancy Pelosi and empower her to do business the way she is," he said.

Dems Outraise GOP in Swing Districts

Here is my piece today on fundraising in districts won by incumbents with 55% or less:

As Democrats gear up for 2010, they face a daunting historical fact: since Abraham Lincoln, only two newly-elected presidents have seen their party gain seats in Congress in their first midterm election.

Aside from the weight of history, there are other ominous signs for Democrats, who now have complete control of the government and are laboring to govern through an ongoing economic recession: Obama's approval ratings are slipping, unemployment remains high, Congress is taking up a string of big-ticket items in health care reform and climate change, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia look favorable for the GOP.

A bright spot for Democrats, however, is the strength of their fundraising in congressional swing districts.

A RealClearPolitics analysis of fundraising by some of the most vulnerable incumbents shows Democrats in good shape. And the campaign finance reports released this month offer fresh data for the Democratic and Republican campaign committees as they refine their search for vulnerable incumbents in 2010.

Read the rest here.

RNC Hits Obama's Risky "Experiment"

In a demonstration of how the battle over health care is won or lost in the Senate, the RNC launches a new TV ad today that will air in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota targeting key senators with the message that America can't afford health care reform of the kind President Obama is proposing.

NARRATOR: "They've loaned Barack Obama their future, without even knowing it. Trillions for rushed government bailouts and takeovers, banks, the auto industry. The biggest spending spree in our nation's history. And they'll have to pay. The next big ticket item? A risky experiment with our health care. Barack Obama's massive spending experiment hasn't healed our economy. His new experiment risks their future and our health. The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising."

The health care fight, then, gives us the peculiar situation of both national committees targeting some of the same senators. Last week, Organizing for America also launched TV ads in Arkansas and North Dakota, as well as Indiana, Ohio and Florida. But while OFA aims to sway both Republicans and Democrats, the RNC ads target only Democrats, namely Arkansas' Lincoln and Pryor, Budget Committee chair Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid and Lincoln are both targets for Republicans in Senate races in 2010.

The visuals of the RNC ad -- full of children -- are in line with the party's renewed focus on America's fiscal situation. The Washington Post/ABC poll found today that Obama's most vulnerable issues appear to be his handling of the deficit, as well as health care.

RNC Raises $8M in June

The Republican National Committee announced today it raised $8 million last month, leaving it with $23.7 million on hand and no debt as of the end of June. Last month's haul is a bump from previous months -- the RNC raised $5.7 million in May and $5.8 million in April.

"The RNC had another month of strong fundraising," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "We are thankful to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have contributed to the financial success of our Party. We have important campaigns this year and are able to be fully engaged through the generosity of our donors."

GOP: Where are the jobs?

As job numbers continue to worsen, Republicans are debuting a new mascot in their campaign against the Democrats' stimulus plan: Ellie Mae, a job-seeking bloodhound. In a web video released this morning by the office of House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ellie Mae goes on "the money trail" in search of jobs: from AIG headquarters, to Wisconsin and North Carolina.

"I'm John Boehner; this is Ellie Mae," the congressman says in the ad. "She hasn't found any stimulus jobs yet, and neither have the American people. It's time to stop run away spending in Washington and help small businesses get the economy running again. Hang in there, honey, we'll find 'em."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning that 467,000 jobs were lost last month -- higher than projected -- and the unemployment rate ticked up some to 9.5 percent.

"This is a lighthearted web video, but the underlying point is no laughing matter," Boehner states in a press release. "At a time when Americans are looking to Washington for leadership, the trillion-dollar 'stimulus' isn't working."

Independence Day Targets

Shortly after the House squeezed in a vote on the Waxman-Markey energy and climate change bill late Friday, Members hit the road for a week-long Fourth of July break. While back in their districts, though, some will be inundated by opposition efforts from the parties' House campaign arms.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting Democrats in Ohio and Virginia that voted for the energy bill. Press releases went out to the formerly Republican districts of Ohio Dems John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus, Mary Jo Kilroy and Zack Space -- all of whom are in their first or second terms.

"Whatever favors Mary Jo Kilroy might have traded for her support for Nancy Pelosi's National Energy Tax, they hardly make up for the higher energy costs and lost jobs that will plague Ohio as a result of their Kilroy's Washington horse trading," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in one release. "Mary Jo Kilroy owes her constituents an explanation as to why she continues to back an agenda that is nothing short of destructive to Ohio families."

Releases also went out in the Virginia districts of Tom Perriello and Rick Boucher. John McCain won both of their districts in 2008. In separate statements, Spain said Boucher "sold out Southwest Virginia's middle class" because of the coal jobs some project will be lost, and Perriello showed an "utter lack of concern" for middle class families in his majority rural district.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching 60-second radio ads to run during drive-time in the districts of seven Republicans who voted against the supplemental appropriations bill, which among other things funds the wars through September. The House agreed to the conference report June 16 on a 226-202 roll call vote; the Senate approved it two days later.

Those targeted are: Ken Calvert (CA), Charlie Dent (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Dan Lungren (CA), Mike McCaul (TX), Lee Terry (NE) and Joe Wilson (SC).

"Republicans never hesitated to criticize those who voted against the previous supplemental bills that included funding for the troops, but now that they are trying to score political points, Republicans' votes have conveniently changed," DCCC executive director Jon Vogel said in a statement released Friday. "So this Independence Day, we are going district by district to hold these hypocritical Republicans accountable."

Thune Replaces Ensign as Policy Committee Chair

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee today. He replaces Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who recently stepped down after revealing an extramarital affair.

Thune, who had been serving as conference vice chair, was elected without opposition, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at an afternoon press conference.

Thune said he looked forward to helping "shape an agenda that I think will move America forward and will serve as a counter to some of the agenda items...that are currently being proposed by the president and Democrats in Congress."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had held an unofficial seat at the leadership table, will replace Thune as conference vice chair.

Sanford Family Learned Of Affair Amid Stimulus Battle

During a gripping press conference carried live on national cable, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) acknowledged having been unfaithful to his wife for the past year, and also misleading his own staff and through them the state about his whereabouts in the past week.

"I've let down a lot of people, and that's the bottom line," an emotional Sanford told a horde of reporters in Columbia.

As he asked for forgiveness, he announced he would resign as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The chairman of his own state party, Katon Dawson, did not rule out that there may be further consequences for Sanford, a polarizing figure even in his own state party, telling Fox News that the "chips fall pretty quickly in South Carolina."

Sanford revealed to reporters that he developed a strong relationship with a woman in Argentina eight years ago, ironically as he counseled her to stay with her husband for the sake of her children. Sanford has four young sons.

"It began very innocently as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual email back and forth," he said. He sought her out as refuge from the pressure-cooker life of politics, where he said he found it hard to ever let his guard down.

"There was this zone of protectedness. She lived thousands of miles away and I was up here and you could throw an idea out or vice versa," he said.

But in the past year, "it sparked into something more than that," and he said he traveled to see her three times. Five months ago, this relationship was "discovered" as he put it. "And at that point we went into serious overdrive, where do you go from here," he said.

What's significant about Sanford's account is that it means a family crisis was unfolding just as the governor was taking a high-profile role in fighting the Obama administration's efforts to pass, and then implement a stimulus program. The Recovery Act was passed in mid-February, and when Sanford came to Washington weeks later for the National Governors Association meeting, he made opposition to the spending program a rallying point for Republican governors.

"I think the nation's governors are going through ... and doing what should have been done in Congress," he told RCP this February about his efforts.

Continue reading "Sanford Family Learned Of Affair Amid Stimulus Battle" »

Cantor: GOP Won't 'Sit By Idly'

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released the following statement in response to President Obama's press conference:

"The West Wing press conference is the latest public relations effort to combat the American people's growing discomfort with the actions of this Administration. The disconnect between the Administration's goals and those of Congressional Democrats only serve to make matters more cloudy at a time when we all should be focused on jobs, economic growth, and financial security.

"Plain and simple, the American people are concerned about the economy, job creation and the incredible debt obligations incurred in the last 6 months. Republicans have offered common-sense ideas and solutions that would have created real jobs, improved our economy and spent less tax dollars.

"The President continues to push for a government healthcare plan that will increase costs, reduce patient choice and flexibility, and lower the quality of care. Now we hear that Speaker Pelosi intends to pass the Cap & Tax plan this week which will impose a hard-hitting tax upon families and small businesses costing our struggling economy thousands of jobs.

"We stand ready to work together with the President to get America back to work, but we refuse to sit by idly as the Democrat majority tries to force this unfocused assortment of tax increases and job-killing policies upon the American people. Democrat-controlled Washington is completely disconnected with the reality faced by millions of Americans who are growing weary with the lack of focus, accountability and results."

RNC Reports $5.7 Million Haul In May

The RNC reports raising $5.7 million in May, leaving the committee with $21.5 million cash-on-hand "and zero debt."

"I am pleased that the Republican National Committee continues to show solid fundraising numbers, and we are grateful to the countless Americans who have contributed to our Party. We have important and competitive elections this fall and next year. With another month of strong fundraising numbers, we are confident and well positioned to win," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

The party had raised $5.8 million in April and ended the month with $24.4 million on hand.

GOP Loses Leading Voice in Ensign

The announcement yesterday by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that he had an extramarital affair and today's news that Senate leadership has removed him as head of the Republican Policy Committee (the No. 4 slot on the totem pole) means the Republican Party has lost a leading voice in its efforts to deride Democratic policies and promote its own.

Ensign led a credible, yet unsuccessful, effort as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2008 election cycle, and in this Congress has been at the forefront of several policy debates. Perhaps his biggest victory of the year was the gun amendment Ensign added on to the D.C. Voting Rights bill, which ultimately led to its demise in the House of Representatives.

Now in his second term representing a state increasingly important to presidential elections, Ensign was twice elected with 55 percent of the vote -- in 2000 and 2006 -- and regularly carries far better approval ratings than his Nevada counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A survey released last month found Ensign with a 53 percent approval rating compared to Reid's 38 percent.

Whether Ensign was preparing for a presidential bid or not, his fall from grace seems just as far.

Ensign Statement: "Worst Thing I Have Ever Done"

Here's a statement from Sen. John Ensign's office:

Las Vegas, NV -- Senator John Ensign made the following statement today regarding a personal matter:

"I came home to Nevada to come forward and explain to the citizens of our state something that I was involved in about a year ago. Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it.

"I take full responsibility for my actions.

"I know that I have deeply hurt and disappointed my wife Darlene, my children, my family, my friends, my staff and others who believed in me. To all of them, especially my wife, I am deeply sorry. I am truly blessed to have a wife who has forgiven me. We sought counseling last year and have built a stronger marriage -- stronger than ever.

"I will not mention any names but the woman who I was involved with and her husband were close friends and both of them worked for me. Our families were close. That closeness put me into situations which led to my inappropriate behavior. We caused deep pain to both families and for that I am sorry.

"I am committed to my service in the United States Senate and my work on behalf of the people of NV.

"Thank you."

Report: Ensign Admits Affair

So much for the Ensign 2012 bandwagon.

Rumors have floated in Washington about a sex scandal breaking today. Now AP is reporting that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) had an affair with a campaign staffer.

Ensign told The Associated Press in a statement, "I deeply regret and am very sorry for my actions."

An aide in Ensign's office said the affair took place between December 2007 and August 2008, with a campaign staffer who was married to an employee in Ensign's Senate office. Neither have worked for the senator since May 2008. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity.

The aide declined to comment on Ensign's political future.

He'll reportedly speak publicly within the hour, from Las Vegas.

Ensign recently traveled to Iowa in a visit that immediately set off speculation he was considering a presidential bid in 2012.

This comes as Nevada's only other Republican statewide officials are also fending off scandal. Gov. Jim Gibbons is currently going through a divorce, with his estranged wife alleging he was unfaithful as well. In December 2008, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki was indicted on four felony counts based on alleged wrongdoing in his previous role as the Silver State's treasurer.

Developing...

House GOP Leaders React to Health Care Speech

House Minority Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor released the following statements today in response to President Obama's speech at the American Medical Association's annual conference in Chicago. Obama said today "the road to prosperity remains long and difficult" and that "one essential step on our journey is to control the spiraling cost of health care in America."

Boehner:

"House Republicans want to work with President Obama on a plan to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. We're pleased the President has expressed rhetorical support for medical liability reform, but fact is the effect of even the strongest medical liability reforms would be negated by a government takeover of health care that raises taxes, rations care, and drives health care costs even higher.

"Real medical liability reform must establish tough standards to reform the medical liability system, encourage the speedy resolution of claims, and deter junk lawsuits. If President Obama is serious about reducing the skyrocketing cost of health care, he'll press his own party to include real medical liability reform as part of a reform package that puts patients and doctors in charge of their health care rather than putting government in charge. House Republicans are offering such a plan, and we hope to work with the President and our Democratic colleagues to enact it."


Continue reading "House GOP Leaders React to Health Care Speech" »

Leadership Vacuum, Or Opportunity?

Democrats and MSNBC pundits delightedly flogged yesterday's Gallup Poll that found most voters have no idea who "speaks for" the Republican Party.

Of those Republicans most named by the Gallup participants, only John McCain (picked by 6%) even holds elective office. Topping the list were Rush Limbaugh (13%) and Dick Cheney (10%), with Newt Gingrich polling 6% and George W. Bush 3%. The "1% Club" included GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"While being associated with the party of the sitting president gives the Democrats a natural advantage over the Republicans in having a well-defined person representing them, these data clearly underscore the leadership vacuum that confronts the Republican Party today," Gallup's Frank Newport wrote.

The Gallup survey provides a fascinating snapshot in time, but things change quickly. Who would have said Barack Obama "speaks for" the Democrats in January 2008, before he won the Iowa caucuses? Three years away from the next presidential election, with Republicans the minority party in Congress and out of power in the White House, is it really surprising a single spokesman has not risen to the fore? And is it really a bad thing for the GOP?

With the economy in the tank and unpopular bailouts dominating the news, it might be politically convenient for Republicans right now that voters are clear only about who speaks for Democrats -- 60% say Barack Obama and 20% say Nancy Pelosi.

Voight Rips Obama at GOP Fundraiser

Actor Jon Voight proved last night that there are conservative Republicans in Hollywood. Yes, it's true, though House and Senate Republicans could hardly believe it.

Some 2,000 people joined 33 GOP senators and about 150 House members at the annual fundraising dinner for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP campaign arms raised a combined $14.5 million from the affair, held at the Washington Convention Center.

While the buzz centered on the presence of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the keynote address by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Voight, who emceed the event, gave an opening speech that left many, well, speechless.

"Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous," Voight said, before listing the economic stimulus package, government-owned car companies, rising unemployment, Israel and health care. Voight said Obama "turned out to be radically liberal," and said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama adviser David Axelrod, among others, are to blame "for the downfall of this country."

"We and we alone are the only people who can free this nation from this Obama oppression," said Voight, who made several appearances last year at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Upon stepping to the podium, elected officials were elated with the speech and joked that it may hurt Voight's future employment opportunities.

"One of the most courageous acts in our society today is to stand up in Hollywood and say you're a conservative Republican," said Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.), who introduced the Oscar-winning actor.

"Wasn't that a great speech?" asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah).

"Isn't it a refreshing thing to hear a person from Hollywood give the kind of speech Jon did tonight," said NRSC Chairman John Cornyn. "Jon, we need more people like you in Hollywood to speak their conscience."

"I'm still just reveling in hearing someone from Hollywood give a speech like that," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kent.). "I hope you're going to be able to find work after this."

Gingrich, opening what would be close to an hour-long speech, said Voight "has given you the battle cry for the next few years," referencing a quote Voight used from his characterization of President Franklin Roosevelt in the movie, "Pearl Harbor."

"I think the phrase, 'Don't tell me it can't be done,' is about as good a way to start thinking about 2010 and 2012 as you could imagine," Gingrich said. "I recognize that 2009 is not 1994. But I want to say to you Republicans -- we have been here before."

The theme of the night among the Senate and House leaders was party unity and winning back control of Congress. McConnell referred to Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) as "my buddy," and Boehner said he "could not have a greater partner."

Cornyn and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, both from Texas, expressed optimism for the midterm elections. "I'm excited about our opportunities in 2010," Cornyn said. Sessions stepped to the podium and held up the card denoting his table number: 218, which happens to be the number of House seats needed for a majority. "Our job on the House side is to retire Nancy Pelosi," he said.

Facing a 78-seat deficit in the House and down to just 40 seats in the Senate, winning back Congress next year will be a tall order. However, as Gingrich reiterated at the close of his speech, Republicans -- at least publicly -- think they have a chance.

"Do not tell me it can't be done. It was true for FDR. It's true for us."

GOP Pounces On Dismal Economic Numbers

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics' announcement this morning that the unemployment rate had risen to 9.4 percent, Republican leaders have taken the opportunity to decry the economic policies pushed this year by a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress.

--"Today's unemployment rate is the highest in more than a quarter century, and it's another reminder of how Washington is hanging middle-class Americans out to dry," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

--"Today's unemployment numbers confirm that the Democrat economic stimulus bill is not creating the jobs President Obama promised," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "The President and Vice President may believe they are 'creating or saving' jobs but no one else is fooled. ... Americans need jobs, not presidential happy talk."

--"We must refocus on employment, yet Speaker Pelosi and the unchecked Democrat majorities continue to increase Washington's hand in the free market, taking away natural incentives to create jobs," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).

A Return to Conservatism? Be Patient

Patience. That was the magic word invoked by the five conservatives participating in the 2009 Bradley Symposium, hosted yesterday by the Hudson Institute at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington.

This edition of the annual panel discussion was entitled "Making Conservatism Credible Again," and brought together pundits and elected officials to discuss why conservatism is on the outs and what conservatives can do about it. The conclusion was that the movement is just lost at the moment and Americans will come around again, eventually.

"We'll have to practice another virtue, which is patience," said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). "We're going to have to spend some time in the penalty box. And our fellow citizens are going to eventually say, 'Alright, we'll listen. Did you learn anything? Did you hear us? Do you have any new, good ideas for us?'"

Later, Daniels said, "The system seems to find an equilibrium, and it will again."

Continue reading "A Return to Conservatism? Be Patient" »

GOP Response to White House, GM

Republican leaders in Washington responded to the GM bankruptcy announcement and subsequent White House plan. Here are excerpts of statements by RNC Chair Michael Steele, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.):

Steele: "No matter how much the President spins GM's bankruptcy as good for the economy, it is nothing more than another government grab of a private company and another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign. President Obama will now own 60 percent of GM, and his union buddies will own almost 20 percent. And what do the taxpayers get? They'll get stuck with up to a $50 billion tab for the taxpayer dollars Obama is using to pay for his takeover of GM."

Boehner: "This agreement may buy some time, but does nothing to ensure GM's success. The only thing it makes clear is that the government is firmly in the business of running companies using taxpayer dollars. Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multinational corporation to economic viability?"

Cantor: "The nature of this bankruptcy agreement raises serious questions about the ultimate cost to millions of Americans. While the government has now subsidized GM to the tune of $50 billion, the Administration has not demonstrated the ability to account for this enormous taxpayer expenditure. That must change - taxpayers deserve far better oversight and accountability."

The RNC also released a web video with clips of Obama stating he has no interest in running GM.

NRCC Knocking Dems for Pelosi Connection

The National Republican Congressional Committee is launching a radio and robocall offensive against Democrats for voting against an investigation into Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA misled Congress on interrogation techniques.

The radio ad will run in the districts of six Democratic members of Congress: Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Glenn Nye (VA-02), Tom Perriello (VA-05), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL), Vic Snyder (AR-02) and Harry Teague (NM-02).

The robocalls are going out in 10 districts: John Boccierri (OH-16), Bobby Bright (AL-02), John Hall (NY-19), Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Harry Mitchell (AZ-05), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Steve Kagen (WI-08) and Larry Kissell (NC-08).

The ads and robocalls, which can be heard here, give the Members' office telephone number and ask the listener to call and request that the congressman either "stop siding with" or "stop voting to protect" Pelosi.

The NRCC previously announced the launch of a TV ad in Maryland's 1st District, represented by freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D). The purpose and content of the ad is much the same as the radio ads and robocalls.

RNC Bashes WH Stimulus Report

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele issued a statement of rebuke a mere 20 minutes after the White House released its "100 Days, 100 Projects" report on the 100th day since President Obama signed the economic stimulus package.

"In the Obama administration the word 'report' must be code for 'PR,' " Steele said. "One hundred days after spending $787 billion of the taxpayers' money, President Obama is touting a second progress 'report' on the stimulus bill to convince voters his reckless spending plan is working. Let's be clear: 100 projects, nearly $1 trillion spent, and 1 million jobs lost doesn't sound like progress to me. The Obama administration may believe its own spin, but American families want jobs and to keep more of what they earn, not another 'report.' "

According to the report, "In the first 100 days since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, we have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs."

Republicans, though, would like to keep the focus on the current job numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported at the beginning of the month that 539,000 jobs were lost in April, increasing the unemployment rate from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent.

House GOP Leaders Respond To Pelosi Newser

The three top Republican leaders in the House issued statements responding to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's news conference today -- which was heavier on opening remarks than answering reporters' questions.

Minority Leader John Boehner:

"Today, the Speaker stood by her accusation against our intelligence professionals. She has had more than a week to produce evidence supporting her allegation that the CIA deliberately lied to Congress and does so 'all the time.' She still has not done so, and House Democrats are now stonewalling a bipartisan investigation to determine the facts. That is simply unacceptable. Claiming that the CIA engaged in a pattern of deception without either backing it up with evidence or retracting her statement and apologizing is an affront to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country. They deserve better than this type of stonewalling."

Continue reading "House GOP Leaders Respond To Pelosi Newser" »

NRCC Responds To Pelosi News Conference

NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain issued the following statement in response to the Democratic leadership press conference:

"Speaker Pelosi stammered and filibustered around the elephant in the room because she knows full well that she has become a political liability to her fellow Democrats in Congress. Her obsession with the previous administration and her disdain for America's intelligence officials has reduced her to cheerleader status within the far left wing of her party and a distraction to the substantive debate over how to best move our economy forward."

Cheney: 9/11 Affected My View

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking just after President Obama's speech on terrorism, torture and Guantanamo Bay, defended the Bush administration's anti-terrorism tactics and said his perspective on his role as vice president changed drastically after September 11, 2001.

"There in the bunker came the reports and the images that so many Americans remember from that day," Cheney said, as he described some of the horrifying scenes he and the general public watched that day.

"In the years since, I've heard occassional speculation that I'm a different man after 9/11. I wouldn't say that. But I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities."

On the focus of interrogation techniques used under the Bush administration, and which Obama has put an end to, Cheney said it's far more important to look forward than to continue to investigate what happened in the past.

"It's hard to imagine a worst president filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policiy decisions of his predecessor," Cheney said. "The danger here is a loss of focus on national security and what it requires."

No Consensus On Cheney Within GOP

The reaction to Dick Cheney's media blitz the last few weeks has been divided within the Republican Party.

National Journal's bi-weekly poll of political operatives, released Friday, found that 57 percent of Republican ops think Cheney has hurt the GOP since leaving office, while 33 percent say he's helped (5 percent said he's had no effect, 5 percent said "both").

Then you have Byron York's piece today, which quotes John Weaver, the Republican strategist who advised Jon Huntsman on a possible presidential run and was a longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain: "If it's 2012 and our party is defined by Palin and Limbaugh and Cheney, then we're headed for a blowout. That's just the truth."

However, on the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders John Boehner and Michael Steele defended the former vice president's actions. Calling Cheney "a big member in our party," Boehner said "having these voices out there doesn't hurt us, it helps us."

The Country Is Evolving; Will the GOP?

Expanding the party base to include more minorities was a leading topic at the Republican National Committee meeting in January, when members gathered in Washington to elect a new party chairman. It's also one of the calling cards of Michael Steele, the party's controversial new chief.

Well, population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau prove GOP leaders were on the right track in identifying a key to electoral success in the future. Minority voters are quickly becoming a dominant force in politics.

With two stinging national losses fresh in mind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in January discussed at length the party's need to reach out to Latino voters. One committeeman told RealClearPolitics that the GOP could "soon lose Texas" if something isn't done. (Texas has voted Republican in the last eight presidential elections.)

Sure enough, today's Census release shows increasing minority populations in vital electoral states. In 2008, Florida's Orange County -- the 35th largest county in America -- became a majority-minority county, meaning more than half of its residents are non-white. In 2008, two of the three House Republican incumbents in Orange County's three congressional districts were defeated.

Two counties in Texas were also among the six nationally to become majority-minority last year. Since 2000, 56 counties have become majority-minority, bringing the total to 309, or 10% of the nation's counties.

Census estimates show that minorities now account for 34% of the U.S. population, as well as 47% of children under the age of five. If the last election wasn't a loud enough wake-up call for the GOP, perhaps these numbers will be.

Cornyn: Confident GOP Will Regain National Status

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, speaking at a rushed Senate GOP leadership press conference shortly after 2 p.m. today:

"While we were disappointed by Senator Specter's decision to switch parties, he's very candid to acknowledge that this is nothing more, nothing less than political self-preservation. As Leader McConnell indicated, his own pollster told him he could not win the Republican primary in Pennsylvania. So his only options were to leave the Senate or to switch parties, because he was convinced he could not win as an independent.

"I can tell you that in 2010 we are working very hard to make sure that we have the kind of candidates across the country on a national scale that will allow the Republican Party to regain our status as a national party, and run competitive races in blue states, and purple states and in red states. And we will be running competitive races in all the states currently held by our Democratic colleagues. We're going to be running hard to support our Republican incumbents who are running again. And in those states where there have been retirements, we'll be supporting our nominees in those states.

"I believe that we will be able to regain our status as a national party by being competitive nationally. And I do believe this decision by Senator Specter was a personal decision limited to his Republican primary prospects in Pennsylvania. Nothing more and nothing less."

Analysis: Specter's Switch All Politics

RCP's Greg Bobrinskoy provides the following analysis of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party:

There is only one reason moderate Republican Arlen Specter is changing party affiliations to become a Democrat. An April poll showed him losing in the Pennsylvania Republican Primary to the strongly conservative Pat Toomey by 21 points. Unlike in Connecticut, Specter wouldn't be able to run as an independent after losing the GOP primary, as Joe Lieberman successfully did in 2006 after Democrats chose a different nominee. Thus, the only way Specter stands a chance for a sixth term is to become a Democrat. Every other reason is secondary.

Specter wrote in his statement today, "Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

These are two different, and mostly unrelated sentences. While Specter and others have and will claim that his switch is due to the party's exceeding move to the right, everyone knows Specter would have stayed a Republican if he could have won the Pennsylvania primary and thus been the heavy favorite in the general election.

Continue reading "Analysis: Specter's Switch All Politics" »

McCain Slams "Cap And Tax" Energy Plan

As Congress opens hearings on new energy policies, John McCain said President Obama is pursuing a strategy that is a "revenue generator for the federal government," not a solution to the threat of climate change.

In addition, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee argued that the Obama administration is at risk of making a weak economy worse by pursuing what he called "a tax, borrow and spend policy of historic proportions," which he said the administration's plan derails undermines "bipartisan legislation" he has worked to address climate change.

"At this time of economic hardship, it is beyond irresponsible to further raise costs of operation for our country's businesses," he said at an energy forum hosted by the Reform Institute in Washington today. "I still believe that it is the time to address this critical domestic and international issue. But my vision for a cap and trade system is mechanism to lower greenhouse gases in our hemisphere, not as a revenue generator for the federal government."

He said the administration plan would create "a federal slush fund to pay for health care reform or other social programs."

"We must design a program that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of our economy, carefully balancing incentives with informed restrictions," he said. "It will take a combination of auctioning and allocating carbon credits, giving enough credits away to accommodate the transition costs and allow businesses to stay open, and prevent drastic increases in utility rates for customers."

The cap and trade before Congress now is actually authored by Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, though the White House made their legislation more urgent when the EPA issued a new finding on Friday "that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare."

Taking a larger view of energy policy, McCain also argued as he did throughout the presidential campaign that America should include nuclear power in any long-term strategy.

"We need to start making decisions in Washington based on facts, not pure partisan politics," he said. "We need to make choices based on sound science, national security, and a clear vision of our economic future. That's why I continue to be baffled by the rhetoric coming out of this administration in relation to our nuclear power industry."

He said that "pursuing only a limited number of green technologies, while refusing to recognize the important role of nuclear power, clean coal and other forms of green energy will be to limit our own economic and environmental progress."

McCain's comments came as fellow Republicans urged the Democratic-run committee to hold off on hearings, arguing that legislation is not ready yet. In addition, it was reported that McCain will face a primary challenge in his bid for re-election next year in the person of Chris Simcox, former head of the Minuteman anti-illegal immigration group.

Party Fundraising: Tale of the Tape

The DNC just announced its first-quarter fundraising numbers, reporting $11.9 million raised and $9.8 million cash on hand. The DNC took in another $5 million during the quarter from the Obama Victory Fund and Obama for America, and also reported more than $6.6 million in debts.

The RNC announced Friday that it had raised $25.3 million in the first quarter, including $7,351,000 transferred from the McCain-Palin campaign in January.

Here's a quick breakdown:

              Dems              GOP
Raised 3/09 $ 5,573,000 $ 6,700,000
Raised 1stQ $11,857,000 $25,300,000
CoH $ 9,766,000 $23,900,000

GOP Governors Reading The Tea Leaves

The Republican Governors Association argued today that the Tea Party demonstrations across the country yesterday signal a growing backlash against the excessive spending policies of the Obama administration so far.

"There's something going on out there in this period of economic angst," Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the chairman of the RGA, told reporters on a conference call this morning. "If you look at the budget issues, the size of the government budget, the projected deficits over the next 10 years, you look at health care and the cost of going to a single-payer system ... there's some huge pocket book issues that I think are going to give Republican governors in the 2010 election cycle a real leg up."

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), RGA vice chair, said the energy in the conservative grassroots is going to be a key factor not just in 2010, but in the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia this year. Sanford also said there are real parallels between the environment this year and 1993, when he said Christie Todd Whitman and George Allen won races "after Clinton had overplayed his hand."

"It was sort of a bellwether of what was a gut reaction to what had happened administratively," he said.

The governors were asked if they thought Republicans should embrace the Tea Party movement.

"I think it's always in the best interest of Republicans, whether they're governors, whether they're in the House or the Senate, to talk about the themes that are important to the people they represent," Sanford said. "And what seems to be emerging is a growing consensus that says that the Obama administration is out of bounds with regard to the spending that it is proposing. ... I don't know if it's a question of embracing one individual or one group, but it's embracing themes that we all happen to agree upon."

Barbour put it more bluntly.

"If we're not the low-tax party, what are we?" he asked.

The RGA this morning also issued a statement, arguing that the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act will play out in the states as well as Congress. The statement is after the jump.

Continue reading "GOP Governors Reading The Tea Leaves" »

NRCC Launches Ad Offensive

The National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a mulit-platform ad campaign in the districts of 43 House Democrats for going on what the committee calls a "reckless spending spree" in the 111th Congress. The TV ads, radio ads and robocalls begin this week, as Congress begins its second week of a two-week hiatus.

"Democrats have failed to be honest about their willingness to support a pork-filled stimulus package and a budget that taxes, spends and borrows in excess at the expense of their constituents," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in announcing the ad campaign. "We will continue to hold these Democrats accountable for rubber-stamping Nancy Pelosi's agenda that will burden middle-class families and inflict further damage on an already fragile economy for years to come."

Toomey Steps Down at Club for Growth

The anti-tax Club for Growth announced today that former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) is taking over as president, as Pat Toomey steps down from his post to "pursue other opportunities."

A Club for Growth press release described Chocola as "a staunch defender of the American taxpayer, fighting for the limited-government, free-market principles that are the foundation for economic growth in this country."

In 2006, Chocola was defeated for re-election to Congress by Joe Donnelly, whom Chocola had beaten in 2004. Chocola had a conservative voting record in the House, where he represented the northern-Indiana 2nd District for two terms.

Toomey is expected to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) for a second straight election. After coming up just short of knocking Specter out in the 2004 GOP primary, poor polling numbers for Specter indicate he is again vulnerable.

"I wish Pat the best of luck on his new path and am confident that he will be successful in whatever he does," Chocola said.

Sound Or Strong? That Is The Question

Strong: having or marked by great physical power; having great resources.

Sound: solid; firm; stable.

That's how Merriam-Webster defines the two words that the White House says is the difference between what John McCain said on the campaign trail last year and what President Obama and his economic adviser Christina Romer said in the last few days when describing the fundamentals of the U.S. economy.

At the daily press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs noted a difference between the two. "Do I think there's a definitional difference between sound and strong? Absolutely," Gibbs said. "I think the fundamentals, as Ms. Romer said, are sound. That the President is taking steps each and every day to strengthen those fundamentals to ensure that the pillars that we need to turn our economy around to create the jobs the President talked about, to give the middle class finally a fair shake, and to put ourselves on a path toward sustained economic growth is exactly what the President is focused on each and every day."

However, the NRCC sees little difference and has issued a press release in 50 Democratic House districts questioning the potentially conflicting statements.

"Are the fundamentals of our economy strong or is the President of the United States just fundamentally wrong? That is the question Mary Jo Kilroy needs to answer," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain is quoted saying in a press release to one of 50 House districts. "Does Kilroy stand by her Democrat colleagues who claimed that it was 'absurd' to say the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are sound or will she stand up to President Obama and tell him that he is sadly mistaken when it comes to the economic problems middle-class Americans are facing?"

Ms. Palin Goes To Washington

Proving that Sarah Palin remains a popular character in the Republican Party, the Alaska governor will keynote the annual fundraiser for the GOP's Senate and House campaign committees. The Senate-House dinner will be held June 8 at the Washington Convention Center.

NRSC Chairman John Cornyn and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, both from Texas, made the announcement today:

"Governor Palin has quickly emerged as one of the most popular and recognizable faces in the Republican Party, and we are honored to have her deliver the keynote address at the Senate-House dinner. As a proven leader in her home-state of Alaska, Governor Palin represents a breath of fresh air from the business-as-usual crowd in Washington, and is one of our Party's up-and-coming young governors who will play a critical role in our re-building efforts in the years to come. Last fall, she electrified and energized crowds across the country, and we expect she will generate a similar amount of enthusiasm at this spring's dinner," said Cornyn.

"On behalf of Congressional Republicans, it is a pleasure to announce one of the brightest rising stars in the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, will deliver the keynote address at this year's Senate-House dinner. Governor Palin's conservative values, commendable achievements in Alaska and the sheer energy she personifies make her one of the most compelling visionaries of our Party. With respect, admiration and enthusiasm, I look forward to welcoming her to Washington and await the inspirational address our Party needs, as it rebuilds and prepares for a victorious election cycle," said Sessions.

Vote Of Confidence For Steele

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) released the following statement today thanking RNC Chairman Michael Steele for his contribution to the special election race in New York's vacant 20th District. Steele has come under fire lately for his performance as the newly-minted leader of the Republican National Committee.

Sessions:

"Each of us in House Republican leadership appreciate Chairman Steele's early contribution to our effort to fight our way back to the majority. But even more than this generous donation, we appreciate his total commitment to winning the special election in New York's 20th Congressional District. He is deeply committed to rebuilding the Party in blue states, and he's putting action behind his words. Not only has Chairman Steele personally been on the ground in New York twice, his staff is fully engaged and helping to make sure we have a superior grassroots turnout operation. Having worked with Michael before, I look forward to partnering with him again as we work to expand our party."

NRCC Continues Stimulus Argument

The National Republican Congressional Committee is apparently not letting up its attacks against Democratic House members that voted for the economic stimulus bill President Obama signed into law yesterday. The GOP committee went on the air yesterday in Virginia with a TV ad hitting freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) for his vote, and claiming he misled his constituents in his explanation of the bill.

"It's hard to figure out what's more insulting: that Tom Perriello voted to spend over a trillion dollars of taxpayers' hard-earned money on wasteful spending, or that he went back to his district and stretched the truth about what Pelosi's pork-laden package really does," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in a press release.

Perriello knocked off six-term Rep. Virgil Goode (R) -- a one-time Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 2002 -- by less than 1,000 votes in November. The Charlottesville- and South Side-based 5th Congressional District gave George W. Bush double-digit margins in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, however John McCain carried the district by just 2 points.

The NRCC ad tells voters to call Perriello's congressional office and "tell him to quit stretching the truth and wasting our money." Here is the ad:

LaHood Confident More Republicans Will Vote For Stimulus

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this afternoon that he's confident the final stimulus bill will see more support from House Republicans than it did in the initial round of voting.

"They know the importance of this," said LaHood, a former Republican congressman and one of three Republicans in Obama's Cabinet. "They're concerned about the process, the way the bill was put together. But I've not heard one criticism from my friends on the Republican side that this piece of it - they all like it."

He was referring to funding for infrastructure projects, which he said both Democrats and Republicans see as guaranteed job-creators. The secretary was joined by several state directors of transportation who are very eager to see an influx of cash to help jumpstart various projects, many of which have been shelved in tough economic times.

"We are very anxious and very thankful for those kinds of dollars," said Allen Biehler, Pennsylvania's transportation secretary. He expects a billion dollars in federal funds, which he said represents a 75 percent increase in the department's yearly budget.

LaHood and the state officials said they were confident the funds would be spent wisely; a national association of state transportation officials will work with the White House to ensure transparency, they said.

As for the final vote, LaHood doesn't see himself lobbying his former colleagues.

"If I was selected by the president to help them get votes, my job will probably not last very long. I haven't been too successful so far," he said.

Gov. Jindal Will Give GOP Rebuttal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) will give the Republican address to the nation following President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress on February 24. Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner announced the decision today.

"Gov. Jindal's leadership during a time of recovery in Louisiana, his commitment to real government reform, and his protection of hardworking American families make him an excellent choice to offer Republican solutions for the challenges which lay ahead," McConnell said in a press release.

Jindal is a former member of Congress who was elected governor in 2007. There was speculation that John McCain considered him as a running mate last year, and many believe Jindal could run for president in 2012.

Crist Joining Obama In Florida Tomorrow

An interesting announcement from the White House: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who was considered a top candidate to be John McCain's running mate last year, will join President Obama for a town hall meeting in Fort Myers tomorrow. Crist remains very popular in the Sunshine State despite the poor economy, with a recent survey pegging his approval rating at 73 percent.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, is not with the president today in Elkhart, and Republican Sen. Lugar declined in invitation to fly on Air Force One to the event. Crist is reportedly considering a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, though it's considered more likely he'll seek a second term instead (and perhaps keep his options open for 2012). Here's Crist's statement from the White House release:

Florida has taken prudent steps to cut taxes for our people and balance our budget in these increasingly difficult times. Any attempts at federal stimulus must prioritize job creation and targeted tax relief for small business owners. I am eager to welcome President Obama to the Sunshine State as he continues to work hard to reignite the US economy.

McCain Rallies Online Backers Against Stimulus

Sen. John McCain is urging his supporters to sign a petition opposing the economic stimulus bill, saying in an e-mail from his "Country First" PAC that the plan "is big on giveaways for the special interests and corporate high rollers, yet short on help for ordinary working Americans."

"I cannot and do not support the package on the table from the Democrats and the Obama Administration," McCain writes. "Our country does not need just another spending bill, particularly not one that will load future generations with the burden of massive debt."

He says that every spending proposal in the bill should be evaluated to determine whether it would actually create jobs. "If the answer is no, it does not belong in a so-called stimulus package." The Arizona Republican says he appreciates Obama's outreach to the GOP, but that "the time for talking has come to an end and we must now begin some serious negotiation."

You can see his online petition here. The full text of McCain's e-mail is after the jump.

Continue reading "McCain Rallies Online Backers Against Stimulus" »

Live Updates From The RNC Chair Election

Five Republicans are vying today to be the next chairman of the Republican Party. With Democrats in power in the White House and both chambers of Congress, the party's new leader will be tasked with getting the GOP back on track. Check out our story today on the state of the Republican Party and its path forward.

We're at the RNC Winter Meeting in downtown Washington, and will provide live updates from what will most likely be a multi-ballot election:

4:08: "As a little boy growing up in this town, this is awesome," Steele said. "It's time for something completely different, and we're going to bring it to them."

4:03: Steele wins with 91 votes, becoming the new leader of the GOP.

3:44: The 6th ballots are now being distributed, but it appears as though the race is already over. Look for Steele to come out on top. He needs just six more votes (85 out of 168) to win, and it's likely Anuzis will give him well more than that.

3:30: Anuzis withdraws. "We've got two great people still running." And then there were two...

3:28: 5th ballot tally: Steele, 79; Dawson, 69; Anuzis, 20.

3:04: Blackwell withdraws, endorses Steele. "We're back on path to become the majority party again." The 5th ballots are now being distributed, with just three candidates remaining.

2:42: Dawson takes the lead. 4th ballot tally: Dawson, 62; Steele, 60; Anuzis, 31; Blackwell, 15.

2:24: Overheard: As ballots are being dropped in the box at the front of the room, in the back of the room one Duncan staffer says to a Steele staffer: "I know which way we're sending our people. We'll see if they listen."

2:20: Following Duncan's exit speech, one member asked for a second 15-minute recess before the fourth ballot. However, the restless voting members rejected the idea, as well as a follow-up five minute option. Ballots are now being distributed.

2:14: Duncan withdraws. "Obviously the winds of change are blowing at the RNC," Duncan said, as he withdrew his candidacy. He received a standing ovation.

1:42: The end for Duncan? Surging Dawson? One thing's for sure, there will almost certainly be five ballots.

1:38: 3rd ballot tally: Steele, 51; Duncan, 44; Dawson, 34; Anuzis, 24; Blackwell, 15.

12:56: 2nd ballot tally: Duncan, 48; Steele, 48; Dawson, 29; Anuzis, 24; Blackwell, 19.

12:30: Second ballots are now being passed out, as are boxed lunches. What takes the longest in the voting process is that all 168 members, called on by state, must walk up to the front of the room -- graduation style -- and drop their ballot in the box.

12:12: One RNC staffer to me: "If I'm Duncan, I would've held back some of my supporters on the first ballot, then had them switch their vote to me over the next few ballots to build momentum." Perhaps that's what he's doing?

12:08: First ballot tally: Duncan, 52 ; Steele, 46 ; Dawson, 28 ; Anuzis, 22; Blackwell, 20. 85 are needed to win.

12:02: Overheard: Steele supporters are organizing a mass cheer when Steele's vote total is announced. "Whether its 40 votes or 3 votes," one Steele aide said. Votes are currently being tabulated and candidates are schmoozing.

11:24: Candidates spotted by this reporter so far: Steele, sitting off to the side with legs crossed and chewing gum; Saul Anuzis, standing with arms crossed; Katon Dawson, sitting and typing on his BlackBerry. As state party chairs, Dawson and Anuzis will vote.

11:18: The first ballots are now being passed out to the 168 voting RNC members, as time expired for endorsement statements. Michael Steele's endorsers spoke last.

Romney: Stimulate Economy, Not Government

It's turning out to be quite a week for the future of the GOP. The party's Congressional delegation is feeling good after a unanimous "no" vote on President Obama's stimulus package. Votes are still being cast in the RNC chairman race. Gov. Sarah Palin is coming to town for the Alfalfa Club Dinner. And not to be overlooked, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spoke this morning at the GOP Conference Retreat about 200 miles west of here in Hot Springs, Va.

According to remarks prepared for delivery, the former and likely future presidential candidate was to say that he was optimistic about the future of the party: "Our ideas are good, our agenda will make America stronger, and your action this week showed that we have the kind of leaders who will stand up for what they believe in." As for how the party recovers, Romney said: "My first concern isn't about our party--it's about our country."

He said he believes that stimulus is needed, but criticized the current legislation for the "huge increase in the amount of government borrowing." "We're on an economic tightrope. That's why it is so important to exercise extreme care and good judgment," he was to say. True stimulus would boost the economy, not government, he adds.

As for Obama, Romney said he wants him "to adopt correct principles and then to succeed." But he also dug at the new president, saying he "can't vote 'present.' He can't let others run the show. He has to say yes to some things and no to a lot of others."

You can read the full prepared draft here.

McConnell Warns That GOP Becoming "Regional Party"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke this afternoon at the Republican National Committee winter meeting, taking place this week in downtown Washington.

"The Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one," McConnell said. "In politics, there's a name for a regional party: it's called a minority party."

Much of McConnell's speech -- and the business of the day -- dealt with the state of the party and its path moving forward. The answer will be partially revealed here tomorrow, when the 168 RNC members will vote for a chairman to lead them.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Hastings, Others Named Committee Ranking Members

House Republican Steering Committee members today voted Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) into the ranking member slot on the Natural Resources Committee for the 111th Congress. The incumbent ranking member, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), was ousted yesterday as ethics questions surround him.

The ranking members for the other committees were chosen yesterday:

Standing Committee.....Ranking Member
Agriculture.....Frank Lucas (OK)
Appropriations.....Jerry Lewis (CA)
Armed Services.....John McHugh (NY)
Budget.....Paul Ryan (WI)
Education & Labor.....Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (CA)
Energy & Commerce.....Joe Barton (TX)
Financial Services.....Spencer Bachus (AL)
Foreign Affairs.....Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
Homeland Security.....Peter T. King (NY)
Select Committee on Intelligence.....Pete Hoekstra (MI)
Judiciary.....Lamar S. Smith (TX)
Oversight & Government Reform.....Darrel Issa (CA)
Rules.....David Dreier (CA)
Science & Technology.....Ralph M. Hall (TX)
Small Business.....Sam Graves (MO)
Transportation & Infrastructure.....John L. Mica (FL)
Veterans' Affairs.....Steve Buyer (IN)
Ways & Means.....Dave Camp (MI)

Cornyn Elected NRSC Chair

Senate Republicans put the rubber stamp on Texas Senator John Cornyn's bid to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, rounding out the party's uncontested leadership elections for the 111th Congress.

Republicans kept Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl and Lamar Alexander in their positions as top party leaders, while John Ensign moved from the NRSC to serve as Policy Committee chair. South Dakota Senator John Thune moves to fifth on the leadership ladder as vice chairman.

Cornyn was expected to face Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, but Coleman dropped his expected bid as he continues to face a statewide recount in his race for re-election. Cornyn will lead the NRSC in recruiting and assisting campaigns in at least 35 states in which voters will cast Senate ballots.

The Texan, who has been angling for the job most of the year, tapped top aide Rob Jesmer to serve as executive director of the Republican campaign arm. Jesmer has been a regional political director for the RNC, the National Field Director for the NRCC and as Cornyn's campaign manager.

RNC Files BCRA Challenges

The Republican National Committee waited scarcely a week after the presidential contest ended to lauch a lawsuit striking at the heart of one of their former nominee's signature achievements. The committee filed two lawsuits today challenging aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly known as McCain-Feingold after its two lead sponsors.

The committee is challenging the constitutionality of the Act's prohibition against unlimited corporate donations, known as "soft money," and the ban on close coordination with candidates in separate suits filed in Washington and Louisiana district courts.

The Act "is an infringement on my constitutional right, I think, both on freedom of association and free speech," RNC chairman Mike Duncan said on a conference call earlier today. Duncan said the elimination of soft money contributions cost the RNC about 40% of its resources, money the committee frequently passed to states to assist with electing candidates to statewide and state legislative offices.

That money would be especially important when it comes to redistricting after the 2010 elections. Most states give legislatures at least some power to draw new legislative and congressional district lines. The RNC has historically used soft money to influence legislative races, but BCRA prohibits that use. "We will be at a severe disadvantage if the Republican National Committee is not allowed to do what we have done in past elections," Duncan said. "The money that we have is not sufficient to help us [assist GOP redistricting efforts] the way we have in the past."

After the 2008 elections, Democrats hold majorities in at least 60 of the nation's 98 partisan legislative chambers (Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature). Several others are tied, putting Republicans at a distinct disadvantage when redistricting comes around in two years. Perhaps most significantly, Democrats won a majority in the New York Senate, meaning the party will have complete control to draw new districts when the Empire State loses two seats following the 2010 Census, assuming they keep the governor's mansion.

The RNC is also challenging the $84,000 limit for coordinated expenditures the party is allowed to make in conjunction with candidates. Currently, any expenditure above that limit must come out of the party's independent expenditure wing, which must be separate from the main body of the organization and cannot coordinate messages or themes. "These [independent expenditure] units are very difficult to work with. You give them the money and you're not sure what the message is going to be," Duncan said.

During his presidential run, John McCain tried to make an issue of his adherence to the $84 million spending limit in the general election and Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing. Many have pointed to the amount of money Obama raised and spent as heralding the end of the public financing system, which is also regulated in part under BCRA. With the RNC so publicly repudiating McCain's stands and positions he took during the campaign, renewed questions about McCain's relationship with the party are bound to crop up.

The Democratic National Committee, which is likely to oppose the lawsuits, has yet to issue a statement. Phone calls and emails to McCain's Senate office went unreturned.

Anuzis Makes It Official

After months of speculation surrounding his intentions, Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis has become the first big-name candidate to jump into the RNC chair's race, according to MSNBC's First Read.

"The comeback starts now!" screams a website, AnuzisForChair.com, that trumpets his candidacy. Anuzis "is running for Chairman of the Republican National Committee to bring back the party of ideas, bring it to every neighborhood in America and harness every tool of the digital age to lead an historic comeback for the GOP in 2010 and beyond."

Anuzis had been coy about his intentions in multiple conversations with Politics Nation, but most RNC watchers expected the Michigander to make a race. His formal decision comes just in time for him to take advantage of a gathering of RNC members in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this weekend.

The meeting is hosted by Katon Dawson, the Palmetto State GOP chief who is also widely expected to make a run for chair. Dawson is expected to make his own announcement next week. Having so many RNC members in the same place will provide a target-rich environment for anyone thinking of making a run.

Yob-Thompson Coalition Floated

The buzz around a potential Fred Thompson candidacy for Republican National Committee chair is growing, thanks to The Tennessean's Jennifer Brooks, who speculates today on Thompson's thirst for the position.

Meanwhile, a source close to former Michigan national committeeman Chuck Yob tells Politics Nation that Yob is floating the possibility of Thompson serving as general chair and as the public face of the party while Yob manages the day-to-day operations of the committee. Both candidates would gain advantages, Yob by attracting some star power and Thompson by associating with someone well-known among RNC members.

One side game RNC members and observers are watching is which potential 2012 presidential candidate the RNC chair hopefuls are most closely aligned with. But politics makes strange bedfellows: Take Chip Saltsman, Mike Huckabee's former campaign manager. He's hired Stephen Smith, Mitt Romney's former online communications guru, to help him out.

A Romney guy working to elect a Huckabee guy? It gets more complicated: Saltsman and Smith both worked with former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also seen as a potential White House candidate at some point down the line.

RNC Chair Notes

The race for RNC chair is starting to feel like the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Some notes on the latest developments:

-- The Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, plugged in to the RNC as he is, floats Newt Gingrich as holding a passive interest in the gig while ex-Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, now chair of GOPAC, sports a much more active interest.

-- Steele has some sort of organization backing him already, as a DC-based communications firm passes along the new DraftMichaelSteele.com website. The site looks grass-roots, and the folks at Marsh Copsey & Associates, the Republican consulting firm who shot it around to reporters, say they're not behind it. Steele is making calls to RNC members to gauge support but he hasn't made a final decision yet, says one friend of the GOPAC chairman.

-- One source who follows the race closely tells Politics Nation that Gingrich may not want to actually run for the position, but that if it is offered, he'd take it. Hallow reports Gingrich is letting others make the calls for him. Gingrich, yet again, declined a request for an interview with RCP.

-- Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis has started making phone calls to gauge support, Hallow writes and multiple sources confirm to Politics Nation. Anuzis has been coy about his hopes for the chairmanship, but observers have said all along not to count him out.

-- South Carolina party chair Katon Dawson's big gathering in Myrtle Beach this weekend will be the lowest-profile of three prominent GOP get-togethers -- the other two being the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami that kicks off tomorrow and House leadership elections slated for next week. But it'll be a coming-out party for Dawson and other RNC insiders who want to run for chair (Remember, there are only 168 votes that matter, and neither Gingrich nor Steele has one). Anuzis, Florida GOP chair Jim Greer and others will be there.

-- Mike Huckabee is injecting himself into the race, making phone calls on behalf of ex-manager Chip Saltsman, who told Politics Nation a few weeks back that he's taking a hard look at the contest.

-- And while some Republicans complain they're falling far behind Democrats on the technological front, at least they know something about Facebook. Gingrich, Steele, Huckabee, Saltsman, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, ex-Rep. Jim Nussle, Sarah Palin and John Sununu each have Facebook groups dedicated to their candidacies, real or imagined.

Yob Making RNC Calls

A former top Republican National Committee official is the latest to throw his hat in the ring for his party's top job. Chuck Yob, a Grand Rapids businessman who served as Michigan's national committeeman for nearly two decades, has begun making phone calls to gauge support for the position, multiple GOP sources tell Politics Nation.

A call to Yob's home was not immediately returned.

Yob was first elected to the RNC in 1989 and served as state chair or co-chair for most recent Republican presidential nominees in Michigan, including President Bush and John McCain. On the RNC, Yob served as vice chairman for the Midwest. He decided not to run for national committeeman again last year as he faced a spirited challenge from 2006 Senate candidate Keith Butler, who now represents the state to the national body.

A close ally of McCain's -- son John Yob served as one of the Arizona senator's deputy political directors -- Yob was widely rumored as one of the front-runners for the RNC job if McCain had won the White House. Now, though, Yob will run against what could be a crowded field that may include as many as five state party chairmen and a host of outside candidates, rumored to include GOPAC chairman Michael Steele, former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman and others.

Along with the crowded field, Yob faces the prospect of having to start his campaign without the full support of his home-state delegation, either. Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis is considered a top contender for the RNC post, though Anuzis has tamped down speculation that he will seek the post. Still, RNC watchers are not counting Anuzis out as a candidate.

Hensarling Backs Pence For Chair

Republican Study Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling has dropped out of the race to chair the House Republican Conference and has thrown his support behind Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a fellow member of the conservative RSC who once chaired the body.

"Mike Pence was always my first choice for this position," Hensarling said, according to a released statement. "I asked him to run several times, and pending his final decision I was prepared to run for Conference Chair should he have chosen not to. If we are to begin the process of rebuilding a bigger, better, and stronger Republican Conference, we must make decisions based upon the good of the team rather than ourselves."

Hensarling managed Pence's long-shot run for minority leader following the 2006 mid-term elections. Minority Leader John Boehner, who defeated Pence by a wide margin to keep his leadership slot two years ago, has also announced his support for the Indiana Republican. The Conference chairmanship became vacant when Florida Rep. Adam Putnam announced he would be stepping down.

"I've encouraged Mike to run for the job of Conference Chairman because there is no one in our ranks who does a better job of articulating the GOP message of freedom and smaller government, and he's also proven himself to be a team player with the ability to bring our members together," Boehner said.

--Kyle Trygstad

Dawson Surveys RNC Members

Just a day after Republicans suffered major losses for a second day in a row, South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson is making his most overt moves toward a campaign for the top slot at the national committee. Dawson yesterday mailed an eight-page survey to all 168 members of the Republican National Committee in which he asks for feedback about how the committee can better operate.

The survey covers everything from the effectiveness of the national committee's vaunted 72-hour program to the new and emerging technologies the party might use. Under Dawson's slogan, "Renew, Reform, Restore," RNC members are also asked to rate the relationship between the national party and its staff and state parties.

"Let's be honest and say it together: last night was a rough night for Republicans. Democrats now have the White House and a commanding majority in the House and the Senate," Dawson wrote in a letter to fellow RNC members.

"After every election, it is important that we learn from the results and make necessary changes. And sometimes that requires that we look in the mirror and ask some tough questions," Dawson's letter reads. "[M]ay I humbly propose that to find the answers, we should not look toward Washington pundits and poll-driven analyses, but rather, we need to hear from activists like you who were on the ground and saw what happened."

Fed-Exed to national committee members, Dawson writes the survey's results will be shared with attendees at his "Reform Renew Restore Conference," which will be held in Myrtle Beach next weekend. An invite to the conference was also included in the packet.

Dawson is considered one of the front-runners for the RNC chair position, along with several other state party chairs and assorted Republican activists, including current chairman Mike Duncan, who is seeking another term.

GOP Leadership Races Begin

Just hours after the party suffered unprecedented back-to-back losses in the House, two Republicans launched challenges to incumbent party leaders, intent, they say, on turning around a flailing party.

Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor began making phone calls today seeking to line up support for minority whip, the post currently held by Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt. Cantor, who serves as chief deputy whip, quickly secured several public endorsements and is seen by some conference watchers as the future face of the House GOP.

Blunt has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election as his party's number two in the House, and his spokesperson could not immediately be reached.

After the GOP lost more than twenty seats, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions has told colleagues he will run to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee for the 2010 cycle. Sessions lost a three-way battle to head the committee this year to Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole.

Many had assumed Sessions would skate to election two years after Cole took over what ended up to be a disastrous cycle. But in a surprising move, Cole has told colleagues he will seek re-election to head the committee, as reported by Politico and confirmed by Real Clear Politics.

Cole, whose resume includes tenures as a top staffer at both the NRCC and RNC as well as a career as a successful political consultant, nonetheless has come under intense criticism for poor candidate recruitment and lackluster fundraising.

Cole may point out his party only lost 22 seats this year, arguing that the number could have been much worse given the unprecedented amount by which Democrats outspent Republicans in key races. Whether colleagues will buy his argument that he beat expectations remains to be seen. Top Republican watchers say Sessions is the early favorite. "I can't come up with a scenario where Cole could get re-elected," one well-connected Republican tells RCP.

The two competitive races come as another race for conference chairman is beginning. Late on Election Night, Florida Rep. Adam Putnam announced he would not seek another term as chair, and early speculation is centering on Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling as an early front-runner for the post.

So far, Minority Leader John Boehner appears as the only top Republican leader without a challenger. Boehner sent a letter to House Republicans this morning outlining his plans for the future and asking for their continued support for another term. Though other Republicans are anxious for a shot at the top slot, strategists agree a serious candidate to challenge Boehner is unlikely to emerge.

GOPers Reserve Ad Time

The National Republican Congressional Committee has plopped down the first two rounds of reservations for television time in advance of November's general election, and though they trail their Democratic counterparts, Republicans are remaining optimistic the money will roll in.

Republicans have reserved a total of $17.8 million in television time targeting 26 districts, far short of the more than 50 Democrats are targeting with upwards of $50 million. Too, the list of targeted districts looks remarkably similar to Democrats' list, meaning the party is likely to be outspent in most places where they advertise.

Democratic claims that the majority of districts in play remain in GOP districts ring true, given some of the names on the list, including entrenched incumbents like Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, both of Florida, Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, Steve Chabot of Ohio and, perhaps most surprisingly, Phil English in Pennsylvania.

In all, fourteen of the 26 districts feature Republican incumbents, while seven targets are open seat races being vacated by Republicans. Just five Democrats are targets of Republican ad dollars, though they are the five most promising names on the GOP headhunting list.

Republicans have their eyes on Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney, Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda, Don Cazayoux of Louisiana, Nick Lampson of Texas and Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen. All except Lampson were first elected in 2006, though Lampson returned to Congress that year after losing a previous bid for re-election.

Remember, television reservations are no indication that Republicans will actually spend the money on advertising, and they can cancel those reservations any time (The DCCC canceled millions of dollars slated to defend Boyda this year after the Kansas Democrat publicly asked the party to stay out of her race). But the early Republican moves are an ambitious statement that their party won't be outspent too dramatically, if they can help it.

A full list of targeted districts, the amount of time Republicans have reserved and the number of points that means is after the jump. Two thousand points is considered saturation level for a week, meaning the average television viewer would see an ad twenty times in a week-long period.

Continue reading "GOPers Reserve Ad Time" »

RNC Announces Speaker Lineup

The Republican National Convention issued a press release announcing the speakers and themes for the September 1-4 event in St. Paul. Jonathan Martin notes three VP prospects not on this list. Another one we noticed...South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Monday, Sept. 1
Service
"Love of country, my friends, is another way of saying love of your fellow countryman." --Sen. John McCain

John McCain's commitment to his fellow Americans, a commitment forged in service to his country, is one of the defining hallmarks of his life. Monday's events will highlight John McCain's record of service and sacrifice and reflect his commitment to serving a cause greater than one's own self-interest.

Speakers will include:
-U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.)
-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.)
-Vice President Richard B. Cheney
-First Lady Laura Bush
-President George W. Bush

Tuesday, Sept. 2
Reform
"If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you are disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and correct them."
--Sen. John McCain

John McCain's life is a testament to the fundamental truth that every American can be a force for change. A restless reformer who has dedicated his career to taking on special interests and the status quo, John McCain will deliver the right kind of change and reform to meet the great challenges of our time. On Tuesday, the convention program will underscore his vision of a government that is transparent, principled and worthy of the American people it serves.
Speakers will include:

-Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
-Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.)
-Former Gov. Tom Ridge (Pa.)
-Gov. Sarah Palin (Alaska)
-Gov. Jon Huntsman (Utah)
-Rosario Marin, California Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and former Treasurer of the United States
-Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.)
-Gov. Linda Lingle (Hawaii)
-Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (Md.)

Wednesday, Sept. 3
Prosperity
"America's best days are still to come."
--Sen. John McCain

The American story is one of perseverance. Even in the face of tough times, the ingenuity and spirit of the American people has ushered in a new era of prosperity. Wednesday's program will focus on John McCain's plans to get our economy back on track and continue our long tradition of meeting the challenges we face and using our prosperity to help others. The day will conclude with an address by the vice presidential nominee.

Speakers will include:
-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.)
-Meg Whitman, National Co-Chair for McCain 2008 and former President and CEO of eBay
-Carly Fiorina, Victory '08 Chairman for the Republican National Committee and former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co.
-Former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.)
-Mrs. Cindy McCain
-Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.)
-Republican Party's Vice Presidential Nominee

Thursday, Sept. 4
Peace
"Our next president will have a mandate to build an enduring global peace on the foundations of freedom, security, opportunity, prosperity, and hope."
--Sen. John McCain

John McCain understands the challenges that America faces in the world and the sacrifice necessary to defend our freedom in a way that few others can fathom. Thursday's events will reflect his vision of an America in pursuit of peace and seen as a beacon of goodwill and hope throughout the world. The evening will close with John McCain accepting the Republican Party's nomination for the Presidency of the United States.

Speakers will include:
-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.)
-Gov. Charlie Crist (Fla.)
-U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.)
-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.)
-John McCain

In the coming days, the 2008 Republican National Convention will announce additional speakers and program details.

The Mighty, Falling

Once a power player on the national Republican scene, the mighty Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition, has seen his stature plummet. Reed, who lost a primary for Lieutenant Governor in 2006, is even seeing his name displayed in a new context by the Associated Press.

"Figure in Abramoff scandal raises money for McCain," the AP's Charles Babington heads today.

Emails between Reed and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff shed light on some of Abramoff's shady dealings with several organizations.

GOPers Head To ANWR

Sensing an increasingly favorable political issue, House Minority Leader John Boehner and ten Republican freshmen will travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge late next week to highlight the need for new energy exploration. The trip follows a group of five Republican challengers who will visit the Arctic Circle earlier in the week to highlight their own support for drilling in the region.

Boehner's group will stop first at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, before heading to Alaska, as part of what Republicans are calling their "all of the above" energy plan aimed at reducing gas prices.

Republicans have found new political life in what had been a losing political issue as gas prices continue to climb past the $4 a gallon mark. Democrats have long hammered the GOP for voting in favor of big oil companies, but recent polls show concern over gas prices and support for new energy exploration growing among voters. "Policies not widely embraced when gasoline was $2 per gallon -- such as oil exploration on a tiny patch of Alaska's vast North Slope -- now enjoy the American people's overwhelming support in the face of $4 per gallon gas," Boehner said in a statement announcing the trip.

He will be joined by Reps. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, Gus Bilirakis, of Florida, Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, Dean Heller, of Nevada, Ohio's Jim Jordan and Bob Latta, Colorado's Doug Lamborn, California's Kevin McCarthy, Nebraska's Adrian Smith and newly-elected Steve Scalise, of Louisiana. Of the ten freshmen, only Bachmann is expected to face a close race, though national Democrats are excited about Heller's opponent. Lamborn faces what could be a difficult primary fight.

Still, at a time when Republicans are struggling to find a winning political issue, gas prices and new exploration could be key to salvaging at least a few seats in Congress. Democrats have used the energy crisis effectively so far, but if Republicans can find a toehold, spending a weekend in Alaska might be the first step towards claiming newly favorable terrain.

Romney Back In NH

For any other politician, a stop in New Hampshire might be construed as evidence of a lack of faith in their party's nominee and his chance of winning this November. But for Mitt Romney, showing up at a Fourth of July parade in the Granite State could be as simple as stepping outside his vacation home near Lake Winnipesaukee.

Romney slapped on stickers bearing the names of local Republican candidates, including Senator John Sununu and former Rep. Jeb Bradley, as he led his campaign bus -- complete with John McCain signs -- through Wolfeboro city streets on Friday, the Concord Monitor reported. But instead of wondering whether the former Massachusetts governor would be a candidate again, spectators said Romney might make a good vice presidential nominee.

One of the few veep hopefuls who headed to McCain's Sedona, Arizona ranch a month ago, Romney has gone out of his way to demonstrate his usefulness to the ticket, including holding major fundraisers for McCain in Utah, Michigan and Boston. Romney, predictably, shot down questions about whether he would be interested in the gig: "No speculation on that front," he told the paper.

Romney isn't the only former candidate to return to New Hampshire this year. Mike Huckabee was back a few weeks ago to stump for a former supporter, state Senator Bob Clegg, who is running against freshman Democrat Paul Hodes in the Second District (Bradley is seeking a return to his old seat in the First District). Both House candidates face contentious primaries, and Bradley is seen as one of Republicans' best chances to take back a seat.

Still, keep an eye on once-and-future candidates throughout the rest of the year. If McCain loses in November, those surrogates who head to Iowa and New Hampshire after their bids end will be the first ones on the phone seeking to consolidate their base for a 2012 run. Doing so now, though, is dangerous, especially if someone harbors vice presidential ambitions. Don't read too much into Romney's trip, though. Romney's vacation home is near the Wolfeboro parade route.

Boehner Hits West Coast

House Minority Leader John Boehner is spending his holiday recess on the West Coast, stumping for two safe incumbents and one top Democratic target, as well as for an open seat candidate in a heavily Republican area.

Boehner made stops in Washington State earlier this week, holding fundraisers for Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert, and he will hold an event later in the week for Duncan Hunter Jr., son of the retiring congressman who is running to succeed his father.

McMorris Rodgers and Hastings, who represent districts east of the Cascade Mountains, are seen as safe incumbents. Democrats have not held either seat since 1994, and even with solid recruits in McMorris' Fifth District, Democrats still lost by twelve points in 2006 (Hastings won re-election that year by twenty points).

Reichert, though, is in trouble. His suburban Eighth District, just east of Seattle, has increasingly voted Democratic for Senate and President, but Reichert has managed to cling to the seat since 2004, when he won by just five points. In 2006, Reichert beat former Microsoft employee Darcy Burner by just two points, and this year he will face Burner again.

Those close to Reichert's campaign brag that he made more voter contacts in 2006 than any other campaign in the country, but in a presidential year he will have to do so again just to hold off Burner.

Boehner, Cole and Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel are all on the trail this week (For Cole's and Emanuel's itineraries through the Midwest, click here) while others are taking the Fourth of July recess as their last break before November.

GOP Hits Dems On Guns

Following yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, in which the individual right to bear arms was explicitly upheld in the first ruling on the Second Amendment in 69 years and in a more broad manner than ever before, national Republicans are seeking to make guns an issue again, after finding success against Democrats the last time gun control came up, in 1994.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has far fewer targets to work with this time, though, given both parties' hesitancy to touch what has become yet another third rail in politics. Still, there are some Democrats who Republicans hope can be made vulnerable on the issue.

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick "Murphy's opposition to the Second Amendment puts himself at odds with not only members of his own party, but the overwhelming majority his Pennsylvania constituents," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said of the freshman Congressman, pointing out that Murphy and others had not signed an amicus brief backing repeal of the gun ban. The brief, spearheaded by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, and Montana's Jon Tester, a Democrat, garnered signatures from dozens of members from both parties.

Other Democrats who did not sign the brief and were singled out by Republicans include Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore, Iowa Reps. Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley, Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter and New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

But the low number of targets speaks to a larger issue: Thanks to just one piece of gun legislation passing in the last dozen years, a measure passed in response to shootings at Virginia Tech and backed by the National Rifle Association, guns are simply not as potent an issue as they once were, as this author argues at Politicker.com. Without a call to arms (pardon the pun), gun rights advocates have nothing to fight against at the moment.

Perhaps, though, the issue could have a rebirth, thanks to controversial comments Barack Obama made at a private fundraiser in San Francisco several weeks ago. An NRA lobbyist mentioned Obama's comments that some rural voters are "bitter" and cling to their guns and religion. That quote, which Obama has had to explain for months on end, does not seem to be going away.

RNC, The Only Saving Grace

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission late Friday show Republicans picking up serious ground on the financial front, but only thanks to Mike Duncan's efforts at the Republican National Committee. As GOP campaign committees in both the House and the Senate continue to lag far behind their Democratic counterparts, RNC fundraising, thanks perhaps to a nomination battle that wrapped up far earlier than the Democrats' did, continues to outpace the Democratic National Committee by leaps and bounds.

The RNC raised $24.3 million in May, FEC reports show, while spending $11.5 million. The DNC raised just $4.8 million and spent $5.2 million. After John McCain clinched the GOP nomination, the party began raising funds through the Victory program, a joint fundraising effort with their presidential nominee. Republicans ended the month with a whopping $53.5 million in the bank, compared with just $3.9 million on hand for the DNC.

Barack Obama's clinching the nomination in early June should boost Democrats' fundraising numbers this month, though the South Capitol Street gang has a long way to go to catch up to their rivals at the Capitol Hill Club.

House Democrats continued to put distance between themselves and the National Republican Congressional Committee in May, raising $6.1 million and spending $4.2 million to end the month with $47.1 million in the bank. Republicans raised $5 million and spent $5.1 million, to finish with $6.65 million on hand. Much of both parties' spending went to early May special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi, both Republican seats which Democrats won.

Perhaps most telling, Democratic members of Congress are investing in their own conference. Last month, members gave $1.9 million to their own cause, building the party's cash-on-hand edge to a more than seven-to-one ratio. Republican members of an NRCC oversight committee, meanwhile, have complained about a lack of contributions from their own members, many of whom have apparently decided to stockpile their own cash in the event they, too, have more competitive races than expected.

On the Senate side, Democrats outraised Republicans as well, though Republicans earned enough to close their own yawning disparity. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $5.9 million and spent $4.9 million, to end the month with $38.5 million on hand. Much of the money went to building field organizations in key battleground states, a process which began last month. The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $4.9 million and spent $2.7 million, bringing their total in the bank to $21.5 million.

Both Senate committees have something to brag about this month. Republicans point out that they are in better position than they were in 2006, with nearly $3 million more in the bank and having raised more than they did two years ago last month. Democrats, though, have also raised more, and their cash on hand advantage is up slightly from two years ago.

GOP, Dems Pull In Big Dough

President Bush may have an approval rating that dips perilously below 30%, but at least Washington Republicans can still find some use for him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are holding a major fundraiser this evening that is expected to bring in $19 million to the two beleaguered campaign arms.

Chaired by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the dinner is expected to exceed its fundraising goals of $7 million for the NRCC and $12 million for the Senate, sources on both sides of the Hill said. Still, that doesn't mean all the money will come in tonight; a similar event featuring President Bush in March was said to have raised $8.6 million, though that money was spread between multiple FEC reports. Records show the party raised $7.1 million through March.

Democrats, who have outpaced their Republican rivals in fundraising success in both chambers, are also planning a new fundraising push for individual downballot candidates, Politico reports this morning, though the effort is not being run through either committee. Instead, a group of Hollywood women are planning a major fundraiser for September 27 that would directly benefit half a dozen key Senate candidates to the tune of at least $100,000 each.

Leaders of the group of organizers have signed agreements with Reps. Tom Allen, Tom Udall and Mark Udall, running for Senate seats in Maine, New Mexico and Colorado, respectively; Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, challenging Alaska Senator Ted Stevens; ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, running again in New Hampshire; and comedian Al Franken, in Minnesota.

NRCC Finishes Ward Audit

Attorneys and accountants retained by the National Republican Congressional Committee have finished an audit aimed at identifying the extent and breadth of alleged fraud perpetrated on the committee by its former treasurer, identifying at least $750,000 in misappropriated money they say was stolen over seven years.

The former treasurer, Chris Ward, is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly wiring the money from NRCC and affiliated accounts to his personal account and to those of businesses he controlled. The unauthorized wire transfers, which began in 2001, continued until October of 2007, when Ward served as a consultant to the committee. He was fired when he failed to present an audit in late January.

Rob Kelner, the attorney who conducted the forensic investigation into the committee's finances, said Ward moved at least $725,000 in money that should have gone to the NRCC into his own accounts. Some of the money came from the NRCC's accounts, routed through an account set up for major fundraising dinners and into Ward's accounts. Other money was transfered from the NRCC through other committees Ward controlled, likely including candidates and incumbent members of Congress who were unaware of the transactions. And more was diverted directly from the dinner committees before ever getting to the NRCC's accounts.

Some of that third pool of money, Kelner said, had been destined for the National Senatorial Republican Committee; he estimated Ward stole an additional $28,000 from Senate Republicans. Kelner would not break down how much money came from which accounts, saying doing so could jeopardize the ongoing federal investigation.

Ward was able to divert the money because he was allowed to authorize wire transfers without another signature, Kelner said, suggesting that he acted alone. "We don't believe anybody other than Chris Ward, you know, conspired with him," Kelner said.

The forensic investigation lays the groundwork for a future audit, which is still to come. The audit will be necessary if the committee seeks a line of credit, which is common in advance of November's elections. The committee has been facing serious financial hardships already this year, reporting just $6.7 million in the bank through April, while their Democratic counterparts held over $53 million in reserve. In addition to the audit, Kelner said the NRCC has already begun implementing new safeguards, including creating a chief financial officer position, diverting more resources to accounting staff and by building a new written compliance plan that closes loopholes Ward was able to exploit.

More money heading to the accounting department is only the beginning of the financial toll the scandal has taken on the NRCC. According to Kelner, the committee has paid about $530,000 in fees to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm retained to conduct the investigation, as well as banks, a public relations firm and his law office, Covington & Burling, which has long served as the NRCC's legal counsel. The firm has aided the NRCC through the investigation in communications with the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Attorney's office.

Once detected, the fraud was easy to uncover, Kelner said. "He doesn't appear to have undertaken a particularly clever fraud," Kelner said of Ward. Ward started at the NRCC as assistant treasurer in 1995, before being elevated to the committee's top financial slot in 2003. He left the committee in July, 2007, though he continued to serve as a consultant in an advisory role until January, 2008.

After seeking a full audit of the committee's 2006 activity throughout 2007, two top Republican officials, NRCC executive director Pete Kirkham and Jeff Burton, chief of staff to Rep. Mike Conaway, the head of the organization's audit committee, confronted Ward in January in a series of what Kelner described as "heated and more pointed" interactions, leading to the confrontation, and Ward's firing, on January 28. Kelner said without their efforts, the fraud would have continued undetected, calling Kirkham and Burton the "unsung heroes" of the story.

The two discovered that Ward had forged audit reports throughout the decade, and that the last time an audit of the committee's finances had been conducted was in 2001. A partial audit was conducted in 2002, and no audits were conducted in the following five years.

Romney Stumping In DC

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said to occupy a prominent place on whatever version of vice presidential short list John McCain has in his head, is keeping busy over a two-day stretch in Washington. While McCain is out of town, his one-time rival is certainly making his presence in Republican circles known.

Despite thunder and lightening, and more than a few tornado warnings, Romney attended a fundraiser held by the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes pro-life Republicans, last night in Washington. Money from the event went to Rep. Steve Pearce, who on Tuesday claimed the GOP nomination to replace outgoing Senator Pete Domenici in New Mexico.

This morning Romney hit three morning shows -- on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News -- live from McCain's Arlington, Virginia headquarters.

Later, Romney will hold a media availability at a swank hotel just up the road from McCain Central, with former Governor Jim Gilmore, the GOP nominee for retiring Senator John Warner's seat, and businessman Keith Fimian, who is running for Tom Davis's Eleventh District. Romney is also slated to attend a fundraiser for Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who will run for re-election in 2009.

RSC To Pitch Plan

Concerned with the lack of positive message their party is offering, the conservative Republican Study Committee will offer a new platform today they hope will bolster their image with voters, and that may boost the RSC's profile in the House Republican conference. After three straight special election losses, some Republicans are worried that calling Democrats liberal tax-and-spenders simply won't work.

Last night, RSC chairman Jeb Hensarling sent a memo to committee members urging them to attend today's conference meeting in order to make their voices heard. "Collectively, the Republican Conference needs to unify behind a handful of policy proposals that are bold, simple, and are truly part of our core identity," Hensarling wrote. Hensarling and the RSC will urge fellow Republicans to adopt an "action plan" around easy-to-swallow bullet points that can serve as the framework for the party's larger message heading into November.

The plan calls for Republicans to accept an immediate, unilateral earmark moratorium; holding the line on spending and cutting taxes; reforming health care; dropping gas prices by increasing domestic production; prohibiting interstate abortion; and reforming certain welfare work requirements.

Fiscal policy comes first on the list, Hensarling told the New York Times, because that's where the party is hurt the most. After bridges to nowhere and record numbers of earmarks when they ruled Congress, the GOP image has suffered significantly. Fortunately, the Times writes, that dovetails nicely with John McCain's hardline stand on spending policy.

Hensarling's proposals come as House Republican leaders have started crafting their own message for November, under the slogan "The Change You Deserve." Other groups, too, plan to offer their own slogans and themes, but Republicans in Congress have figured one thing out: Running against the incumbent party rarely works, as it requires the incumbents to make a big mistake. The last time that happened, it hurt Republicans, leading into one of those rare occurrences, in 2006.

No GOP Shakeup Imminent

Despite calls in some Republican corners for a leadership shakeup, House Minority Leader John Boehner told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday that he and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole were safe, for now.

"I know what needs to be done to deliver real reform here in Washington. I'm staying. My job is to help bring our members together and lead them," Boehner said. "Tom and I had a very good meeting on Friday. We had several conversations last week. Frank and constructive and positive. And I expect we're going to have more conversations next week. He's staying."

Boehner's declaration comes on the heels of three consecutive Republican losses in special elections, losses that have sounded serious alarm bells within the beleaguered party. "When my members want to moan and groan, I understand it," Boehner said. "Things haven't been real happy for them, losing three special elections. But we all have to look in the mirror. We all have to decide, 'Alright what are we going to do today in order to show the American people that we're serious about doing the kind of things they want done?'"

Some Republicans last week suggested that Cole, whose leadership of the NRCC has been second-guessed for months, might be replaced by Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who increased the party's majorities during his tenure at the helm. Davis, who is not running for re-election himself, issued a memo to fellow Republicans last week in which he called for his party to distance itself from President Bush, and has repeatedly spoken frankly about the GOP's injuries to various media outlets.

One knock on Cole has been his refusal to get involved in primaries to ensure the eventual nominee is the strongest possible candidate. Washington Republicans lay significant blame for the three lost special elections at the feet of the losing candidates, including Jim Oberweis in Illinois, Woody Jenkins in Louisiana and Greg Davis in Mississippi. But Cole told Roll Call's David Drucker he would not change his policy of staying out of competitive primaries. "At this point the last thing a candidate would want is to be the hand-picked candidate of Washington, D.C.," Cole said Friday.

That's not an approach Boehner follows himself. The House Minority Leader, Drucker writes, has endorsed Republican candidates in competitive primaries in Kansas, New Hampshire and New Jersey. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee uses the practice of getting involved in primaries, and Tom Davis and other previous NRCC chairs have done so as well.

With most analysts expecting double-digit losses for national Republicans come November, Cole's and Boehner's jobs could be in jeopardy. NRCC chairs have recently headed the committee for two cycles, though Cole has made clear his indecision about whether to run for another term at the helm. And both parties have made a practice of retiring their leaders after big losses, potentially putting Boehner's position in play as well.

-- Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad

Crist, Pawlenty Stay Popular

As John McCain lets a number of rising Republican stars take their turns in the vice presidential speculation spotlight, two front-runners are getting more involved in other states, a sure sign the media will descend upon them next as speculation runs rampant.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist will host two invitation-only events in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale in early June, inviting national Republicans to discuss ways to vault the wounded GOP back to the top of the pile, the Associated Press reports. Crist's top adviser and former chief of staff, George LeMieux, will be heavily involved, and to add party weight Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is co-hosting.

Barbour took himself out of the running for the number two slot earlier this month in an interview with the Washington Times. But Crist's name has long been floated, despite his denials and demurrals, as someone with a future in the national GOP. Bringing Republican leaders together for a summit on the future of the party is a sure way to keep the vice presidential buzz going.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, one of McCain's earliest backers, will give the keynote speech at a huge gathering of Wisconsin Republicans, the Wausau Daily Herald reports. The state hasn't voted Republican since 1984, but with McCain on the ballot, Badger Republicans are optimistic about their chances. (The latest RCP Wisconsin Average shows Barack Obama running just 1.6 points ahead of McCain there.)

State and local parties around the country now have a plethora of choices for fundraising dinners large and small. Whether it's Crist, Pawlenty or any of the dozen or so serious contenders interested in the number two slot, no local party should have trouble lining up talent, especially if they're a swing state. Pawlenty, too, has serious appeal in the upper Midwest, a place McCain could make inroads in the search for new electoral votes, and heading to Wisconsin could be the beginning of his time in the sun.

Cole Spins MS Loss

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole held a rare conference call with reporters and conservative bloggers today, just hours after a Republican-held Congressional seat fell into Democratic hands, the third such instance in three months and the second in under two weeks. In that election, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis to capture the seat once held by Senator Roger Wicker, a seat that has not been in Democratic hands since 1994.

As in his statement after the defeat last night, Cole was honest about his party's struggles. "When you lose 3 of these in a row, obviously you have to get beyond campaign tactics and you have to take a long hard look. Is there something wrong with your product?" he asked.

Still, in the wake of some GOP calls for a staff shakeup at the NRCC, Cole said he would resist the pressure. "I think it would be a great mistake to think that this is a question of tweaking a few things here or there or staff changes," he said. "What we've got right now is a deficiency in our message and a loss of confidence from the American people."

"That's something we need to be honest with ourselves about, look in the mirror about," he said. But, he pledged, "We continue to have offensive opportunities based on both individual issues that involve candidates and their voting records" and what he described as a do-nothing Democratic Congress.

Cole repeatedly maintained that the two Democrats who have won seats this month -- Don Cazayoux in Louisiana and Childers in Mississippi -- won by following a fundamentally Republican playbook. Nationalizing the elections, though, and associating Cazayoux and Childers with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama can still work, he said.

The NRCC spent more than $1.7 million trying to tie Cazayoux and Childers to national and more liberal Democrats, though unsuccessfully. "I think that's still, you know, a useful tool. Do I think that's a substitute for a substantive agenda? No," he admitted. But nationalizing the election seems to be the path to which Cole is committed, raising the specter of repairing the Republican brand by November. "What we have to do is look in the mirror a little bit and say, 'How have we lost our way?'"

Huck Starts Star Turn

Is MSNBC your choice for election night coverage this evening? If so, you'll see a familiar face on the air as Mike Huckabee co-anchors the coverage. Huckabee will join Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and a host of network commentators on what should be a relatively easy and early night of coverage.

It has long been rumored that Huckabee might be in line, or at least interested in, a television gig, though after his surprisingly strong performance in the GOP primary he's now said to be in line for a spot on the GOP ticket. John McCain might be watching tonight as Huckabee does battle with fellow guest-host Harold Ford, a smart politician likely akin to someone McCain's vice presidential nominee would have to debate.

A report from US News yesterday, citing a top McCain fundraiser close to the campaign's inner circle, suggests Huckabee is at the top of the vice presidential selection list.

The appearance comes after a Bob Novak article yesterday suggesting Huckabee may benefit from evangelical conservatives who hold back from supporting McCain in hopes of a Huckabee re-run in 2012. Huckabee smacked down that notion in a post on his website, as Jonathan Martin reports, calling the concept that he would do anything less than campaign at full tilt for McCain "absurd."

But Huckabee also pointed out that he will be speaking to graduates of a college for home-schooled students in Virginia. The head of that school, Mike Farris, is said by Novak to be Huckabee's chief cheerleader and has yet to endorse McCain's candidacy.

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."

GOP Looks To Hispanics

Reprinted from today's Wall Street Journal Political Diary:

The fast-growing Hispanic population in America has also proved a growing political problem for the Republican Party. The GOP's share of the Hispanic vote plummeted after the last Republican Congress's angry debate on immigration reform. That episode, which quickly focused on fence-building and deportations, created a portion of the electorate that now holds the Republican Party in increasing contempt.

Exit polls from the 2004 election show Hispanic voters favored Democratic candidates in Congressional elections by 55%-44% margin. Two years later, that margin more than doubled, with Hispanics favoring Democratic candidates by 62%-37%. In some states, several enforcement-only hardliners lost what had been Republican districts to more moderate Democratic challengers. In Arizona alone, Rep. J.D. Hayworth lost his seat to Democrat Harry Mitchell, while State Senator Gabrielle Giffords, also a Democrat, won an open seat previously held by a senior Republican when she beat an anti-illegal immigration activist.

This year, GOP strategists have warned that their party is in danger of categorically ruling out competing among Hispanic voters for perhaps a generation to come.

At least one state Republican Party is trying to engage Hispanic voters before it's too late. This weekend, the Florida GOP will host a Hispanic Leadership Council Conference featuring keynote addresses from Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Rep. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, and home-state Senator Mel Martinez -- three of the leading Hispanic voices in the party today.

"The Hispanic vote and the African American vote is the future of the Republican Party," Florida party chair Jim Greer says (Mr. Greer held a similar event aimed at African American voters late last year). To get the groups involved, he adds: "We ensure that they have a seat at the table, and wherever [the Republican Party has] failed in the past, we correct that."

It is a help to the GOP that John McCain is the party's standard-bearer in this year's presidential contest. Mr. McCain is far more moderate on immigration issues than most of his primary rivals were, several of whom proposed steps just short of outright deportation of undocumented aliens. And while Mr. McCain has recently backed off his support for a comprehensive approach that would include a guest-worker program, telling conservative voters in his own base that he understands their concerns about rewarding illegal behavior, his legislative and political record could prove more appealing to Hispanic voters, or at least less damaging to the party's chances with those voters, than anything his erstwhile rivals could have offered.

If Mr. Greer's efforts to woo Hispanic voters works (and he says the Hispanic constituency is "critically important" to a successful GOP presidential campaign in Florida), the idea could be exported to other states in time for Congressional elections in 2010. But if others choose the route of ex-Rep. Hayworth and the immigration hardliners, the damage to party's reputation with Hispanic voters could be severe and long lasting.

Boehner, Cole Form Cmte

Buffeted by recent losses in special elections in Republican-held seats in Louisiana and Illinois, House Minority Leader John Boehner has formed a new advisory committee to assist and monitor the National Republican Congressional Committee. The new body, which includes NRCC chair Tom Cole, will keep an eye on political and financial progress at the GOP's House campaign arm.

The twelve-person group is largely made up of Republican members already involved in the NRCC. Along with Boehner and Cole, the other nine members all sit on the NRCC's executive committee, and several have served as lead organizers on major fundraising dinners benefiting the NRCC.

Committee members include Reps. Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Darrell Issa, of California; Michigan Reps. Thad McCotter, who chairs the Republican Policy Committee, and Candice Miller, who is in charge of candidate recruitment on the executive committee; Virginia Reps. Eric Cantor, the chief deputy whip, and Tom Davis, a former NRCC chair himself; and Reps. Jeb Hensarling, of Texas, John Kline, of Minnesota, and Pat Tiberi, of Ohio.

NRCC chair Cole has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks following his party's special election losses and as the committee continues to face a serious financial shortfall against their Democratic rivals. In a meeting earlier this week, Cole blamed some fellow Republicans who have yet to contribute to the committee and who have not donated to Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, Mississippi who is carrying the party's banner in next week's special election to fill Senator Roger Wicker's House seat, according to The Hill.

FEC Reports -- The End

After flipping through hundreds of Federal Election Commission reports detailing the daily lives of every candidate under the sun, we've come to a close. Check back on the posts we've had up over the last week, inspecting the hot House races of the cycle:

The Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, Pennsylvania, The South, Florida, the Ohio Valley, the Dust Bowl, the Rocky Mountains, the Desert West, the West Coast, the Northern Mississippi, and the Great Lakes, both Western and Eastern, along with the House campaign committees.

Taking a gander at all those House races means there are bound to be a few massive glaring errors, and for those Politics Nation apologizes. Thanks to everyone who pointed out, for example:

-- That Lou Barletta, running against Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania, is the mayor of Hazelton, not Scranton.

-- That some of the numbers in New Jersey reflected the cash on hand statistics for the end of 2007, not for the end of the First Quarter in 2008. In New Jersey's Third District, State Senator John Adler finished March with $1 million in the bank after raising $1.17 million, $500,000 more than we'd reported. In the Seventh District, 2006 candidate and Assemblywoman Linda Stender has $845,000 remaining after raising nearly $1.05 million. Our numbers for two Republicans in each of those districts were accurate.

-- That Indiana's primary is on May 6, not May 13 (You'd think, with all the presidential hoopla, that we would have remembered that.).

-- That Ashwin Madia, the Democratic nominee for Congress in Minnesota's Third District, could use a better descriptor than "Democratic activist." Madia is a lawyer, an Iraq war veteran and not exactly the biggest Democrat in the history of the world, either. Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz pointed us to this interview, with Minnesota Public Radio, in which Madia admits that he voted for President Bush in 2000 after telling the same station that he voted for Al Gore that year.

-- That Bob Onder, the candidate for Congress in Missouri's 9th District who has raised the most money to date, is in fact a Republican, not a Democrat.

-- That Wayne Parker, a Republican, is running for Congress in Alabama's Fifth District. Parker filed his organizational paperwork with the FEC on April 4, and we just plain missed it. He raised $177,000 in the first few days of his candidacy.

Other mistakes we made? Candidates we missed? Feel free to email us your comments and complaints.

Gov Assocs Report Big Bucks

Despite just eleven governor's mansions being on the ballot this year, Washington-based committees that will help their parties defend and contest those seats are raising record amounts of money. Beyond this year, when just four contests are expected to be competitive, both parties are already looking ahead to 2010 when three dozen seats will be up for election.

The Democratic Governors' Association will report raising $5.7 million when they file first quarter reports next week. That leaves the committee with $10.5 million in the bank, more than they have ever held after the initial three months of the year. In a statement, DGA finance chairman Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland, predicted the committee would raise more this year than it ever has. "We are off to a great start, and we're not slowing down," O'Malley said.

But officials at the Republican Governors' Association are also confident in their fundraising abilities, and the committee will report receipts of about $1.3 million more than their Democratic rivals. The RGA raised just over $7 million in the first quarter, and will show $14.6 million in the bank when they file their reports with the FEC. "It says a lot about the RGA that we're outraising the Democrats when they have the strong upper hand," Mississippi Governor and RGA finance chair Haley Barbour said in a statement.

The two committees will likely spend their money battling over open seats in North Carolina, where Democrat Mike Easley is term-limited, and Missouri, where Republican Matt Blunt surprised observers by dropping his bid for re-election earlier this year. Two incumbents -- Washington State Democrat Christine Gregoire and Indiana Republican Mitch Daniels -- will also face tough fights to keep their jobs.

NRCC Rid Of Debt

While the National Republican Congressional Committee hasn't seen much good news lately, chairman Tom Cole finally has something to brag about: Nearly a year and a half after the 2006 elections, the committee has finally paid off its debt, Cole told members in a letter yesterday, Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports.

The party still faces a mountain to climb, especially given Democrats' huge head start in the fundraising department, but getting into the black for good after incurring a $19 million debt is a first step.

Cole used the letter to again solicit members for donations from their campaign accounts, another area of fundraising where Republicans have lagged behind their Democratic counterparts. This month, the NRCC will likely outraise the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thanks to a benefit dinner hosted by President Bush that raised somewhere around $8.6 million.

At the end of last month, the NRCC reported $1.9 million in remaining debt, with about $5.1 million cash on hand. That trailed far behind the DCCC, which reported $38 million in the bank with just $762,000 owed to outside vendors. Even assuming the party did not spend a penny beyond paying off the debt, Republicans will still trail Democrats by at least a three-to-one margin after this month, though the gap is likely to be wider when the committees report their March fundraising totals on April 20.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have been grousing that Cole's fundraising abilities were insufficient, and public spats with Minority Leader John Boehner nearly led to Cole's exit earlier this cycle. Cole has said he is unsure if he will seek a second term as NRCC chair, as has been custom in recent years. Democratic strategist Paul Begala, meanwhile, sent out a fundraising email (apparently from his BlackBerry) before last night's midnight deadline suggesting the DCCC will report about $5 million raised this month.

GOP Sounds Supermaj Alarm

The concept of a Democratic super majority, in which the party achieves 60 seats in the Senate after the 2008 election, has increasingly cropped up in recent weeks, thanks to a New York Times story that first raised the prospect. Today, American Spectator associate editor James Antle tackles the same subject, wondering whether the party can actually run the table and reach a majority large enough to effectively shut Republicans out of the process.

But is such a large gap actually achievable? Probably not, as veteran analyst Stu Rothenberg wrote soon after the Times story appeared.

For Democrats to reach such a milestone, they would essentially have to run the table. The party is likely to pick up seats in Virginia, New Hampshire and New Mexico, and Republican-held seats in Minnesota, Alaska and Colorado remain strong opportunities for them. Assuming they pick up all five -- not a safe bet in the latter three, to be sure, especially if Alaska's Ted Stevens decides against another bid or loses his primary -- they will still fall three seats short of the magic number.

The party has made little secret of the fact that Senators Susan Collins, of Maine, and Gordon Smith, of Oregon, are top targets. That leaves Democrats one short of a super majority, and as they cast about for new targets, the terrain becomes decidedly more difficult.

To reach 60, Democrats will need to pick up one of the following states: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky.

In North Carolina, first-term Senator Elizabeth Dole has faced a tough six years. But the state is likely to go Republican in the presidential contest, and Dole's likely challenger, State Senator Kay Hagan, is little-known around the Tar Heel State. Dole had $2.6 million in the bank at the end of the year, and though Hagan raised an impressive $515,000, running as a Democrat against such a well-known incumbent in a Republican state will be exceedingly difficult.

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe has never topped 57% in a state that votes even more heavily Republican than North Carolina, but he's faced some tough opponents: In 1994, he beat an incumbent Congressman for a partial term after Democrat David Boren stepped down. In 1996, he won a full term against Boren's cousin James, who, though underfunded, carried a well-known name. In 2002, he beat former Governor David Walters. This year, Inhofe will likely face State Senator Andrew Rice, a candidate without the footprint of any of Inhofe's three previous challengers.

Roger Wicker, appointed senator after the departure of Trent Lott, will likely face his toughest election this year, against former Governor Ronnie Musgrove. But Musgrove lost his 2003 bid for re-election to now-Governor Haley Barbour, and recent legal proceedings that might involve a previous run for office don't look good for the Democrat. Wicker will also benefit from two sets of coattails: Those of John McCain, who will be strong in the state, and of senior Senator Thad Cochran, who is running for re-election this year. Musgrove's bid remains a long shot.

Finally, a good way to beat an incumbent is to catch them off guard, as happened to several incumbents in 2006. But if any candidate is not going to be caught off guard, it will be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Though MoveOn.org and other interest groups will target McConnell as national Republicans targeted then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota, McConnell has a $9 million bank account and is aware of the threat he faces. His likely Democratic opponent, two-time gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford, will be well-funded too, but McConnell's name is likely too big to overcome.

In short, Democrats will be lucky to get to 57 or 58 seats in the Senate. Every year, close Senate races tend to break all in the same direction, as Antle points out -- Republicans won all the close races in 2002, except South Dakota, and Democrats did the same in 2006, with the exception of Tennessee. This year, though, it is hard to see how any of the four third-tier races will be close to begin with.

For Democrats, the idea of a super majority after 2008 is like buying a lottery ticket: The investment pays off in pleasant dreams, if not in reality.

GOPers Play Blame Game

From today's Wall Street Journal Political Diary:

The news just keeps getting worse for Republicans in Congress: After losing a Congressional seat that once belonged to former Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois, the party lost what may have been a winnable seat in Indiana. Adding insult to injury, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $1.2 million losing the Illinois race and yet didn't spend a penny in Indiana despite its candidate getting slammed by the NRCC's heavy-spending Democratic counterpart.

But members of the House Republican Caucus aren't ready to pack it in and go home just yet. The party raised $8.6 million at an annual dinner in Washington last night, headlined by President Bush, exceeding even the $7.5 million goal set for the shindig. And members of Congress let it be known they consider the loss of the former Hastert seat an aberration that can be blamed on the candidate.

While the loss was a blow, GOP leaders blamed dairy owner and wealthy businessman Jim Oberweis for being a flawed candidate. "Jim Oberweis went from being perceived [as] the tenacious guy to just being a wealthy individual looking for a gig," one Republican Member of Congress said. "There's nothing the NRCC is going to do about that. To lay [the loss] on the doorstep of the NRCC, it would be inaccurate."

In turn, a strategist familiar with the Illinois campaign suggested Mr. Oberweis lost because Democrats effectively tied him to President Bush, even casting the special election as an opportunity to vote against the current administration. That has to be troubling to national Republican leaders, who have long maintained that Mr. Bush will not be on the ballot, and thus not a factor, in 2008.

Shrugging off the Bush albatross would be difficult enough if the party were on an equal financial footing with Democrats. But that's hardly the case. Even after last night's dinner (and assuming they spent nothing on the dinner), the NRCC still trails House Democrats by more than $20 million in cash on hand. The job of defending a stunning number of vulnerable open seats will be even more difficult if the GOP has an empty checking account.

House Giving Favors Dems

A new report from the Federal Election Commission shows House Democrats were more generous with their own campaign cash than House Republicans in the first thirteen months of the cycle. The transfers, from candidates' campaign committees to the DCCC and the NRCC, are just a part of the large cash disadvantage Republicans face.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had nearly $35.1 million in the bank through January 31, accumulated the money with the assistance of about $18.4 million from their caucus members. Top donors included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who kicked in $785,000; Whip Jim Clyburn, with $770,000; Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who donated $685,000; committee chairs Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank, with $685,000 and $550,000, respectively; caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel, who gave $475,000; and current DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen, who donated $435,000 to his own cause.

Those numbers do not include Democratic members' pledges to raise additional funds for the DCCC. Depending on their position in the House, members have to raise additional funds for the committee, ranging from less than $100,000 to tens of millions of dollars. How much each member has to raise, though, is a closely-guarded secret.

Republicans lagged far behind Democratic contributions, with just $10.6 million in donations to the beleaguered NRCC. Minority Leader John Boehner dropped $845,000 from his own campaign account, while Reps. Dave Camp ($480,000), Wally Herger ($300,000), Kay Granger ($265,000) and Cliff Sterns ($262,500) wrote big checks. All four are said to be seeking prime committee slots. Retiring Reps. Jim McCrery and Jim Saxton helped out, donating $490,000 and $275,000 from their soon-to-be-shuttered campaign accounts.

While Republicans have a smaller caucus than Democrats, their average member is still giving far less than the average Democrat. Democrats are ponying up just shy of $80,000 per member, while Republicans are giving about $53,500 each. What is more impressive is that most Democratic freshmen, especially those facing tough re-election battles, are forgiven dues for at least their first term.

Boehner, who has worked hard to keep his caucus together, has grown increasingly frustrated with some members. At a GOP caucus meeting last week, Boehner told members to get off their "dead asses," as Politico's Patrick O'Connor reported, to help the NRCC raise money. NRCC chair Tom Cole and minority whip Roy Blunt also urged members to help the committee raise money for the party's March 12 fundraising dinner, O'Connor wrote.

Even if the NRCC makes its $7.5 million goal, and even if members begin handing over more sizable checks to the national party, Republicans have a long way to go to catch up. The NRCC reported just $6.4 million in the bank after January 31, nearly $29 million behind Democrats.

Democrats are raising more money than Republicans virtually across the board, and compared with 2005, the last pre-election year, and 2003, the last pre-presidential year, Democrats are performing better than they were and showing increases that outpace the GOP. In 2007, the DCCC's cash receipts grew 57%, while the committee's receipts grew 136% over 2003. Republicans, meanwhile, saw their fundraising shrink by 22% from 2005 and 31% over 2003.

GOP Govs Raise Big Dough

The Republican Governors' Association raised a record $10.6 million at an annual gala last night in Washington, giving the only GOP campaign committee with a leg up on its Democratic rival a bigger boost. The event is also certain to boost the vice presidential prospects of -- or at least buzz around -- the lead organizer, someone who has already been proposed as John McCain's potential running mate.

Though Republicans own just 22 governorships, down from a peak of more than 30 during the 1990s, the haul is impressive, and much more than other recent Republican single events in Washington have raised. The RGA already had a cash lead over Democrats, hauling in more than $21.5 million last year and banking $9.2 million. The Democratic Governors' Association reported raising more than $12 million in 2007, with $7.2 million remaining on hand.

Any politician who can raise in one night almost half what the committee raised in an entire year is going to be noticed. But dinner chairman Mark Sanford, South Carolina's governor, might bring something more to his party than just money: Sanford, who endorsed McCain in 2000 as a congressman but stayed neutral in this year's contests, has been rumored as a potential number two on the McCain-led ticket.

Choosing Sanford could be a very popular move for McCain among his own base. Popular among Washington conservative groups around whom McCain has been a pariah, Sanford would bring a record on domestic issues, matters that are frequently seen as a McCain weakness. Both Sanford and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, rumored to be another top McCain choice, appeared this weekend on Fox News Sunday to show off their television skills.

President Bush headlined the gala, offering the 1,400 people crammed into the National Building Museum an upbeat assessment of his party's chances next year, including that Republicans would hold the White House. The event came at the end of a weekend of meetings among the nation's governors, eleven of whom face voters this year.

Dems Have $28M Advantage

The campaign wing of the House Republican caucus narrowly outraised its Democratic counterpart in January, though the NRCC remains well behind the DCCC in total cash in the bank. FEC reports released yesterday show a minor victory for NRCC chair Tom Cole, but DCCC chief Chris Van Hollen retains bragging rights.

In January, the NRCC raised almost $3.8 million and has a bank account of $6.4 million. They retain a debt of slightly over $2.3 million. The DCCC raised just over $3.7 million and spent much more than Republicans. Democrats have $35.5 million in the bank and $1.7 million in debts and obligations.

Senate Republicans are in relatively better position with regard to their Democratic opponents. The NRSC raised $3.5 million in January, banking $1.2 million of that for a total bank account of $13.2 million. But the DSCC raised $3.9 million last month, a faster clip than the NRSC, and ended with $30.5 million cash on hand.

While Senate Republicans enjoy a smaller disadvantage than their House counterparts, their fundraising pace has been slower than each of the other three committees in recent months. They banked more than Democrats last month by spending $600,000 less than the DSCC.

While both Democratic campaign wings are easily outpacing their GOP counterparts in money in the bank, Howard Dean's Democratic National Committee fell farther behind Mike Duncan's Republican National Committee last month. The DNC raised $5.76 million in January and banked just $60,000, ending the month with $3 million in the bank and a $250,000 debt. The RNC, meanwhile, pulled in $11.8 million and kept more than $21.7 million in the bank.

In total, Democrats have a big fundraising advantage. Together, the three committees have $69 million in the bank, while Republican committees have $41.3 million lying around.

Audit Trouble At NRCC

A former employee acting as an outside vendor is suspected of fraud by the National Republican Congressional Committee, chairman Tom Cole said in a statement released this afternoon. Without going into details, Cole said the NRCC has notified authorities of its suspicions.

"We learned earlier this week of irregularities in our financial audit process," Cole said in the statement. "We are aggressively and thoroughly investigating the matter and, while we determine the details, have terminated our relationship" with the ex-employee.

A Republican with knowledge of the investigation told Politico, and Politics Nation has confirmed, the FBI has been contacted about the possible fraud.

Update: A Republican source tells Politics Nation that the investigation is focused on Chris Ward, who served last cycle as comptroller at the NRCC. This cycle, the committee had been using Ward as a vendor who handled their reports with the Federal Election Commission, paying him at least $37,500 during 2007.

Ward has also served as treasurer for campaign committees and leadership PACs including those of Reps. Jim Walsh, Jim Saxton, Peter Roskam, Lamar Smith and Denny Rehberg as well as Senator John Ensign's leadership PAC.

The NRCC would not comment on the investigation, though the source, who is outside the committee, characterized the fraud as severe. Details of exactly what is being investigated is unclear. A call to Ward's home, which matched the address listed in the NRCC's FEC reports, went unanswered and the message unreturned.

5 Moments That Changed The GOP Race

NBC Political Director Chuck Todd on Sunday put into words what every political junkie has thought for months. "We've all got what we want for Christmas," he said on Meet The Press. "It's this race."

A year in to the widest open, most covered and most fascinating presidential race in a generation, and just a week before the first votes are cast, eight candidates have at least some legitimate chance at winning their party's nominations. None are in their positions by accident.

In the fight for the Republican nomination, there have arguably been four front-running candidates. The strategies that have worked -- and those that haven't -- have made for a fluid race in which, even at this late date, many have concluded there is no front-runner at all. Recently, we examined the top moments in the Democratic race. Today we take a look at the five moments in 2005 that most changed the GOP race:

Continue reading "5 Moments That Changed The GOP Race" »

NRCC Debt Free

Top Republicans are expected to announce soon that the National Republican Congressional Committee is finally out of debt, Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports. After almost a year of paying off a massive debt incurred during the 2006 cycle, Republicans in the House helped the struggling committee with transfers of about $3 million this week.

The committee has reported a re-energized fundraising base after two strong wins in special elections in Virginia and Ohio. Much of that new money has come from members of the GOP caucus, including $500,000 donations from both House Minority Leader John Boehner and former Appropriations Committee chairman David Dreier. Retiring Rep. Jim Saxton looks likely to donate some of his remaining war chest to the committee, while others seeking prominent committee slots are likely to pony up big sums as well.

Now out of debt, House Republicans turn their attention to shrinking the huge fundraising edge their Democratic counterparts enjoy. Through October 31, the DCCC maintained $29.2 million cash on hand, with about $2.1 million in debt. Republicans held just $2.5 million with a $3.6 million debt. After spending more than $500,000 to win the two special elections, and after paying down the debt, Republicans still face a long road ahead if they are to take a run at reclaiming seats.

RNC Loses Ronayne

Republican National Committee deputy communications director Dan Ronayne is leaving his post next week to take over as a top manager at the Washington lobbying firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schecter and Associates.

Ronayne, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2006 cycle, will be replaced by Brian Walton, who served as his deputy last cycle.

GOP Previews Clinton Tie-Ins

Barack Obama was right about one thing: Republicans are just licking their chops waiting for a shot at Hillary Clinton. Not only do GOP strategists see her as ripe for targeting during a general election, but other Republicans will try to tie down-ballot Democrats to their top-of-the-ticket leader.

The flap over Clinton's back-and-forth answer on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants offered an opportunity, for example, for the NRCC to take after a potentially vulnerable freshman Democrat on the same topic. "Just like Hillary, Chris Murphy is unsure about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants," a new NRCC press release heads.

The release cites a quote from Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who knocked off long-time Rep. Nancy Johnson last year, saying he didn't know where he stood on the issue: "I haven't had time to look at it before so I probably should come down one way or the other," Murphy told Cybercast News Service.

Accusing Murphy of "Clintonesque doublespeak," the committee is offering up just one of what are likely to be many attempts to tie freshmen Democrats to Clinton. The possibility of Clinton as a galvanizing force for the GOP is an argument Obama and John Edwards will continue to make as they try and convince the Democratic electorate that only they are electable.

Martinez Stepping Down Today

Though Bob Novak broke news a few weeks ago that Republican National Committee chairman Mel Martinez would step down once a presidential nominee was evident, likely in January, Politico reports he will actually step down today, in order to spend more time on his duties as a senator.

The resignation comes just two days after the RNC's Presidential Trust Dinner raked in $5 million from about 700 attendees. Still, some in the GOP were displeased with Martinez's election as RNC chief. Cuban by birth, Martinez and immigration hard-liners do not see eye-to-eye, which caused friction during recent debates over the issue.

During his time as RNC chair, Martinez saw his disapproval rating in his home state rise to 41% in a September Strategic Vision poll, up from 35% in March. 44% approved of Martinez's performance in both polls.

RNC co-chair Mike Duncan will stay on at the committee.