A growing number of Republican voters are frustrated by
congressional spending and scandal, according to GOP leaders from
across the country who worry that an “enthusiasm deficit” could cost
the party control of Congress in November.
Republicans wonder what happened to the party that promised to reform
Washington after taking control of Congress in 1994 for the first time
in 40 years.
“We’ve seen the enemy, and he is us,” said Tom Rath,
a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire describing
the sentiments of some GOP voters. “We have to get back to the basics.
Let’s talk about small government and reduced spending, and don’t let
the Democrats take those issues.”
“I hear a lot of concern about
increased spending and the need to reduce it _ talk about getting back
to the basics,” said Kate Obenshain Griffin, chairwoman of the Virginia
Griffin, Rath and several other Republican
activists attending a two-day RNC meeting said GOP voters in their
states still strongly support President Bush. They also insisted in
interviews that Republicans were more likely than not to retain control
of the House and the Senate in November.
But the possibility of
losing Congress doesn’t seem as remote as it once did. Many
tried-and-true Republican voters are disenchanted with party leaders in
Congress, and the sulky mood could suppress turnout in November, RNC
Separately, private polling for Republicans suggest
that government spending and political fallout from the Iraq war are
causing anxiety among GOP voters. Senior party officials inside and
outside the White House fear that Washington scandal may hurt GOP
turnout if average Republican voters believe that Congress’ spending
habits are partly the result of corruption.
That may be one
reason why national party chairman Ken Mehlman told RNC members that
corrupt politicians in either party should be rooted out and punished.
“The public trust is more important than party,” he said in a speech
prepared for delivery Friday.
The investigation of lobbyist Jack
Abramoff threatens to ensnare at least a half dozen members of Congress
of both parties and Bush administration officials. Abramoff, who has
admitted to conspiring to defraud his Indian tribe clients, has pleaded
guilty to corruption-related charges and is cooperating with
prosecutors. His ties to GOP congressional leaders and the White House
pose a particular problem for Republicans.
Ten months before the
midterm elections, Bush gets a chance to shape the political landscape
with his State of the Union address Jan. 31. But there are a few clouds
on the horizon that concern Republicans:
_ A debate over
immigration reform in Congress that threatens to divide the
pro-business wing of the party from the anti-immigration conservatives.
A May 15 deadline to sign up for a Bush-backed Medicare prescription
drug program that has angered senior citizens, a formidable voting bloc
_ Revised budget deficit estimates are expected soon
from the Congressional Budget Office and the White House. Bush will
urge Congress to increase the $1.8 trillion debt limit in the next few
weeks. These are all reminders that Republican-led Washington is awash
in red ink.
Republican voters want their leaders to use control
of Congress and the White House to implement a conservative agenda, and
not get sidetracked by politics or scandal in Washington, RNC members
“There is frustration when people see internal struggles
here in Washington and they don’t see us get anything done on
immigration and don’t see us get anything done on the deficit,” said
DeMarus Carlson, an RNC member from Nebraska.
Party leaders fear
that while conservative voters may become disengaged, liberal voters
will be galvanized by their opposition to the Iraq war and their
frustration with minority-party status.
“I talk about an
enthusiasm deficit, and I think we have a little bit of that,” Rath
said of Republican voters. “They say we need to get our act together.
They still love this president. But they want to see movement on the
things that brought us to power. We took the government over and
promised to fix things.”
Outside the RNC, party strategists expressed the same concerns about voter turnout in November.
do love the president, but they have seen a Congress that doesn’t seem
to function well and they wonder what the heck is going on,” said
consultant Joe Gaylord, who helped Republicans seize control of the
House in 1994 as an adviser to then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
it’s an inability to communicate accurately or an unwillingness to
solve the problems they were put in power to fix, people are confused,”
Gaylord said, “and that confusion could lead people to stay home in
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