Pissed-off Republicans worry GOP strategists

    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.

    Some rank-and-file
    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
    Republican Party.

    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
    members said.

    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
    in November.

    _ 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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