Republicans Look Ahead to November
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Before their big banquet dinner and showing of "Bee Movie" last night here at the Greenbrier resort, House Republicans got a pair of briefings on the electoral landscape and how they can shape their message now to make gains in November.
According to sources who were present and requested anonymity, the assembled members got a detailed presentation from Linda DiVall, who heads the polling firm American Viewpoint, on a survey of competitive House districts conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee back in December.
The poll queried voters in more than 60 crucial districts and yielded a mixed bag of results for the GOP, those sources said.
On the positive side, the survey found that Republicans retain a clear advantage on "moral issues" like abortion and a shrinking but still measurable advantage on national security issues. The poll also gave Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) negative approval ratings and pegged Congress as a whole with the same low ratings it's had for months.
But the poll also had some worrying findings for Republicans. The Congressional GOP had lower overall ratings than Democrats did, and Democrats retain a massive advantage on "social issues" like health care. The poll also found that a significant minority of voters was completely unaware that Democrats, rather than the GOP, run Congress.
Looking ahead, the sources said DiVall's presentation emphasized that the GOP needs to hammer the theme that Democrats aren't accomplishing enough, and the minority also needs to rely on its traditional themes of cutting taxes and controlling spending.
It's significant to note that the poll was conducted before the current wave of bad economic news and before Congress and President Bush started work on a stimulus package. The early December survey showed Iraq as the number one issue on voters' minds then, slightly ahead of the economy and well-ahead of staple GOP issues like illegal immigration and government spending.
Also presenting Thursday was NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), who faces a tough climb this cycle trying to lead his party out of the wilderness of the minority. Cole gave what one source called an "even-keeled" analysis of the challenges the party faces.
The NRCC is in better financial shape now than it was earlier in the cycle, but it still trails its Democratic counterpart significantly. Republicans also have a lot more open seats to defend.
Despite those factors, Cole has still been generally upbeat in telling members that the party is headed in the right direction. In a recent interview with The Hill, Cole said, "My biggest problem is not money or candidates, it's Republican morale. There is no reason to be this down. I've been in this building when we were a hell of a lot weaker than this."
Cole emphasized last night that Democrats came to power with high approval ratings that fell and have stayed low ever since. He also endorsed a view that is shared by many other Republican leaders and strategists -- that if Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) is at the top of the Democratic ticket, it will help the GOP downballot by motivating conservatives to turn out at the polls.
Bush will speak to the members at lunch today, and GOP leaders will meet with the press early this afternoon with some reaction. Stay tuned for updates.
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