NRSC's Elizabeth Dole Dismisses Corruption Issue
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) today dismissed concerns that congressional ethics issues could endanger the Republican Senate majority in 2006 and said her party is targeting a number of seats in Democratic-leaning states in the upcoming elections.
"This is a bipartisan problem that requires a bipartisan solution," said Dole of the current corruption furor, mimicking similar comments made lately by Republicans. GOP officials have noted repeatedly that the clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to politicians of both partisan stripes. (Abramoff himself, however, only donated to GOPers.)
Dole said that while "ethics is going to be [Democrats'] issue in 2006," the National Republican Senatorial Committee's internal polling showed voters were not tuned into the issue and corruption was "not something that is going to get a lot of traction." Dole, who's heading the NRSC during the current cycle, briefed reporters this afternoon on the midterm election.
Democrats, no surprise, have an entirely different take. A memo by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director J.B. Poersch, circulated prior to Dole's briefing, pointed to a recent poll that showed voters gave Democrats a double-digit advantage when asked which party would do a better job of dealing with corruption in Washington. In the memo, Poersch called the current political atmosphere "one of the worst in decades for a majority party."
Dole sought to paint a far rosier picture, arguing that Republicans hold an edge over Democrats on the two key voting issues in November -- national security and the economy. "The first issue Americans are concerned about is their safety and security," said Dole, adding that the recent revelations that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to wiretap American citizens as consistent with an effort the general populace. (In this, Dole was echoing a similar argument made by White House adviser Karl Rove last week.)
Many Democrats -- led by former Vice President Al Gore -- have condemned the NSA program and accused Bush of knowingly breaking the law. A Senate panel will investigate the matter next month.
On a race-by-race basis, Dole argued that Republicans were on "offense" heading toward November. She listed open seats in Maryland and Minnesota as well as Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) as examples of blue-state seats that are top targets for the NRSC. "The Democrats are going to have to spend money to defend [these seats] before they can take on any of our incumbents," said Dole. Republicans currently hold a five-seat Senate majority.
The focus on blue states is a relatively new talking point for Senate Republicans, who came into the 2006 cycle with their eyes on seats in North Dakota, Nebraska and Florida -- all of which Bush carried in 2004.
Dole insisted that Nebraska and Florida would both be competitive in the fall -- although national Republicans failed to convince the preferred Republican candidate to run in each state.
The strangest moment in the briefing came when Dole was asked whether she was endorsing Rep. Katherine Harris, the lone Republican challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Dole, whose committee spent months publicly recruiting an alternative to Harris, said that Harris is a "great" candidate who is "passionate" about running for Senate. "That's where we'll leave it," she added. Pressed on whether she was endorsing Harris, Dole repeated that Harris was a "strong" and "good" candidate but offered no formal backing.
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