Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An Improved GOP Mood

Roll Call (subscription required) reports today something that's been in the wind the last week or so: improved prospects for Congressional Republicans:

Good Run Buoys GOP
June 14, 2006
By Ben Pershing and Erin P. Billings,
Roll Call Staff

After months of negative headlines and dismal poll numbers, House and Senate Republicans are taking the past two weeks’ run of good news as evidence that the party’s political fortunes may be on the rebound.

Last week’s assassination of Iraqi terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the solidification of the Iraqi government, the GOP’s open-seat victory in California’s 50th district and Tuesday’s news that White House adviser Karl Rove will likely not be indicted in the CIA leak probe have combined to fuel a sense of cautious optimism among Republican Members and aides.

“It’s like a camel hitting an oasis,” said Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.). “It’s nice to get some water.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) said Republicans certainly feel that “things are improving,” and said it appears that the majority is starting to move beyond its low point.

“We’ve been in a rough patch for a while,” Brownback acknowledged. “For months, it just didn’t seem like anything we’d try was working. Momentum has shifted.”

On the House side, a veteran lawmaker said of his fellow Republicans, “They’re calmer. You can see it.”

As he has repeated tirelessly, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) emphasized that the victory in California showed that individual races would be won in November on local issues rather than national trends.

But Reynolds did add that the best way for Republican lawmakers to regain confidence about their standing across the country would be for President Bush’s numbers to rebound, something Reynolds believes is slowly starting to happen.

“This is the best news the president has had in months,” Reynolds said.

If Republicans are actually in the midst of righting their ship, then the polls haven’t yet detected a significant shift. But the most recent public survey does contain some hopeful news for the GOP.

A USA Today/Gallup poll taken June 9-11 — after al-Zarqawi’s death — and released Tuesday showed that Bush’s approval rating had crept up to 38 percent, his best showing since February.

The percentage of respondents saying the Iraq war was a mistake dropped 6 percent since April (from 57 percent to 51 percent), while the percentage who believe the U.S. can win the war rose from 60 percent in April to 69 percent in the new survey.

...But Democrats cautioned that the GOP shouldn’t get too excited about their recent good fortune.

“Two good days doesn’t make up for nine months of President Bush polling around 40,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said: “Republicans are desperate to glom onto any good news.”

Manley argued that the GOP has lost far too much ground already to turn things around, contending that Republicans are no longer credible on the very issues they hope to use against the Democrats this fall.

...Immigration looms as an issue that has prompted significant disagreement within the party, and public finger-pointing could result if the House and Senate can’t send a compromise bill to Bush’s desk before the election. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that it would be difficult to complete a bill this year if it wasn’t done before the August recess.

...On the ethics front, Tuesday’s news about Rove was particularly welcome, House and Senate Republican sources said, since he is such an influential and well-known Republican. If he’d been indicted, the case could have given Democrats additional fodder for their anti-corruption campaign.

But those sources also noted that Republicans are crossing their fingers that no other indictments of top GOP lawmakers will be handed down in coming months — and that Democrats continue to produce their own share of corruption headlines. Republicans privately remain worried that several Members could face indictment charges related to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other scandals.

...Several top aides said the GOP Conference knows it must continue to highlight differences between the two parties as the months progress, including policy divides over the war, fiscal discipline and social matters — all issues that rally core Republican voters and point out fractures among Democrats.

“There is a choice in this,” said one senior Republican Senate staffer. “If this election is about a choice, it helps us. The best thing we have going for us is the Democrats. If we can define them, we can make it a choice about us.”

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