- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Republicans, though cautiously upbeat about their prospects five weeks before the elections, worry more about the economy than any other issue.

"If things worsen substantially from an economic point of view, it would make arguments for about anything more difficult," Republican National Chairman Marc Racicot said in an interview yesterday at party headquarters.

Republicans' strong suit, according to polls and strategists in both parties, is the Iraq situation and the war on terrorism. Yet, in an hourlong discussion meant to detail his party's strategy for winning on Nov. 5, Mr. Racicot turned the subject away from Iraq and the anti-terror war.

He argued, instead, that Republicans will be running on the good job they have done in the House in addressing domestic issues that voters care about but that have been stymied by the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Mr. Racicot did not comment on Democrats' assertions that Republicans have sought to politicize the war on terror and use Saddam Hussein as a rallying point to avoid domestic issues, where Democrats expect an advantage with voters.

Some party strategists have privately argued that Republicans need a "good left-right confrontation" to get the party's base of voters to turn out in November, but Mr. Racicot said, "We don't have to talk about doing anything but the business of the American people."

At the same time, he said, he is concerned about the lack of "intensity" among voters. "I don't sense a fever pitch at this moment in time. There's no question national security is of concern, but that's not the centerpiece of discussion in every congressional district, Senate race or governor's race that I've been a part of. It's not even raised."

Mr. Racicot resisted predicting big gains, instead saying, "We like where we are in the close House and Senate races."

One possible reason for caution at the party headquarters is that, despite advantages in key races, the party continues to trail Democrats in what pollsters refer to as the "generic ballot" question. When respondents are asked whether they would vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress, Democrats show a lead.

The latest Newsweek magazine poll, for instance, found Democrats leading 47 percent to 40 percent on the generic ballot question. Republicans did better in a recent Fox News poll, where the Democrats led 45 percent to 42 percent within the margin of error.

Republican candidates will center their campaigns not on Iraq, Mr. Racicot said, but on the competent and businesslike way House Republicans have gotten things done.

Mr. Racicot said Republicans in the House have moved forward with tax reform, education and pensions, and on trade-promotion authority, homeland security, energy, the budget, corporate governance reform, a patients bill of rights, Medicare and prescription drug benefits.

Their strategy, he suggested, will be to run on a positive domestic record. Mr. Bush, in campaigning for Republican candidates across the country, has emphasized the same while reminding audiences of the threat posed by Iraq and terrorist enemies everywhere.

Mr. Racicot said the Democratic-controlled Senate has not moved on almost every one of these issues, which are "sitting at the doorstep of Tom Daschle because the Senate is paralyzed," referring to the Senate majority leader.

Mr. Racicot maintained that the usual barometers of economic health remain good, which should favor the Republicans.

"Interest rates and inflation are down and unemployment, while up a bit, is still below where it was 17 months ago," as measured by new cases of unemployment, he said.

He said people remain optimistic about the economy and believe it will come back stronger. "They also believe we are going through a natural business cycle and the stock market, which they know is full of risks, is not a deterrence," he said.

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