President Bush and Republican Senate and House candidates are talking more about taxes in speeches, debates and TV spots after polls showed it is the Republican Party’s best issue in a tough midterm election season.
“One of the most important issues on the ballot this November is taxes,” Mr. Bush said this week in stumping in Georgia for former Rep. Mac Collins, seeking to unseat Rep. Jim Marshall, the incumbent Democrat. “There is a fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic parties on this important issue.”
After being off the campaign radar for months, the tax issue is now turning up in races from Virginia to Minnesota, with a little recent help from Democrats.
Republicans grinned from ear to ear last month when the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel, just about guaranteed tax increases if his party takes over the House after Nov. 7. Asked whether Democrats would consider raising taxes across the whole spectrum of income, Mr. Rangel said, “No question about it.”
Some Republicans say Mr. Rangel and his party will soon regret those words.
“Republican tax cuts have removed lots of low-income Americans from the tax rolls, so is Charlie Rangel telling those low-income folks if he and the Democrats take over, they’ll put those folks back on the tax rolls?” said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene. “So is he saying his supposed constituency will get to pay taxes again?”
Republican candidates are now asking the same question:
In a new TV spot, Republican Sen. George Allen, facing an unexpectedly difficult re-election bid in Virginia, says his Democratic challenger, James H. Webb Jr., a former secretary of the Navy, will “bring back the death tax, the marriage penalty tax and cut your child tax credit from $1,000 to $500.”
In Iowa, state Senate President Jeff Lamberti, the Republican seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, has hit the incumbent hard with the “new” weapon, saying the five-term congressman supports higher taxes.
In Minnesota, Rep. Mark Kennedy — a Republican running for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton — in a debate this week accused his Democratic opponent, Amy Klobuchar, of supporting “job-killing” tax increases and said that Republicans “helped create 6 million new jobs … because of the tax relief we passed.”
The Democrats are countering with their traditional argument that only the rich benefit from Republicans’ tax-cutting policies.
“I don’t think taxes are working any better than the war on terror for Republicans, unless you are talking to people in the top 1 percent of income,” said Karen Finney, spokeswoman for Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. “The vast majority of Americans know the Bush economy isn’t working for them, so in talking about the economy, most voters are concerned about jobs, wages and rising costs.”
Since Mr. Rangel’s pledge last month that Democrats would consider across-the-board tax increases, the New York Democrat — who would become chairman of the key tax-writing committee if Democrats win a House majority on Election Day — has hedged, shifting his emphasis to making the rich pay more taxes.
Mr. Rangel’s remarks, however, have helped focus attention on taxes — long a signature issue for the Republican Party, but one that Republican pollsters say wasn’t polling well until recently.
The comeback of the tax issue is timely for Republicans, who have found their advantage slipping on other key issues. Newsweek magazine reported earlier this month that for the first time since 2001 its poll “shows that more Americans trust the Democrats than the GOP on moral values and the war on terror.”