- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

BALTIMORE — Conservative House Republicans are disappointed that their leaders have no strategy to win back in 2008 the majority they lost in November.

“We think they need to be a lot more aggressive than they are,” Rep. Steve King of Iowa said. “They don’t seem willing to have blood on the floor, and there’s got to be blood on the floor.”

He and other House conservatives who came here from Washington for an annual meeting say they are united in thinking that the United States must win the war in Iraq.

That view, however, puts them at odds with the majority of voters, who say in poll after poll that they no longer support the war, think victory is unachievable and is not worth the cost in money or lives.

“We are united in understanding that we have to win the war,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia said. “Our goal is to make sure we do whatever is necessary to strengthen and hold up Iraq’s government and get that nation off on its own.”

The 48 conservative lawmakers who met here for the annual House Republican Study Committee (RSC) retreat generally agreed that their 2008 presidential nominee would be Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“I don’t see any one of them being singled out as a great front-runner by the House Republican members or any one of them being singled out as a ‘no-go,’ ” Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said. “But whichever one of the three gets the nomination is going to have to have some link to the South, which is the bedrock of the Republican Party.”

But the legislators also agreed they were not inclined to coalesce behind any one of the three and thought each of them fell short of the highest conservative standards.

Though the Heritage Foundation, sponsor of the annual retreat, had invited all three of the men to speak, only Mr. Romney showed up.

The lawmakers gave him a cordial hearing during his luncheon speech Friday, after which he took generally friendly questions from the members.

Mr. Romney said that while “no one wants to be at war with Iran,” it’s critical to make sure Iran “doesn’t develop nuclear technology.” He said engaging Iran in negotiations “is not the way to go.”

On the divisive issue of illegal aliens, guest workers and amnesty, Mr. Romney said he eventually will take a position on whether citizenship should continue to be given automatically to anyone born on U.S. soil to parents who are not U.S. citizens. He also said that in approving immigration applications, U.S. officials should consider whether “someone has a high school or college degree and can bring skills to make them greater contributors to our society.”

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay addressed the group Friday morning, but the most impressive performer, members said, was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who gave the dinner speech Thursday.

“We have to act independently of the White House. You do not serve the president, you serve with the president,” Mr. Gingrich said, according to a Republican present at the dinner, which was closed to the press.

“Newt blew the group away,” said another Republican who attended the dinner. “He is on such a different intellectual plane. He warned that the conference moves too slow and the RSC should be outmaneuvering the conference. He also said that the Republicans should neither blame nor support President Bush on issues that divide the Republicans from their base.”

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