- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2008

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner says Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid provides long coattails for his party to regain seats in traditionally conservative districts that Republicans lost in 2006.

While many conservative Republicans view Mr. McCain as too liberal to carry the mantle of the party’s national leader, Mr. Boehner says Republican voters increasingly are rallying around the Arizona senator.

“When I talk to my members, and you look at the polling and you get out on the road and listen to people, there’s no question McCain is bringing all the Republicans together, and frankly a big chunk of independents,” Mr. Boehner told a gathering of journalists last week.

“I’m not here suggesting to you that it will be an easy walk back for us to earn our majority. I understand the difficulty, but I am here to suggest to you that it’s going to be a far better Republican year than most people realize.”

The Ohio Republican says Mr. McCain’s presence on the party ticket in November will particularly help mobilize the conservative electorate in the 61 Democrat-held House seats in districts that voted for President Bush in 2004.

“I believe John McCain will win more than 61 Democrat-held [House] seats” nationwide, Mr. Boehner said.

Yet recapturing even a few lost seats will be an uphill struggle for House Republicans, as they face significant fundraising woes and a slew of retirements in the chamber.

Democrats say Mr. Boehner’s optimism for chipping away at their 233-198 majority in the House is misguided.

“It’s clear Democrats are again on the offense this [election] cycle and are prepared to challenge Republicans and their numerous 527 [independent-expenditure advocacy group] allies in districts across the country,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising and recruiting arm for House Democrats.

The protracted race between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination will cause enthusiasm among Democratic voters to wane significantly by the November elections, Mr. Boehner said.

“It’s pretty clear that the clawing that’s going on between the two Democrats left in this race are leaving scars amongst Democrats,” Mr. Boehner said. “And what can’t be measured are the number of people [who support the losing candidate] who will be disappointed and just don’t show up to vote.”

Mr. McCain will have the added advantage in the general election of running against “one of the most polarizing people in American politics” in Mrs. Clinton or “the most liberal senator in the United States Senate” in Mr. Obama, the minority leader said.

But Democrats point to their win last month in a special election for the Illinois House seat held solidly for years by former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert as proof that House Republicans will struggle in the November elections.

Mr. McCain had campaigned for the defeated Republican candidate Jim Oberweis, who lost by six percent points to Democrat Bill Foster.

“John McCain wasn”t much help to out of touch Republicans, even in a district George Bush easily carried in 2000 and 2004,” Mr. Thornell said.

Mr. McCain has angered some conservatives for his willingness to offer some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and for his initial opposition to extending some Bush tax cuts that are set to expire in 2010.

His sponsorship of campaign-finance reforms in 2001 also raised the ire of many conservatives, who said the measure imposed unfair government regulations.

Mr. McCain now supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent, advocates for cutting the corporate income tax and calls for securing the border first in dealing with illegal immigration.

His longtime fight against pork-barrel spending and his strong advocacy for the military and national defense also play to conservative principles, Mr. Boehner said.

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