- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

The closest presidential race in 40 years is providing no coattails for House candidates who are mostly fending for themselves in several states where Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore campaign frequently.

"Both Gore and Bush have to run their own race," said Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). "They're in the closest race in decades and so are we."

While Democratic House candidates have appeared on stage occasionally with Vice President Gore, the absence of congressional candidates with Mr. Bush is especially noticeable.

In the spring, Bush officials had reached an agreement with the NRCC for the Texas governor to stump for more than 30 House candidates in key races. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and NRCC chairman, said earlier this year that a strong presidential candidate would be "absolutely critical" for Republicans to hold on to their six-vote majority in the House.

But on stage at rallies this fall with Mr. Bush, House candidates are few and far between. One of the few to appear with Mr. Bush recently was Rep. George Nethercutt, Washington Republican, who broke a term-limit pledge and has infuriated House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, by pressing to end the embargo on the sale of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba.

Mr. Bush, who ironically supports the Cuba embargo, gave Mr. Nethercutt his standard endorsement in the congressman's home base in Spokane: "He's a good man."

A source close to the Bush campaign said Mr. Bush is deliberately keeping his distance from most of the House Republican candidates and is focusing on his own race. Mr. Bush has reminded audiences continually that he is "a different kind of Republican" who harbors a distaste for the highly partisan atmosphere that has permeated Washington during most of the Clinton administration.

Mr. Wilkinson downplayed Mr. Bush's minimal stumping for House candidates, saying the Bush campaign has allowed Republican congressional hopefuls to travel on the Bush campaign plane "whenever possible."

"But George Bush has to run his own race' and we have to run ours," Mr. Wilkinson said. "They have to do what they have to do."

Mr. Wilkinson said Mr. Bush is helping House Republican candidates by campaigning hard on Social Security and education, saying the nominee "has taken the edge off our party." In previous elections, Republican candidates have been pegged as anti-education.

"We're not counting on Bush having coattails, but he has helped give us the ultimate gift a political climate that helps us to increase our majority," Mr. Wilkinson said. "The fact that he's pounded away on those issues for months has helped us."

Democrats, naturally, have a different view of the House Republicans' arms-length relationship with Mr. Bush.

"They weren't counting on Bush blowing his big lead," said John Del Cecato, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "They had always talked about Bush being their knight in shining armor. Now that the race is a dead heat, House Republicans are searching for a Plan B."

One alternative, and a plan that House Republicans have been using since the spring, is to call on Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. Mr. McCain, who lost the presidential primary, has been campaigning for House candidates in many close races.

Mr. Del Cecato said he couldn't provide information on how many Democratic House candidates have campaigned with Mr. Gore this fall, saying the DCCC is not coordinating such an effort and leaves it up to individual candidates' campaigns.

Mr. Gore does stump for House candidates on the campaign trail occasionally, somewhat more often than does Mr. Bush. But those Democratic candidates for the most part have not played prominent roles in Gore campaign events.

A Democratic source acknowledged that a close White House race robs the party's House candidates of any coattail effect from Mr. Gore. But he said a tight presidential race could benefit Democratic House candidates because Democratic voters tend to turn out in larger numbers when the top race is close.

"We don't want either [presidential] candidate to be ahead by eight or 10 points," the source said.

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