- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

The chairman of the House Republican campaign committee warned his party yesterday that it could lose congressional seats in the midterm elections if President Bush's policies do not turn around the economy early next year.
A clearly worried Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, who is in his second tour of duty as the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said he could "see some gathering clouds" on the Republican Party's political horizon. "The darkest cloud" right now is the sluggish economy and the fear that it will not recover early enough next year when the country heads into the 2002 midterm House and Senate elections, Mr. Davis said in an interview with The Washington Times.
"If the economy goes down the tubes, it will probably hurt more Republicans than Democrats. Traditionally, the presidential party is the one who benefits or loses on the strength of the economy. People aren't blaming Bush right now for the [declining] economy, but if he doesn't solve this in a year, it attaches to him," Mr. Davis said.
Mr. Davis said the NRCC's polls show that the economy's weakness "takes a little bit out of him," but he warned that if the economy is not clearly seen in a recovery stage before next April or May at the latest, "it will change the whole issue matrix in the midterm elections."
If the economy remains weak through the end of the year and into next year, that could turn the political battleground "from the urban-rural [division] we saw in 2000 to one of haves and have-nots, to people who are benefiting in the economy and those who are not benefiting, to those who like tax cuts and those who say tax cuts are the wrong thing and we need more government spending," he said.
Describing the Democrats as "an organized conspiracy to seize power," Mr. Davis said the Senate Democratic leadership is deliberately trying to slow action on the president's agenda for their own political gain.
"The Senate is delaying work on the supplemental [military spending bill]. They know what they are doing. They don't want the tax cuts. They want to delay it. They want to slow it down. A bad economy works to put them back in office so they can go ahead with their agenda," he said.
Mr. Davis said House Republicans seem content to cling to their majority status, while the Democratic base is energized and eager to win.
"What you see is that Democrats right now want to win more than Republicans. The Democratic base is more energized than the Republican base today. Why? Republicans control the presidency. We control the House. Our guys are sitting back here, their feet are on the desk, they're happy but they're not as energized," he said.
Democrats, on the other hand, "miss the gravy train, they want to get back in, so they are energized, they're going to hustle a little harder. Traditionally in the midterms, the out party is more motivated. We're not as motivated. That's our problem. We've got a year to turn this around and motivate our base," he added.
Commenting on the scandal involving Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat, who acknowledged having had a sexual affair with missing intern Chandra Ann Levy, Mr. Davis said the GOP has "got people talking about" challenging the congressman in his home district.
Yet he cautioned, "I would hesitate to write him off at this point.
"There is no evidence that Condit is contemplating on leaving early. But I would say that this controversy is probably not going to make him any stronger in a district Bush carried by nine points," Mr. Davis said. "We'll just have to wait and see if anything develops."
Mr. Davis took issue with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, for telling House Republican freshmen for whom he campaigned last year that he would not campaign for them next year if they voted against the McCain-Feingold bill in the House.
"Anytime you threaten members, it backfires," he said. "I've never seen threatening a member work. But he's certainly within his rights to call in a chip. You campaign for somebody and you need him on a vote, there's nothing wrong with calling on him for help."
Mr. Davis urges Mr. Bush to veto the campaign finance bill if the restrictions on campaign advocacy ads and other political activities in the McCain-Feingold measure reach his desk, an action he said "will not hurt the president or our party."
"I think he will veto a bill he thinks is bad. This is an opportunity for Bush to define himself as his own person, show you're a leader. People want leadership," he said. "He can't be afraid to tick major groups off."
Mr. Davis said campaign finance reform did not show up in his party's polls among the top issues people were concerned about. "The public at large isn't engaged in this. There isn't any groundswell for this except in the news media," he said.
Mr. Davis said he believes congressional redistricting will benefit the Republican Party. He predicts Republicans will pick up between eight and 10 seats from redistricting and more from the open Democratic seats as a result of retirements, though he said it is "too early to tell how many open seats there will be and, of those retiring, how many are vulnerable districts."

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