- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Influential Republicans are preparing an election game plan to put reliable majorities in Congress.

The trick, they say, is to go back to the limited-government basics of the party´s libertarian wing without generating friction with social and religious conservatives.

"Our party´s broad center-right coalition includes social conservatives as well as libertarians, so it´s doable," Republican strategist Grover Norquist said.

He said that if Republicans had sought to win over even a tiny percentage of the Libertarian Party vote in Nevada and Washington state, it would have a 52-48 Senate majority instead of a 50-50 split.

Mr. Norquist notes that in Washington state´s Senate race last year, Republican incumbent Slade Gorton lost to Democrat challenger Maria Cantwell by only 2,229votes. Libertarian Jeff Jared gathered 64,734 votes in that race. If Republicans had grabbed only 4 percent of Mr. Jared´s vote, Mr. Gorton would be in the Senate.

Two years earlier, Republican John Ensign lost to incumbent Democrat Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada by a merely 428 votes, while Libertarian Michael Cloud took 8,044 votes. If Republicans had appealed directly to conservative-minded voters who went for Mr. Cloud and won just 6 percent of them, the Nevada Senate seat would have gone Republican.

And in New Mexico, Al Gore beat Bush by only 366 votes. "Bush could easily have peeled that many votes from the 2,058 that Libertarian candidate Harry Browne got, if Bush had only gone after that vote," said state Republican Chairman John Denhahl. "Democrats made the case that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush, and we could have made the case that a vote for Browne was a vote for Gore."

To avoid such disasters, Republicans are pinning their hopes, in part, on something called the Republican Liberty Caucus.

"The most important thing is to get the libertarian-leaning voter to vote Republican," said Liberty Caucus National Chairman Chuck Muth. "To do that, Republicans can´t just say, 'Let´s slow the spending growth to just 4 percent, adjusted for inflation [as they did in the federal budget].´ Government is already too big and too intrusive."

"Since 1995, the Republican Congress has been expanding government, and that is precisely why so many voters who voted for Republicans in 1994 have been staying home or have fled to the third party movement," said Mr. Muth.

One inevitable source of conflict, however, that will pit the Liberty Caucus against many establishment Republicans is that the caucus will recruit, train and support Republican candidates to go up against other Republicans, including incumbents, who don´t support cutting government and taxes and maximizing personal freedom.

"It will cause friction with the establishment that always wants to support incumbents like [Vermont Sen. James M.] Jeffords and [Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln] Chafee for not supporting the Bush tax cuts," Mr. Muth said. "Other 'RINOs´ [Republicans in name only] and the establishment won´t support us on that, but the grass-roots Republicans will."

The Liberty Caucus, he said, also will "keep an eye on" wavering Republicans like Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, New Jersey Rep. Marge Roukema and Maryland Rep. Connie Morella. "But we have to be careful not to give away a seat to the Democrats by targeting a Republican."

"Make no mistake," Mr. Muth said. "Grass-roots Republicans are angry as hornets at Jeffords and Chafee right now and have been at other RINOs for five years, such as [Connecticut Republican Rep.] Chris Shays," co-author of the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill.

Mr. Norquist said that a caucus goal is to "avoid disasters" like Mr. Gorton´s loss inflicted by a Libertarian. "This also happens for House races and for state legislative officers. It´s why the Republicans lost control of the Colorado state Senate. So looking for areas of cooperation between libertarian conservatives and Republicans is very important."

Mr. Muth thinks the Republican Party "should be comfortable doing that. Our job as the Liberty Caucus is to return the Republican Party to its limited-government roots."

But is the party itself on board, in spite of the risks?

"I´m a libertarian Republican," said Montana Republican Chairman Matt Denny. "And I don't see much conflict with social and religious conservatives. At bottom, we want the same things. Libertarians believe we don´t need a paternalistic government telling us how to run our businesses or raise our children."

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