- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Democrats say Enron's collapse will help them in this year's midterm elections by reinforcing an image that their party protects the "little guy" while Republicans are tied to big corporations.
From campaign finance reform to protecting pensions to tax breaks, Democrats say the issues highlighted by Enron's collapse offer plenty of possibilities to draw that distinction in voters' minds.
"This is really, in essence, the basis of a series of discussions it is the basis of whose side are you on. Democrats will clearly be on the side of the little guy," said Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. The caucus held a weekend meeting to plan strategy for November's elections.
At this point the Enron story is still developing, but Democratic strategists said the company's collapse offers several possibilities.
Among the possible targets are Republicans' efforts last year to eliminate the alternative minimum tax during stimulus-package debates, which Democrats say would have resulted in a refund to Enron of more than $250 million, and attempts to block legislation that would have prohibited firms from simultaneously consulting and auditing for companies.
Democratic political consultant Paul Begala said congressional Republicans are more worried about Enron right now than the White House for two key reasons: Congress is up for election first, and Republicans members aren't riding the humongous approval ratings the president is.
"They're going to run from [Enron] like the devil runs from holy water," Mr. Begala said.
According to the campaign finance watchdog Common Cause, Enron and its affiliates gave more than $2 million in soft money contributions in the last election cycle to the two parties, with 70 percent going to Republicans and 30 percent going to Democrats. In addition, Enron's political action committee gave $280,043 directly to members of Congress in 1999-2000.
But Republicans say there is no evidence that anyone who took contributions tried inappropriately to help the company and plenty of House and Senate Democrats received contributions.
"If this is a problem for Republican candidates it's also going to be a problem for Senator [Joseph I.] Leiberman and other Democratic presidential hopefuls," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Democrats see the chance to get out in front on the push for legislation to address shortcomings highlighted by Enron.
"It shines a light on a set of issues that people tend to trust Democrats to deal with issues like pensions, retirement security, protecting employees from greedy corps that don't value their loyalty," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist.
David Dougherty, vice president at the Global Strategy Group, said the danger for Republicans is that as the story unfolds the public will begin to associate it with faces of those who lost jobs or pensions.
New polls found mixed results on how the public is reacting. An Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday found the level of interest in the story fairly low and very narrow, said Thomas Riehle, president of the company's U.S. division.
But a New York Times-CBS poll released this weekend found far more respondents tied Republicans to Enron than Democrats. That poll found 27 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who took contributions from Enron, while 61 percent said it would make no difference.

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