- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Republicans on Capitol Hill looking ahead to the 2006 elections acknowledge they have liabilities: real and perceived scandals in their party, a war abroad that continues to incur U.S. casualties and a president whose poll numbers seem stuck somewhere south of not good.

Democrats and liberal pundits have expressed hope that next year will be a mirror-reverse of 1994 — the election in which, for the first time in 40 years, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress.

In 1994, Democrats were saddled with the political baggage of several ethical errors, including the House banking scandal. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, say Democrats who have begun describing a Republican “culture of corruption.”

Though convicted of no crimes, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas has temporarily stepped down as House majority leader, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California has resigned his seat and a number of other Republicans in and out of office are under investigation by federal and state authorities.

But Republicans say their current problems aren’t likely to cost the GOP its majorities in Congress, where next year’s mid-term contests will be fought district by district, on local issues and personalities, rather than on the broad national themes on which the Democrats hope to make the election turn.

“Neither Iraq nor the scandals are a problem for 2006,” says Carl Forti, chief spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). “I don’t know of any member of Congress who has ever lost because of something another member did or did not allegedly do.”

However, some House Republicans caution that their party’s brand image may have gotten a bit fuzzy of late, with polls showing Democrats have replaced Republicans as holders of the public’s trust on issues that once virtually belonged to the GOP.

“The reason Republicans are in the majority in Congress is because of our agenda,” says Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts. “As Republicans head into 2006, we need to return to our core principles — fiscal responsibility, keeping taxes low and a strong defense at home and abroad.”

That means, Mr. Pitts says, that his fellow Republicans now should move to a hurry-up offense and “pass the budget-savings package before Congress, extend the expiring Bush tax cuts, secure our borders and continue the global fight against terrorism.”

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, says the first task for his party is “to push the reset button on our agenda and emphasize what we have accomplished and where we want to go.”

Mr. Smith says Republicans need to stress economic good news: “We need to get credit for the economic growth … of the last two-and-a-half years and the creation of 2 million more jobs in the last three years,” he said.

The 10-point “Contract with America” agenda was considered a major factor in the 1994 Republican “revolution.” Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, says the biggest reason a Democrat sweep is so unlikely is that “Democrats still don’t have a positive platform to run on.”

The basic political terrain for 2006 also is unfavorable for a reversal of the 1994 GOP sweep, Mr. Forti said.

“Back in 1994, 106 races were in play and 95 were Democrat seats,” said the NRCC spokesman. “Now we have 28 seats which [independent political analyst] Charlie Cook calls truly competitive, and 10 of them belong to Democrats and 18 are Republican seats.”

So, says Mr. Forti, the Democrats “have to hold their 10 and win 15 of our 18 to take the House back — a 90 percent sweep.”

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