- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Republican leaders eagerly sharpened their knives in anticipation of longtime nemesis Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton topping the Democratic ticket, but Sen. Barack Obama’s nomination offers the same brand of liberal red meat to energize conservative voters, they say.

“It’s not just a chance, it is a certainty,” said Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The more people get to know his liberal record, the more they will see there is a clear choice here, and their participation in the election is essential.”

Internal polls show the party base already united with 90 percent supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, partly a result of esteem for the long-serving Arizona senator but also in reaction to “a lot of fear of what an Obama presidency might mean,” he said.

“I think we are further along uniting the party than the popular press would lead you to believe,” Mr. Donatelli said.

Mr. Obama of Illinois maintains a narrow lead over Mr. McCain in national polls. A Gallup poll over the weekend showed him with a three-point lead, 46 to 43 percent.

But Republicans are banking on his advantage eroding as voters digest how far he ran to the left of Mrs. Clinton in the hard-fought primary race and how he racked up the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate last year in the National Journal’s annual rankings.

The McCain campaign and its surrogates likely will remind voters that Mr. Obama voted against extending President Bush’s tax cuts, against permanently repealing the estate tax, or “death tax,” and against confirming Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

His votes as an Illinois state senator against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive and against gun rights already drew criticism on the campaign trail.

Mr. Obama moved toward the center on some policy positions since all but clinching the nomination earlier this month, including backing off his promise to unilaterally nullify the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Republicans remain confident his liberal politics will stir fierce animosity, driving turnout for Mr. McCain in November.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Mr. Obama is “further left than anyone who has held the Oval Office.”

“We can draw the contrasts on taxes, on the size of government and on regulation,” he said. “As we just move forward, it becomes more apparent to Republicans how truly liberal Barack Obama is and how truly catastrophic [an Obama presidency] will be.”

But it will not be enough for Republicans to mount an anti-Obama campaign, he said, adding that he expects Mr. McCain will make a strong case for his own candidacy.

“We probably have the strongest candidate we could have at the top of the ticket,” he said. “Given where Senator Obama is [on the issues], we ought to have a great clash of ideas. If we do not rally to [Mr. McCain’s] cause as a party, then shame on us.”

He is also counting on Mr. McCain to turn out the party’s base in the 62 districts where Mr. Bush won in 2004 but where Democrats now hold House seats, as well as in the 27 races for open seats in districts Mr. Bush carried.

“John McCain has a lot of things that already excite the base,” Mr. Cole said, noting his record on fiscal responsibility, his pro-life stance and his strength on defense and military issues.

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