Two key Senate Republicans said Sunday that their party must do more to earn voters’ trust in the midst of growing public discontent with Democrats or risk being viewed as merely the “lesser of two evils” in November’s midterm elections.
But the Democrats’ national leader said his party has nothing to be ashamed of and that voters have good reasons to support Democratic candidates.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if the elections were held tomorrow, “we would do very well.”
“But the truth of the matter is that most of this [GOP popularity] is a rejection of a Democratic agenda that did not meet the expectations that President Obama created about a new way of doing business,” he said.
“So a lot of this has to do … with people saying ‘no’ to the Democrats, not saying ‘yes’ to the Republicans.”
Mr. Graham complained that Democrats refused to work with Republicans on big-ticket items such as health care reform and the economic stimulus package.
“They’ve rejected this [bipartisan] approach,” he said. “They’ve gone hard to the left, and now they have nothing to show for their efforts but bigger government and more debt.”
But Mr. Graham added that “at the end of the day, the public is not in the left ditch; they’re not in the right ditch. They’re in the right center of the road.”
“The only way the president can possibly survive is, come back to the middle piece,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Senate Republicans must “come up with a contract for - [or] with, of, whatever you want to call it - America” to show voters they have a plan of action.
Examples mentioned by Mr. McCain include a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, the elimination of congressional earmarks - often referred to as pork-barrel spending - and the repeal of the Obama administration’s health care reform package.
“We have to have a short list of promises we’ll make the American people, and keep it,” he said.
“But as happy as we are about the outcome of the elections, when you look at the approval ratings of Republicans, they’re just as bad as Democrats. We’ve got to give them a reason to vote for us.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, has said he will introduce a House GOP legislative action plan soon after Congress returns from its late-summer break next week.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine countered that the party should be proud of its accomplishments the past 18 months and warned against Democratic candidates who distance themselves from the party while on the campaign trail.
“If you run away from who you are - that you’re a Democrat, and you’re proud to be a Democrat - it’s foolish,” said Mr. Kaine on “Fox News Sunday.”
“People ought to be proud to be Democrats right now. You know, we’re a happy-warrior party, and this Congress has every reason to be very, very proud of the heavy lifting that they have done.”
Among registered voters in a recent Gallup survey, 51 percent said they favor Republican candidates for Congress against just 41 percent who backed Democrat. The 10-percentage-point lead in the generic survey is the GOP’s largest in Gallup’s history of tracking the midterm congressional elections.
Mr. Kaine said that while “the polls are challenging right now” for Democrats, the party is in good position to retain control of the House and Senate after the Nov. 2 elections.
“We believe if you just do the right things, over time they’re going to work,” he said.
He added that the generic performance polls aren’t always a true elections forecaster, saying that many Republicans congressional candidates are “quite far out of the mainstream.”
“We’re going to win some surprising races … because of who the other guys have put up,” Mr. Kaine said. “It’s going to be challenging out there, but it’s on the field where we win races, and we feel good about it.”
Mr. Graham, who in the past has accused “tea party” activists of dividing the Republican Party, said he is hopeful the growing conservative movement and the party establishment can unite.
“I want a coalition of tea party people, independents, moderate Democrats, trying to find a way to move this country forward before it becomes Greece,” he said, referring to that country’s catastrophic financial woes that have required international bailout plans and resulted in riots over draconian spending cuts.
Mr. McCain said that tea party supporters have been a “great addition” to the GOP because they have “invigorated a base that has been dormant for a long period of time.”