House GOP Outlook 'Worst Since Watergate,' Says Rep. Davis

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:33pm EDT

( - The public's view of the Republican Party in the U.S. House going into the 2008 election is the "worst since Watergate," according to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The perception, in fact, is "in the trash can," he said.

Davis also said that a recent string of losses in congressional special elections serve as "canaries in the coal mine," i.e., warnings of more losses for Republicans this fall, unless the GOP changes its "brand."

In a memorandum to the "Republican Leadership," which was made public, Davis said the losses of three straight special elections in once solidly Republican districts "cannot be explained simply by 'bad candidates' or by being out-organized."

"The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006 when we lost 30 seats (and our majority) and came within a couple of percentage points of losing another 15 seats," Davis wrote.

"Whether measured by polls, open seats, money, voter registration, generic ballot, presidential popularity or issues, our party faces a steep climb to maintain our current numbers," he said. "A strategy of waiting for Democrats to fumble the ball is high-risk at this point."

Comparing the GOP's image to a product on store shelves, Davis added: They don't like our dog food. They may not like the Democrats' either, but for now, and through November, they appear to be buying it."

Davis, a moderate Republican from Northern Virginia who headed up House GOP election efforts from 1997 to 2003, is not seeking re-election this fall.

Conservative GOP activists, echoing Davis, are calling for leadership change in the House Republican caucus, and reform of the party's political message.

In an interview with Cybercast News Service , Craig Shirley, president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and author of Reagan's Revolution , compared the difference in "attractiveness" between Republicans and Democrats to that of two well-known Hollywood actresses.

"If the Democratic Party is Angelina Jolie, the Republicans are Rosie O'Donnell," Shirley said.

He added that the GOP's woes were "systemic," and were the result of many factors, only some of which lawmakers were responsible for.

"The poisonous atmosphere for the Republicans is in the air; it's in the water; it's in the soil," he said.

The directors of the highly popular conservative blog RedState are calling for the ouster of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the current chairman of the NRCC.

"After losing three consecutive special elections in Republican-leaning districts in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi, House Republicans need to make a decision," the blog stated recently. "They can continue on this course until November and embrace disaster or they can clean house and bring a new direction to the NRCC."

The GOP lost in a Mississippi district that gave President Bush 62 percent of the vote in 2004 and in a Louisiana district that the GOP has held for more than three decades.

"Cole doesn't deserve the blame for all that went wrong in the three special elections," RedState said. "But as the chairman of the GOP's congressional campaign arm, he does have to take responsibility -- and the responsible thing for him to do is pass the torch to someone new."

Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh was not as critical of Cole. Instead, he placed the blame for the GOP's lack of a consistent conservative message on entities in the the nation's capital.

"I feel sorry for Mr. Cole," Limbaugh said on a recent broadcast.

"I know he wants to do the right thing, and I know he knows what the right thing is. But his hands are tied, just like [former Republican House Speaker] Denny Hastert's were and just like a lot of other Republicans' hands have been tied."

Shirley, meanwhile, called replacing Cole "window-dressing," and compared the effort to "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

Instead, he said that recovering the popularity of the GOP brand would require a "clean break" with the current Republican Party and the launch of "a new Republican Party, which takes long-held, established, winning principles, and applies them to the problems of today."

"It's never too late [to do so], and they'd better do it sooner, rather than later," said Shirley.

"The reason [Republicans are] losing," Shirley said, "is not because everybody in America has, all of a sudden, fallen in love with the Democratic Party. They're losing because so (many members) of their own base are sitting on their hands or voting for the other guy in protest, simply because they're so angry with their own party. They feel like their own party has abandoned them."

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