GOP re­tire­ments force party to spend on once-safe seats

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Eric Pfeif­fer and Sean Lengell

Repub­li­cans will be forced to spend cam­paign money for 2008 House seats once con­sid­ered safe for the party — draw­ing re­sources away from other con­tested races — ow­ing to sev­eral high-profile re­tire­ments.

The chal­lenge for Repub­li­cans try­ing to re­cap­ture the House next year is com­pounded by the Democrats’ sig­nif­i­cant fundrais­ing ad­van­tage, which means Democrats likely will have the abil­ity to cam­paign in more ar­eas than Repub­li­cans.

“We have, over this re­cess, tried to spend our re­sources wisely and re­spon­si­bly and keep Repub­li­cans on the de­fense by run­ning an ag­gres­sive me­dia,” Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee spokesman Doug Thornell said.

Democrats hold a 10-to-1 fundrais­ing ad­van­tage over Repub­li­cans for their 2008 House races.

Five Repub­li­can House mem­bers have an­nounced they won’t seek re­elec­tion next year, in­clud­ing for­mer House Speaker J. Den­nis Hastert of Illi­nois, who was con­sid­ered a lock in the dis­trict he has won 11 times.

The re­tire­ments are oc­cur­ring at a bad time for House Repub­li­cans, who are try­ing to take ad­van­tage of their re­cent suc­cess­ful ef­forts to block large parts of the Demo­cratic leg­isla­tive agenda.

A new Gallup Poll re­leased Aug. 21 places con­gres­sional ap­proval rat­ings at 18 per­cent, with 76 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing — the low­est since Gallup be­gan track­ing such num­bers more than 30 years ago.

Both par­ties are ex­pected to fight hard for Mr. Hastert’s seat. Bill Fos­ter, the likely Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, has an im­pres­sive back­ground as a busi­ness­man and a sci­en­tist that has res­onated with vot­ers in re­cently sur­veys.

“The pres­i­dent’s dis­as­trous man­age­ment of the war and out-of-con­trol gov­ern­ment spend­ing has cre­ated a drag on Repub­li­cans across the coun­try,” said Thomas C. Bowen, Mr. Fos­ter’s cam­paign man­ager.

“Cou­pled with the elec­toral strength of Democrats in Illi­nois and chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, the 14th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict is at best a tossup race for the GOP.”

Repub­li­cans say they are con­fi­dent about re­tain­ing the seat, where Pres­i­dent Bush won 55 per­cent of the vote in 2004. But if they are forced to spend mil­lions hold­ing an oth­er­wise safe seat for the party, it will limit their abil­ity to tar­get cam­paign cash else­where.

A Global Strat­egy Group poll for the Fos­ter cam­paign in April found on a generic bal­lot Democrats re­ceiv­ing 40 per­cent sup­port, com­pared to 30 per­cent for the Repub­li­cans.

Mr. Fos­ter and po­ten­tial Repub­li­can can­di­date Jim Ober­weis have per­sonal for­tunes that can be in­vested in their cam­paigns.

Other Repub­li­cans who have an­nounced they will re­tire at the end of the 110th Congress in­clude for­mer Repub­li­can House Con­fer­ence Chair­woman Deb­o­rah Pryce of Ohio, Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr. of Mis­sis­sippi, Ray LaHood of Illi­nois and Dun­can Hunter of Cal­i­for­nia.

Two House Democrats have said they are step­ping down af­ter this term. A third, Rep. Luis V. Guiter­rez of Illi­nois, re­cently an­nounced he’ll seek re-elec­tion af­ter re­vers­ing an ear­lier re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment.

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