Tom Cole: '08 Picture for House GOPers Not So Bad

The Republican congressman who oversees his party’s campaign to hold and gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives dismissed gloom and doom  talk of big Democratic increases in their majority this fall. 

“My biggest concern is Republican morale,” Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.) told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, adding that Republicans “sometimes we sound too much like Eeyore,” referring to the ever-pessimistic donkey in the “Winnie the Pooh” books.

Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, noted to the Washington DC reporters at the Monitor breakfast that 61 Democratic House Members are running in districts carried by George W. Bush in ’04, while only eight Republican House Members are running in districts carried by John Kerry that year.

Cole also took exception to the frequently-heard prophecy that the unusually high (28) number of GOP lawmakers retiring or resigning from the House will lead to Democratic net gains in open districts. Cole said he was not disturbed by the high number of retirees, noting that “[Ohio Republican Reps.] Ralph Regula is 82 and Dave Hobson is 71. If you don’t want to be there you shouldn’t run.” (Cole did say he regretted that his friend, Republican Rep. Mike Ferguson of New Jersey, was stepping down and he was proud to have joined 130-plus Republican colleagues urging Arizona Rep. John Shadegg to change his mind on retiring, which Shadegg did).

But since most of the retirees were in strongly Republican districts, Cole said, “most open districts won’t vote Democratic.” One possible exception he cited was that of New York’s Rep. Jim Walsh, whose 25th District (Syracuse) is one of the eight that was carried by Kerry in ’04 and “which has moved the other way rather than toward us.”

But, he quickly added, there were others that were most promising. The NRCC chief specifically cited that of Ohio’s 15th District (Columbus) in which Republican Rep. Deb Pryce is retiring after a near-defeat in ’06. “[Republican candidate] Steve Stivers will beat [Democrat and ’06 near-winner] Mary Jo Kilroy like a drum,” said Cole without hesitation, noting that the GOP hopeful “has raised $400,000 in two months.” 

Cole also noted that the Republican Party’s “worst year was ’06,” when they lost control of the House after a dozen years. But, he also noted that Democrats have been unable to build on that momentum since. He said, “they didn’t take a single open seat away in special elections since,” and that the GOP looked good in upcoming special elections for the districts of  Gov. Bobby Jindal and resigned Rep. Richard Baker in Louisiana and of appointed Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. (Cole did concede that in the March 11 special election for the seat of former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in Illinois, “we’re neck and neck” and he hoped defeated primary candidate Chris Lauzen would “come around” and endorse GOP nominee Jim Oberweis).

But rather than go through the nation district-by-district, Cole pointed to national Democrats moving left on taxes (“They want to raise ‘em, we don’t”), the size of government (“They want to increase it, we don’t”), and on “the mentality of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that the U.S. is responsible for most of what is wrong overseas. That’s not what most Americans want to believe.” 

Pointing to Democratic leadership under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cole said “They need more pictures at bill signing with George W. Bush, just as we needed more signing with Bill Clinton in 1994-95.” He recalled how the Republican Congress did begin to get credit with the public for balancing the budget and welfare reform, which Clinton signed in 1996 after first vetoing it. As a result, Republicans got credit from the public and held on to the House.

“On balance we did big things over twelve years,” said Cole, “This Congress doesn’t compare with the Congress of 1994-95. 

In terms of numbers, Cole pointed out that after the worst defeat since Watergate in House races, ‘we have more Republicans [in the House] than Ronald Reagan on his best day and more that Newt Gingrich had at this point in 1994.  Our fate is in our own hands.  If we show up and play, we’ll win. But if we sit around like Eeyore, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”