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Old 11-04-2006, 10:02 PM   #1
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Analysis: GOP seeks to motivate base

AP - It's red-meat time for the GOP.

Anticipating losses in Congress, Republicans are working to energize their lackluster base in the campaign's final days. They are warning party loyalists of the perils of Democratic rule, castigating liberal icons and embracing conservative heroes.

"What would happen if the Democrats win?" House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked in an essay for National Review, a conservative publication. His ominous take is that taxes would be higher, the mission in Iraq would "be damned" and San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, as the new speaker, would be "leading the culture war."

Clearly, Democrats do not agree with Hastert.

Not that it matters.

With Election Day on Tuesday, the Republican pitch is aimed at rallying the GOP's dispirited voters and convincing them that they must cast ballots because of the high stakes.

The bedrock of the Republican Party, conservatives have been irritated with President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress for making little progress on their social agenda and fiscal priorities. Like a majority of the country, conservatives also are frustrated with the president's handling of the Iraq war and were turned off by the Mark Foley cybersex scandal in the House.

And they surely cringed on Thursday when one of the nation's top evangelical leaders resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid accusations that he paid for gay sex. On Saturday, the Rev. Ted Haggard was dismissed as leader of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., after its independent investigative board recommended removal, saying he was guilty "of sexually immoral conduct."

Given such disenchantment, party strategists fear that swaths of GOP faithful will stay home on Tuesday, costing the GOP the reins of the House, and, perhaps, the Senate.

"The fact that we're still trying to rally our base just days before the election and we're in a defensive mode rather than an offensive mode is problematic," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican consultant.

That base is needed even more in a nonpresidential election year when turn out typically is low, and, particularly, this year, given that public opinion strongly favors Democrats.

"Our job is to motivate our voters because if we're able to mobilize them in early voting states now and through Election Day, we're going to do fine," Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently.

That will not be easy.

Republicans, like the rest of the electorate, are sour about the state of the country.

Only 28 percent of the GOP's likely voters said in a recent AP-AOL News poll that they are enthusiastic about the Bush administration. Just 13 percent said they are enthusiastic about the GOP leadership in Congress. At the same time, only half of Republicans who are likely to vote say they strongly approve of Bush's job performance.

So, the White House and House GOP leaders are focusing largely on rousing their core backers, even as the president dismisses the notion of cracks in support.

"Our base is energized," Bush insists.

"To suggest that Republican support is weakening means that we're not going to do well at the ballot box. And I believe we are going to do well at the ballot box because I think Republican support is strong," he says.

Nevertheless, White House officials, Hastert, Boehner and other GOP leaders have been feverishly making the rounds on cable television and talk radio programs, mainly those whose audiences are largely made up of core GOP voters.

"If you want bigger government and higher taxes, vote for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. If you do want someone down on the border with open arms welcoming people across the border, vote for them," Boehner told Michael Medved, a conservative radio talk show host Thursday. "And, if you want to let the terrorists win in Iraq, just vote for the Democrats."

Such messages also show up on the campaign trail.

"Lois Murphy is extreme. Look at the company she keeps," says an ad Republicans are airing against the Democratic challenger in the suburban Philadelphia district of GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach (news, bio, voting record). Pictures in the commercial include Pelosi, Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

It accuses "Liberal Lois" of wanting to raise taxes and ends: "She's supported by every radical liberal organization in the country. We can't risk Lois Murphy."

Meantime, Bush is campaigning in traditional GOP strongholds, including Montana, Kansas, Nebraska and Nevada. In the friendly locations, he hammers Democrats as he promotes issues dear to the Republican base, such as putting conservative judges in federal courtships.

Also, in a move that undoubtedly delighted the base, the White House led a two-day GOP effort to eviscerate Democrat John Kerry — Bush's 2004 rival and one of the party faithful's favorite Democratic villains.

The Massachusetts senator appeared to suggest that those who do not get an education "get stuck in Iraq." Bush and his rank and file seized on the remark in a replay of sorts from the bitter presidential race.

They accused Kerry of insulting U.S. troops, demanded the senator apologize and claimed that the remarks exemplified a disparaging attitude the GOP says Democrats have toward the military. Kerry eventually apologized.

At the same time, Bush gave his strongest endorsement yet to Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying he wants them to remain with him until the end of his presidency.

They are two of the most-vilified members of Bush's administration, but they also are lions in the Republican Party and both are popular among conservatives. Cheney is a prolific GOP fundraiser who is a campaign-trail crowd pleaser in Republican-friendly territory. Rumsfeld is arguably less revered, but still is well-liked.

For all the effort, Republicans run a risk: They could end up further fueling anger stirring in voters likely to side with Democrats and motivate them to turn out at the polls as well.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE — Liz Sidoti covers politics for The Associated Press.

Last edited by motivez; 11-05-2006 at 01:05 AM..
 
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