While most congressional leaders continue to believe that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will be the nominee, they worry about how long it will take to secure the nomination and the political costs of a drawn-out battle.
“Every day that goes by [without a nominee] is a day that plays to President Obama’s advantage,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has endorsed Romney and was the party’s 2008 standard-bearer.
While GOP leaders are eager for a nominee to emerge so they can begin a coordinated campaign against the Democrats, they are increasingly convinced that they must move ahead with an agenda of their own.
Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that regardless of who the nominee is and when he assumes the role, the core of the GOP argument against the president will be the same.
“Listen, one thing is clear here,” Boehner said Thursday. “ . . . This year’s election is going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies. . . . The American people are concerned about our economy and concerned about jobs, and that’s going to continue to be my focus.”
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sketched out what a joint agenda should look like. “ ‘Obamacare’ should be the number one issue in the campaign,” McConnell told the Weekly Standard. “I think it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” The other top issues, as McConnell sees them, should be the deficit and national debt.
One main concern going forward, key Hill Republicans say, is to avoid falling into more social-issue debates, which have hurt the broader party image and could affect down-ballot races for the House and Senate.
“To the extent that the focus in this cycle is on the economy, it’s better for Republicans. I think that’s probably where the stronger case for Republican change can be made,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who managed presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s 1994 campaign for the Senate but remains neutral in the presidential race. “I think we’re stronger when we’re talking about economics.”
The result is a congressional party determined to show action on bread-and-butter issues that can serve as the core of a unified economic agenda.
“We’ve got plenty of things to worry about here in the House. We’ve got a transportation bill, we’ve got Iran, we’ve got debt and deficit,” said Rep. Allen B. West (R-Fla.). “ Whatever happens with the presidential race will happen with the presidential race. People sent me up here to focus on being a good congressional representative, not worrying about being a cheerleader in a food fight.”