GOP Loses Another Leader in Congress
Friday, March 21, 2008
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) announced yesterday that he will not seek another term in office, becoming the latest member of the former GOP leadership team to step down in the past two years.
Reynolds is the fifth departing member of the Republican leadership team that ran the House with an iron fist for 12 years until Democrats took control in the 2006 election. His decision also was another blow to Republican chances against Democrats, who appear likely to widen their majority with more than two dozen GOP seats coming open this year.
Demoralized, underfinanced and facing a criminal investigation of their campaign committee's former treasurer, 29 House Republicans have announced in the past year they will not run for reelection, have decided to seek another office or have simply quit midterm.
The departures have allowed Democrats to take shots at Republican seats they could not have dreamed of capturing just a few short years ago. And they have pushed an almost completely new set of members into GOP leadership, providing a chance for a younger group of lawmakers that is trying to recast the party's image.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), 44, the chief deputy whip, said Republicans need to reclaim the "message of renewal and reform" and tie themselves to their presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose political brand has been to "challenge the status quo."
But independent analysts have doubts about the Republican ability to run as "change" candidates as long as President Bush is in the White House. The Republican retirements and money woes have created the chance for Democrats to go beyond the "modest to double-digit gains" currently forecast, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.
From 2003 through 2006, Reynolds chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee, making him the House Republicans' top political strategist. He was a close confidant of former representative J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) during Hastert's eight-year reign as House speaker, the longest ever for a Republican.
Many believe he sought to succeed Hastert as speaker, but instead he announced his retirement less than two weeks after a Democratic victory in a special election for Hastert's seat. Hastert gave up the speaker's gavel after the Republicans' losses in 2006 and retired from office last November.
Like many of the retiring Republicans, Reynolds said he wants to return home to spend time with his family. "I think that it is time for Donna and I to focus on my family and our future, to take up new challenges, and to close out my career in elected service," Reynolds said at a news conference yesterday in Buffalo.
Reynolds, who barely survived his 2006 reelection battle, appeared to be better positioned to retain his upstate New York district this time, but he has come under fire over his tenure as NRCC chairman in recent weeks. The committee last week accused its former treasurer, Christopher J. Ward, of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from NRCC coffers to his personal accounts in an alleged fraud scheme the committee said dates back to at least 2004.
Reynolds promoted Ward to treasurer in 2003. While Reynolds and the NRCC appear to have been victimized, lawmakers have publicly and privately questioned his stewardship of the committee, suggesting that it was a "staff driven" organization under his leadership.
Reynolds has said he "welcomes" the ongoing FBI investigation into Ward's actions.
Yesterday, the NRCC reported to the Federal Election Commission that it had just $5.1 million cash on hand, with almost $2 million in leftover debts from the 2006 campaign. Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reported $38 million in cash on hand and less than $1 million in debt.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the minority whip and one of just two lawmakers from the GOP's 2005 leadership team seeking reelection, said yesterday that "members appreciate that Congress is an always changing institution."
But he acknowledged that life in the minority has led to some GOP retirements. "When you begin to balance the good you're doing in the majority and the good you're doing in the minority, the balance begins to shift," he said.