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SPECIAL ELECTIONS

As Losses Mount, GOP Begins Looking in the Mirror

Republicans are pulling out all the stops to try to elect Greg Davis.
Republicans are pulling out all the stops to try to elect Greg Davis. (Greg Jenson - AP)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Since losing 30 seats and their 12-year stranglehold on power in 2006, House Republicans have kept asking themselves the same question: Can it get any worse?

On Tuesday, they may get another answer they won't like.

With lots of help from Washington -- including more than $1.3 million in campaign cash and a last-minute visit by Vice President Cheney -- Mississippi Republicans are desperately trying to retain a congressional seat in one of the most reliably conservative districts in the nation.

The stakes in the 1st District special election couldn't be higher, strategically or symbolically. The loss of a traditionally GOP seat to a Democrat would be the third in a special election this spring and the second in the Deep South after the May 3 victory of Rep. Don Cazayoux (D-La.).

Rank-and-file Republicans say that would force a day of reckoning for their leadership.

"When you connect three dots in anything, that's a bad thing. This connects the dots. At that point, everybody's got to come together and have a come-to-Jesus meeting," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a retiring centrist who will help form a new advisory panel at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"It's a time of sober reflection and, to some extent, resolve. I hope these special elections are a wake-up call," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Democratic leaders have stopped tamping down expectations and instead have set a new goal for the November elections of establishing a long-lasting majority that could dominate the chamber.

"We will have a strong, confident, predictable Democratic majority to take us forward, and then we will be in 2010, 2012, on the path to a strong Democratic leadership for a long time to come," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Just when Republicans thought they had seen everything, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) admitted Thursday that he has a 3-year-old daughter from a long-running extramarital affair with a retired Air Force officer. Fossella, who is married and has three young children at home in Staten Island, is also facing drunken-driving charges in Virginia. GOP strategists are debating whether he should resign or announce that he will not seek reelection in November.

Fossella's resignation would mean another special election, this one in the nation's most expensive media market.

Independent analysts agree that a loss Tuesday would leave Republicans with no excuses. They blamed poor candidates in races in Louisiana and Illinois, where the GOP lost a special election for the seat long held by former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert.


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