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In Wake of Defeats, House GOP Moves to Right the Campaign Ship

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By Ben Pershing
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reeling from drubbings in three special elections in the past two months, House Republicans yesterday unveiled a series of tactical and personnel changes at their campaign arm designed to forestall more losses in November.

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After losing seats in GOP strongholds in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois, rank-and-file House members have grown more critical of the leadership of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), who have repeatedly butted heads themselves.

The two men agreed on a prescription that includes a detailed "audit" -- run by GOP Reps. Tom Davis (Va.) and Pat Tiberi (Ohio) -- of the mistakes made in the three special-election losses.

"Did the advertising work well, or didn't it work well? How was the ground game?" Boehner asked. "There's a lot that we can learn out of those three races that will help us as we set ourselves up for the fall."

The most significant move announced yesterday was a change in the party's approach to competitive Republican primaries. Leaders will now wade into those contests to help the best general-election candidates emerge, a shift from Cole's previous decision to stay out of primaries. In the Illinois and Louisiana special elections, party leaders believe that chances of success were hampered by subpar nominees.

Republican nominees also will be aided by the establishment of new fundraising committees that will collect cash during the primaries and turn it over to the eventual winner for the general election. And Boehner is installing a key ally, Ed Brookover of the consulting firm Greener & Hook, in the upper echelons of the NRCC.

Party strategists say the question remains whether the GOP's electoral woes are the result of tactical mistakes or a larger identity problem in the national party. Republican leaders have been working to address the latter issue by rolling out a new legislative agenda.

"You don't turn the Queen Mary around overnight," Davis, a former NRCC chairman and critic, said of the GOP's recent losing efforts. "We need more of a facelift than just shuffling at the NRCC."

"I don't blame the candidates," agreed Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "I don't blame the committee. The Republican Party as a whole has a credibility problem."

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