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GOP Strategists Whisper Fears Of Greater Losses in November

GOP strategists worry that any bump from vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin won't be enough to prevent losses.
GOP strategists worry that any bump from vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin won't be enough to prevent losses. (By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)

Some states that have been hit particularly hard economically saw fractures within their delegations. In Michigan, Knollenberg switched his vote from no on Monday to yes on Friday, while Walberg voted no both times. Asked whether he changed his mind out of concern for his reelection, Knollenberg shrugged and responded, "This is politics." But he added that supporting the bailout "is really what's best for the community."

In North Carolina, the package was opposed by both vulnerable GOP incumbents, Dole and Rep. Robin Hayes. Dole's Democratic challenger, state Sen. Kay Hagan, also announced her opposition. Rep. Sue Myrick, one of the few Republicans in the state whose seat is considered relatively secure, was one of 25 GOP members who switched from no to yes. "I may lose this race over this vote," Myrick said. "But that's okay, because I believe in my heart that I'm doing the right thing."

Phil Singer, a former aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign who is currently advising several Democratic Senate candidates, said the current financial crisis provided a new opportunity to remind voters that President Bush remains the leader of the Republican Party. "The 'GOP candidate equals George Bush' argument was growing stale in the absence of any fresh proof points," said Singer.

Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the GOP's chief deputy whip, urged Republicans to go home and talk about kitchen-table issues such as the price of gas. "That's what this election is going to be about," he said, "and people are going to ask, 'Whose vision do we ascribe to?' " But it could take time to change the subject, Cantor acknowledged, depending on how quickly the crisis shows signs of easing.

Compounding Republican problems is a continued fundraising deficit that has left the party largely powerless to defend its congressional candidates against a televised Democratic onslaught. At the start of September -- the last time financial figures were available -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held a $40 million cash-on-hand edge over its GOP counterpart and was advertising in 41 House districts, compared with just two districts in which the National Republican Campaign Committee was on the air.

The gap was less daunting on the Senate side, where the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee held a $7 million cash edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee at the start of September. However, the DSCC spent $13.6 million in August -- largely on television ads -- while the NRSC dropped just $3.6 million.

That spending deficit and the economic reverberations are being felt most strongly in North Carolina, where Hagan appears to have moved into a lead over Dole. The DSCC has spent more than $3.5 million on ads painting Dole as out of touch with average North Carolina voters, and even Republicans acknowledge that the attacks have taken their toll. Independent polling puts Hagan's lead at three to eight points.

In Oregon, state House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) has taken to the television airwaves to attack Sen. Gordon Smith (R) for his vote in favor of the rescue plan. "In this economy, who is really on your side?" asks the narrator in Merkley's ad, saying that Smith supported a "trillion-dollar blank check for Wall Street." Polling in that race shows a virtual dead heat.

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