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Four candidates could make big difference for GOP in midterms

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 10:25 PM

Six months ago, few Republican strategists could pick Ryan Frazier, Jeff Perry, Austin Scott or Randy Demmer out of a crowd. Today, that quartet of candidates is part of a small group of challengers who national Republicans think could be the deciding force in whether the party will win back the House majority on Nov. 2.

The four men hail from competitive districts: Frazier is running for a suburban Denver seat and Perry for an open seat that includes Cape Cod, while Scott and Demmer are vying for largely rural districts in Georgia and Minnesota, respectively. But, in a roundtable conversation with the Fix last week, it became clear that they are campaigning largely on the same ideas: against government spending and unified Democratic control of government in Washington and for a fresh start to a Republican Party that had been moribund as recently as two years ago.

"People are also looking for a balance in Congress that is not there today," said Frazier, an African American city councilman seeking to unseat second-term Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) in a district that went for Barack Obama by 19 percentage points in 2008.

Perry, a protege of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), argued that the way the health-care bill gained approval in Washington - "a culture of backroom deals" - made voters more willing to consider sending to Congress a Republican from one of the most Democratic states in the country.

All four men mention the health-care legislation - along with the economic stimulus package and the cap-and-trade energy measure that passed the House last year - as examples of the danger of single-party rule, insisting that the national Democratic Party has veered wildly away from the interests of the average American in their respective districts.

"People want to fire them," said Scott, who is taking on Rep. Jim Marshall (D) in a Georgia district where Obama won 43 percent of the vote in the last election. Demmer, a state legislator running against Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), sums up his pitch to voters this way: "Are you satisfied with the way things are going? If you like that direction, you need to vote for Congressman Walz."

And yet, for all the white-hot rhetoric about the failures of the Democratic Party, there is also a recognition by each of these men that their own side is in need of change, too - amid national polling that suggests the GOP brand remains badly damaged in the wake of the George W. Bush presidency.

None of the four men was willing to fully endorse the recently announced "Pledge to America" - a 20-plus-page mission statement released by GOP leaders and designed to provide voters with a picture of what a Republican-controlled House would look like.

Of the four, Demmer came the closest to an outright endorsement, saying: "It is a vision, it is a direction and I support that." Frazier offered a comment more typical of the candidates' approach to the pledge, saying that "there are some good things" in it but that "there are things that aren't there that I would like to see," including a focus on education.

Perhaps the most striking moments of the conversation were the ones in which these "majority makers" acknowledged with ease the political sins of their party and insisted that unless they can come to Washington to create real change, they are likely to find themselves on the outs with voters in short order.

"People haven't forgotten that the Republican Party got off course, but they are willing to give us another chance," Perry said. "If we don't [perform], we'll get fired."

Any of the four - none of whom is a favorite in his race but all of whom can make a credible argument about how they can win - would love to have a chance to come to Washington to prove to voters that things have changed in the GOP since 2006. And the national Republican Party needs victories in places and districts like these to recapture the House majority.

Of course, the national GOP may well get more than it bargained for if some of these candidates do make it to Washington. "We are coming here with a mandate to say what we are going to do," Frazier said. "We are going to hold our caucus and fellow Republicans accountable."

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