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After fanfare, few Republicans campaigning on 'Pledge to America'

House Republicans released their "Pledge to America" on Thurs., Sept. 23. The release of the 21-page plan came with far less fanfare than the 1994 announcement of the party's "Contract with America."

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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 8:49 PM

PINEY RIVER, VA. - A week after House Republican leaders gathered at a lumberyard in Sterling to announce their "Pledge to America," one of the party's prized recruits stopped at a business about 150 miles away to make a campaign pitch about taxes, regulation and the government's role.

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Virginia state Sen. Robert Hurt touched on many of the themes of the pledge, but he didn't mention it by name or quote a single line from the 48-page document. He hadn't even looked at it.

"I have not sat down and read it," said Hurt, adding that he had glimpsed "summaries of it."

For all the fanfare and publicity that accompanied the pledge's release, relatively few Republican candidates nationwide appear to be adopting it as a guiding vision, much less incorporating it into their campaigns.

That stands in contrast to the document the pledge is most often compared to, the 1994 "Contract With America," which Republicans announced just before they captured control of Congress. In September of that year, more than 300 GOP candidates and lawmakers joined together on the steps of the Capitol to endorse the contract and its tenets. Republicans then made it the centerpiece of their national campaign, and candidates incorporated it into their messages.

Nothing of that sort has happened this year. Nevertheless, the pledge has shifted the debate in Washington by giving Republicans something to point to when they're accused of having no ideas or vision for the future.

The simple fact that President Obama has chosen to rebut the pledge, as he has done in weekly radio addresses and in a rally last week in Wisconsin, marks a clear shift, Republicans say.

"The president was attacking us as the 'party of no,' and now he's criticizing our ideas," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the lead writer of the document. "He changed his whole attack against Republicans."

And by laying out their vision in a long document full of rhetorical flourishes - unlike the bullet-point concision of the 1994 contract - Republicans have made it easy for their candidates to back it generally and difficult for their opponents to criticize it directly.

"What you want to do is give a candidate the flexibility to focus on the stuff they like from it," said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster who was not involved in crafting the pledge. "If there's stuff that doesn't fit their area, it's not something they would necessarily then tout. I think it's a little more flexible than a contract-style document."

The pledge - the product of several months' work by a handful of key House Republicans - offers the party's plan to create jobs, cut government spending, "repeal and replace" the health-care reform law, change the way Congress operates and strengthen national security. The document puts a heavy emphasis on jobs and the economy and only briefly mentions social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Like Hurt, Bill Flores, the Republican running to unseat Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas, said last week that he hadn't had time to read the pledge. Morgan Griffith, the GOP challenger to Rep. Rick Boucher in Virginia, had "not finished going over" the pledge as of Tuesday, his campaign spokesman said. And a spokesman for Republican Steve Stivers, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy's opponent in Ohio, said that he wasn't sure whether his boss had read the pledge, but that he hasn't mentioned it on the campaign trail.


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