Independent political groups that are targeting supposedly vulnerable Democrats for the 1982 election campaign have the potential of damaging President Reagan instead, Republican National Chairman Richard Richards said yesterday.
"They create all kinds of mischief," Richards said. "They're not responsible to anyone." He said this was part of the cause of the Watergate scandals.
The GOP chairman said that independent campaigns waged against Democrats on "single issues" could undermine the White House strategy of winning conservative Democratic support for Reagan's economic program and could create a backlash of sympathy for some liberals. Richards said that passage of the program and its subsequent success was the key to success for the Reagan administration.
The Republican strategy on the economic program has been to dangle a carrot of approval in front of Democrats who go along with Reagan rather than threatening them with the stick of retaliation at the polls.
Democrats are likely to be reelected if they support the economic plan, Richards acknowledged.
"I would rather pass the program and solve the problem and not win the House than lose the program and win the House and continue with the problems we have," Richards said.
The GOP chairman also said that independent campaigns, which he said some regard as "dirty," have the potential of creating sympathy for incumbent Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (Md.), who are targeted by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) for defeat in 1982.
Richards said he will appoint a committee when the Republican National Committee meets this summer to look into the activities of independent expenditure groups and see if there is a way to curb them. These groups, especially NCPAC, are credited with helping the Republicans take over the Senate in 1980 by waging gut-level campaigns against such incumbent Democratic senators as Frank Church of Idaho, George S. McGovern of South Dakota and John C. Culver of Iowa, all of whom were defeated.
These groups may have helped Republicans in some instances and hurt them in others, Richards contended. He said that the campaign against Church was so raw that if backfired and enabled the veteran Idaho senator to almost win an election in which he otherwise would have had no chance.
The real danger, Richards said, is that the excess money these groups raise give them a reason for being independent of any issue and enable them to create "mischief" because they are well-funded and not responsible to any party.
"That's what happened in Watergate," he added.
Richards said that public opinion polls taken for the RNC by Richard B. Wirthlin shows that Reagan's popularity continues to climb and that his economic program also is highly popular. But the GOP chairman said that Reagan's call for cuts in federal spending is far more popular than his tax cut proposals.
"They're not sold yet on supply-side economics," Richards said.
If the president delivers on the economic program, said Richards, the Republicans could become the majority party. If he doesn't, Richards continued, both the president and his party will be held responsible by the voters.
On another issue, Richards said that the RNC is actively supporting plans to create new Hispanic congressional and legislative districts in California, Texas, New Mexico and Florida in the hope of expanding the GOP base among Hispanic voters.