A political axiom: when our party's presidential candidate wins, then our party's congressional candidates receive a two-percentage-point bonus in their vote totals. Now that axiom, or the two points, doesn't mean much if a congressional candidate has been about to receive either 26 percent or 76 percent of the district's vote. But if, without the presidential winner, that House candidate would have received 49 percent of the two-party vote, then those two points can mean two years in Washington or Dubuque.
A 1982 Republican political problem: 22 House seats now held by Republicans (including 19 held by first-termers) were won in 1980 by two points or less. That was the same year Ronald Reagan carried 44 states while winning more electoral votes than FDR had in 1932. The present situation is further complicated by another political rule which holds that the single most important factor in off-year congressional elections is the job performance of the president.
Enter somebody with an answer to the Republican problem: presidential political assistant Lee Atwater. At 30, Atwater has had more political experience than most presidental cabinets. In 1978, he managed South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond's successful reelection campaign. In 1980, Atwater did not follow Thurmond into the John Connally camp, preferring instead to run Reagan's victorious South Carolina primary.
Atwater's Two Percent Solution begins with reassurance for all Republican House candidates. Reassurance begins with money, up to $57,880 in direct contributions from the party's committees, and introductions to the money managers of the conservative and business political action committees. There are approximately 320 active political action committees with the resources and the inclination to help Republican House candidates in 1982.
But money is only one resource and probably not the most important one. The very professional Republican House Campaign Committee, headed by the very professional Nancy Sinnott, has a field staff of 10, a research and legislative staff of 15 and a finance staff of unmatched accomplishments. The GOP House committee will help 1982 GOP House candidates with polling, television presentation and spots, speeches, brochures and bumper stickers. It will find a speaker for your fund-raising pancake breakfast.
All of this assistance is not without a price. The aided candidate is expected not to attack the Republican president whose own job-rating has fallen 23 percentage points in the past 12 months. Candidates often tend to seek to establish daylight between themselves and unpopular presidents of their own party. Some light is acceptable in 1982 on issues of interest to the district's voters. But personal attacks are out.
According to the most recent quarterly reports, from January of 1981 to May of 1982, the GOP House campaign committee had outraised its Democratic counterpart by $39 million to $2 million. While Lee Atwater argues that no one can ever really "buy" a congressional race, he understands about as well as anyone that with resources and personnel and a plan, you may be able to "buy" two percentage points.