Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge his House colleagues to remain optimistic about the GOP’s chances in November, amid eroding poll numbers and growing anxiety among some activists about the party’s prospects.
Participants in the closed-door meeting described a brief, upbeat address that focused on defining the race as a close contest between two distinct visions for the country.
“This is going to be an up and down race,” Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, said during an appearance at the last scheduled weekly meeting of House Republicans before Election Day, according to multiple people in the room.
He urged colleagues not to allow Democrats to distract them in the race’s final weeks.
“Here’s our commitment: We are going to make this about the big things,” he said. “We need to go on offense, and we need to give our constituents the choice of two futures.”
Ryan’s visit appeared designed to soothe GOP anxieties about Mitt Romney’s prospects and whether the presidential ticket might become a drag on Republican candidates for the House and the Senate.
Ryan’s comments came as a number of House members, senators and congressional candidates in tough races have taken pains to separate themselves from the GOP presidential ticket, particularly remarks Romney made at a May fundraiser in which he claimed that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims and entitled to government handouts, adding that their votes are not worth courting.
“I have my own point of view,” Senate candidate George Allen of Virginia said at a debate Thursday hosted by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, after moderator David Gregory repeatedly asked him whether he shares Romney’s view of those who pay no income tax.
“My point of view is that the people of America still believe in the American dream. And our responsibility as leaders, as public servants, is to make sure that this is a country where everyone has that equal opportunity to compete and succeed and pursue their dreams,” Allen said.
Allen’s careful remarks were notable, given the critical role Virginia is expected to play in the presidential election and in determining whether the GOP picks up the four seats it needs to take control of the Senate.
Former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle has likewise been pressed in recent days to respond to Romney’s remarks in her Senate race against Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D).
“I am not a rubber stamp for the national party and I am not responsible for the statements of Mitt Romney,” Lingle said Wednesday in an e-mail to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “With that said, I do not agree with his characterization of all individuals who are receiving government assistance. . . . It is not fair to place these individuals into any one category.”
Many of those who have taken pains to note their disagreements with Romney on the issue are running in Democratic-leaning districts and states and must persuade thousands of Obama voters to cross party lines to support their efforts.
They include Sen. Scott Brown, running for reelection in a key race against Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, and Linda McMahon, seeking Connecticut’s Senate seat.
But even some candidates in Republican strongholds have distanced themselves from Romney’s comments. Asked whether he agrees with the GOP nominee on the issue, Rep. Rick Berg, locked in a tight Senate race in North Dakota, said “absolutely not.”
“The American way is you probably start at a zero tax rate and you work yourself up. I mean, that’s where I come from. I just think it’s unfortunate how that came out. I haven’t talked to him personally about that. But from my perspective, we need to help people up. We need to lift them up, help them have the opportunity to succeed,” said Berg, who is running against former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp.
Rep. Charles F. Bass (R) is seeking reelection in a Democratic-leaning district in New Hampshire, where Romney has devoted much effort in hopes of snatching the state from the Obama column.
“I disagree with his comment,” Bass said of Romney. “My own view is that every American, whether they’re taking more than they’re giving, wants to be in the other position and will do everything to do that. And it should be our goal to do that. The only way we’re going to do that is to get this economy turned around,” he said.
But those running in swing states have also showed their nerves. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on Wednesday said that he does not share Romney’s view of the world.
Other Republicans have rallied behind the presidential nominee, echoing his defense of the remarks to explain that although he could have better phrased his analysis of the electorate, he was outlining a key distinction between the parties about the size of government.
Said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.): “I think it’s very clear that what Mitt Romney was talking about was that we’ve had a dramatic increase in people who have to resort to government programs. That’s because of an ailing economy, that’s because of failed economic policies of this administration.”
Participants in the meeting with Ryan on Thursday said he did not directly address the video, which was recorded surreptitiously in May and released by Mother Jones magazine this week.
Ryan’s pep talk appeared to work with some of his colleagues. “There’s two choices for the country — that’s the message,” said Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.). “He told us what’s going on on the campaign trail, there’s a lot of energy. He said the energy level is off the charts.”