The one and only bright spot for House Republicans of late has been the ongoing primary battle between Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. NRCC chair Tom Cole had fantasized out loud about a “death fight” between Obama and Clinton that would tear the Democrats down, sweep Sen. John McCain into the White House, and with him produce the kind of presidential coattails that could carry House Republicans to victory in November.
But with even official Republican spokesman Tim Russert declaring Obama the presumptive nominee after Clinton’s disappointing showing in North Carolina and Indiana, Cole’s daydream is fading fast, and his caucus is beginning to wake up to the daunting challenges they face this November.
On Monday, former Speaker Newt Gingrich launched a broadside against Cole and the rest of the House Republican leadership, warning that the party faced a “catastrophic collapse” if they didn’t immediately change course in this political environment “reminiscent of the depths of the Watergate disaster.” And yesterday Cole himself added to the gloom, warning members that the NRCC doesn’t have enough money to “save them” in November:
“It was a pretty stern line that he took with us,” said one House Republican.
Cole, on the defensive in the wake of special election losses in Louisiana and Illinois, pointed his finger Tuesday at his Republican colleagues, telling them that they had been too stingy in helping fund party efforts.
[...] Cole’s overall message was clear, said members who sat through the meeting: “If you’re not out doing your own work, and you’re waiting for the NRCC to come in at the last minute and save you, it ain’t gonna happen.” That’s how one lawmaker characterized Cole’s talk, adding that the NRCC is “not going to have the resources” to help all members “and Democrats will have a lot more money.”
That’s bad news for Republicans like Dave Reichert, who yesterday found himself on yet another top-ten list of “Most Vulnerable Incumbents,” this time in the pages of the highly respected (and subscription-only) Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call:
Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)
It’s tough to go from hero cop to endangered incumbent in such a short stretch of time, but that’s the former King County sheriff’s fate in a suburban Seattle district that is steadily becoming more Democratic. Reichert still has a reservoir of good will to draw from as he fights off Democrat Darcy Burner for the second straight cycle. But Burner has become a more polished and confident campaigner — and has outpaced the incumbent on the fundraising front for the past few quarters.
Actually, she’s outpaced Reichert in every fundraising quarter since declaring her candidacy last year, and there’s no reason to expect that trend to reverse itself. Reichert’s never had a reputation in Congress as a hard worker, either as a legislator or a fundraiser, and he’s finding it particularly difficult to raise money now that his party is firmly entrenched in the minority. Not that Reichert has ever been a stellar performer, relying on multi-million dollar bailouts from the NRCC to carry him to victory in each of his two previous elections… bailouts that Cole warns might not be available this time around.
The fact is, even well-larded lobbyists balk at throwing good money after bad, and recent special election losses could dry up resources for the NRCC. Back in December Cole was almost cheerful as money finally started to pour in after Republicans successfully defended a couple seats in Virginia and Ohio, telling staffers:
“I’ve seen more lobbyists this morning than I’ve seen in four months,” he said. The lobbyists were passing out checks, he told them gleefully. “I’ve got one in my pocket from a guy I ran into in the street.”
But I’m guessing Cole’s pockets are pretty empty these days, now that a spate of recent special elections haven’t gone his way. And that’s gotta be bad news for vulnerable incumbents like Dave Reichert.