Fall Midterm Elections Pose an Uphill Battle for Republicans
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GWEN IFILL: Senator Wayne Allard chose a challenging moment to return home to southeastern Colorado for town meetings last week. The public’s approval of Republicans in Congress and in the White House are at record lows. Time magazine just named Allard one of the nation’s five worst senators.
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R), Colorado: I don’t think they’ve been out and recognize what I do in the state of Colorado and the successes that I’ve had here.
GWEN IFILL: While Allard is personally popular in this solidly Republican area of the state…
COLORADO RESIDENT: I’d like to thank you for all the hard work that you’ve done for Colorado and southeastern Colorado.
GWEN IFILL: … the ranchers, farmers and small business owners here are entering the seventh year of a devastating drought that is wiping out family farms and leaving empty storefronts in its wake.
RANDY CARNEY, Colorado Resident: I mean, it’s just wrecking us. And it’s a sad note when you have to discourage your kids, “Don’t get involved in agriculture because, son, I don’t even know whether I’m going to survive.”
GWEN IFILL: Allard heard these and other broader concerns in each of the small towns along his road trip last week.
CARDON BERRY, Colorado Resident: The oil companies are making billions of dollars over what they have in the past, so why isn’t something being done to curb that? Because all it’s doing is wrecking the economy, not only in the United States, but worldwide.
GWEN IFILL: As he met with the people who sent him to Washington, Allard tried to emphasize the good news: the energy, highway and defense legislation that brought federal dollars home.
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD: I’m kind of bullish about southeastern Colorado, actually. I think there’s — the economy is going to be doing better down here.
GWEN IFILL: But the questions were plentiful and the answers scarce.
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD: I think it’s premature for me take a position on it right now. If you want an immediate solution, I don’t know where we can get that. I listen to what your concerns are, you share those with me, and then I’ll file this all away.
GWEN IFILL: But we found several of Allard’s constituents still had more to say. Mike Donley owns a ranch outside La Junta.
MIKE DONLEY, Colorado Resident: I’m not in accord with him on immigration, in part. I’ve got some real issues with spending by the country and the government. Regarding the war on terror, I don’t believe that we’re really in a position to foster democracy in a bunch of cultures around the world.
GWEN IFILL: Forrest Frazee is the sheriff in neighboring Kiowa County.
SHERIFF FORREST FRAZEE, Kiowa County, Colorado: I think that the administration’s been ridiculed on all those aspects, every one of them. He’s had to defend the war. His administration is having to defend itself. Spending has been defended. We look at some of those primary initiatives we went into the new year with have been — the new term with have been dropped, a lot of things.
GWEN IFILL: Sandra Leonard’s son served in the first Gulf War.
SANDRA LEONARD, Colorado Resident: I personally — as hard as this is for me to say publicly — I personally do not think that Iraq was the wisest thing for us to do. However, if we had to do it, I would have liked to have done it with accurate information. And I am not sure that that information was forthcoming the way it should have been.
GWEN IFILL: In a year when alarmed Americans looking toward Washington see only trouble — immigration, gas prices, Katrina, Iraq — Wayne Allard is one of the lucky ones. He is not running for reelection this fall. But 246 of his congressional colleagues are.
Political analyst Charles Cook, who is tracking the ups and the downs of this fall’s mid-term elections, says Republicans are in grave danger of losing their majority.
CHARLES COOK, The Cook Political Report: Virtually every diagnostic indicator but one points to a gigantic tidal wave. I mean, these numbers are worse than 1994.
GWEN IFILL: That was the year Republicans shocked the Democratic majority by seizing control of the House and the Senate midway through President Clinton’s first term. This year, Democrats are actively coveting the six seats they need to win back the Senate, the 15 seats they need to claim the House.
Political analyst Cook sees a perfect storm building.
CHARLES COOK: It’s like a million different things. It’s, you know, high gasoline prices; it’s Hurricane Katrina; Harriet Miers; Scooter Libby; congressional scandals; high budget deficits; immigration; port security; just sort of death by a thousand cuts.
And not all of these things bug every single person. Different ones bug different people. But, you know, two-thirds of the American people are bugged pretty badly right now.
When you’re looking at the last two polls showing a presidential job approval rating of 32 and 33 percent, we’re knocking on the doors of Nixondom. I mean, this is horrendous.
This is the kind of environment where you lose people that — you lose incumbents that nobody in a million years would ever have thought could lose.
GWEN IFILL: Democrats are attempting to seize the moment. This week, they jumped on the gas price issue…
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House Minority Leader: We have two oil men in the White House. The logical follow-up from that is $3-a-gallon gasoline.
GWEN IFILL: … and on Katrina.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), Connecticut: The president and the White House were not sufficiently engaged when they should have been initiating an aggressive response.
GWEN IFILL: And then there is immigration reform, which has split the Republican Party right down the middle. Back in Colorado, Frazee, the sheriff, has pulled over carloads of illegal immigrants on this stretch of Highway 287.
FORREST FRAZEE, Sherrif: Right now, Kiowa County has got well over 500 warrants out for failures to appear; many of these are illegal aliens.
We’ll get them in. They’ll have accidents. We have to service that. And we’ve got them in where they have run out of money to get where they’re going. We service that.
GWEN IFILL: But he thinks, if they pull their weight, they should be allowed to stay.
FORREST FRAZEE: I think that — I’ll wash my mouth out with soap — but I hope we do an amnesty program, we come back in, we get them all listed with the IRS, we get them all listed with the local agencies, and they start living, and we start treating them like American citizens.
GWEN IFILL: Allard disagrees and calls the amnesty argument a loser.
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD: I think it’ll reflect not only badly on the president, but I think it will reflect badly on Republicans in the Congress.
GWEN IFILL: Another problem for Republicans: government spending, perceived as so out of control that the president this week threatened to veto a bill to finance the war because it was overloaded with unrelated measures. Some lawmakers agreed with that.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), Oklahoma: Our children and grandchildren deserve for us to preserve the opportunities that we’ve had. We cannot continue to borrow money from their future standard of living so we can do what we want to do today.
GWEN IFILL: But for many in southeastern Colorado, that may be too little, too late.
MIKE DONLEY: I think Republicans have lost their way. They were supposed to be the party of fiscal conservatism; they are not. If that’s compassionate conservatism, I’m not in agreement with it.
And in that respect, I suppose I’ve lost some faith in George Bush as president, because I don’t think he has gone out of his way particularly to institute any kind of fiscal discipline.
GWEN IFILL: A word of warning aimed squarely at the politicians who need these Republicans most.