Wednesday, September 3, 2008



By Alexander Burns
ST. PAUL, Minn.

Democrats could reap electoral rewards from several years of political organizing, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said, a sentiment echoed by several other prominent conservatives.

On the eve of John McCain’s formal nomination Thursday at the Republican National Convention, top Republicans acknowledged that Democrats will hold a significant organizational advantage in the fall campaign. Before the 2006 congressional elections, “the left and the Democrats had spent seven years putting together one of the most powerful political coalitions that had ever been built,” DeLay said Wednesday.

“The left has been incredible. They went and decided to put resources to work,” said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the third-ranking House Republican. “When you’re talking about the tactics, when you’re talking about the organization, ... that’s where we’re at a disadvantage.”

Cantor cited as an example the e-mail and text message database Barack Obama’s campaign used to announce the name of his running mate.

“That e-mail list or text list now just inures to the benefit of the Obama campaign,” he said. “It really gives them an organizational advantage.”

DeLay and Cantor described their party’s tactical shortcomings at a breakfast panel hosted by Politico, Yahoo News and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Joining them on the panel were former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.

Santorum, who lost his Senate seat in the 2006 elections, agreed that Democrats had been successful at building their party’s political infrastructure.

“Liberals invest their money in government,” Santorum said, arguing that third-party advertising, “driven, unfortunately ... by our campaign finance laws,” helped Democrats erase Republicans’ historic advantage in fundraising.

He also claimed that liberals’ influence in Hollywood and other cultural arenas helped Democrats take power in Washington.

“The left controls ... those mechanisms of power in our country,” Santorum said. “All we have is the family. All we have is the churches.”

It wasn’t just in organization and fundraising, however, where panelists said the Republican Party was at a disadvantage. Some suggested the GOP had to make up ground among the middle- and working-class voters that the Obama-Biden ticket is expected to pursue.

“I think John McCain needs to make a real, substantive case about how he’s going to help average voters with their cost of living, on energy, on health care and on taxes,” Lowry said. “Barack Obama is offering more middle-class tax relief than John McCain.”

“I think the middle class, the working class is where we need to go,” he added. “Sarah Palin can help him make that connection.”

Cantor, who was often mentioned as a possible running mate for McCain, agreed.

“We need to do a better job of advocating for the middle class in this country,” he said, pointing to gas prices and offshore drilling as issues on which the GOP could connect with voters’ economic anxieties.

The Republicans were not entirely gloomy: Like most of their fellow conservatives at the convention this week, panelists were upbeat about McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate.

“The jury’s out on whether she’ll be able to perform at this level, but so far, what we’ve seen from her, I’d be optimistic,” Lowry said. “I think the press is trying to knock her out before she even had a chance.”

DeLay agreed, predicting that critical media coverage of Palin — including coverage of the announcement that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant — would help energize conservative female voters.

“The media has done more for John McCain in the last two days than he’s done for himself in the last year and a half,” DeLay said. “Trashing her is waking up the sleeping giant, and the sleeping giant is Republican women.”

Still, even if the McCain-Palin ticket is successful in November, no one was willing to predict broader gains for the Republican Party.

Moderator Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico, asked: “Is there anybody on the panel who doesn’t think Republicans will lose House and Senate seats?”

For a long moment, the panel was silent, before Cantor and DeLay jumped in with the less-than-optimistic prediction that Republican congressional candidates would not fare as poorly as expected.