Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Republicans fret over loss of House seats in recent elections

WASHINGTON — In recent weeks, three special elections have turned solidly Republican U.S. House seats over to Democrats, and that has GOP leaders on Capitol Hill doing a little soul searching.

Republicans are now casting about for an agenda and message that will help them reverse their string of dispiriting losses and provide some footing for the fall elections.

But they can't agree on how to do it.

Last week, House Republicans unveiled their "American Families Agenda," aimed at helping mothers who work outside the home spend more time with their kids and making health insurance more portable from job to job, which prodded conservatives in the party to hold a special meeting to criticize it.

Unlike the GOP "Family Agenda" of the past, this one doesn't mention gay marriage or flag burning or abortion.

Although they say they remain committed to the party's core principles of low spending and limited government, party leaders are scrambling to develop platforms that will resonate with a broader base of voters.

"Republicans have to realize there are huge numbers of people who have concerns that they don't feel either party has addressed," said Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow, chairman of the House Republican Conference, a job that puts him in charge of messaging.

Party leaders recognize they're losing voters who believe Republicans don't care enough about the issues affecting everyday Americans, including energy, public safety and health care, he said.

"In those instances, you have to speak to the people, and using the language of 1994 is not speaking to those people."

The language of 1994, of course, is the Contract With America, the 10 conservative principles that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans rode to control of the U.S. House for the first time in 40 years. The party dominated Congress until 2006, when Democrats recaptured the House and the Senate.

The conservative Republican Study Committee, which boasts about 110 members, greeted the Families Agenda with alarm. They released their own recipe for regaining power, highlighting the party's antiabortion stance, streamlining the tax code, and cutting spending.

"House conservatives believe the way back to a Republican majority is to the right," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., former chairman of the RSC and a member of its steering committee.

Conservative conflict

Conservatives maintain that Republicans lost the majority in 2006 not because they were too conservative, but because they lost sight of the principles that delivered them the majority in 1994.

At the Republican meeting, Pence told his colleagues they need to reaffirm their "commitment to national defense, a commitment to fiscal conservatism, and a commitment to the sanctity of life."

Rep. John Boehner, the Republican leader from Ohio who was a top Gingrich lieutenant, said the Families Agenda is not intended to conflict with conservative principles. It's about focusing on what's possible.

"We've never walked away from who we are," Boehner said. "When we controlled the agenda here we could control what came to the floor and what didn't. The Democrats have done everything to avoid votes on social issues. That doesn't mean our commitment is any less."

Speaking in the Republican Study Committee meeting, Pence motioned to the Democratic side of the House chamber and said, "I don't think (voters) hired them in 2006. I think they fired us."

If that's the case, Americans are still in a firing mood. In special elections in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois, voters terminated the GOP's once-secure control of three House seats, including one once held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The Democrat who won the Mississippi election this month, Travis Childers, is antiabortion, pro-gun and pro-business — positions his Republican opponent took, too. Ross K. Baker, a congressional scholar at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said Childers' victory marked a clear denunciation of the Republican Party — voters could have gotten the same flavor in a Republican, but didn't.

The fastest-growing caucus among House Democrats doesn't consist of antiwar or liberal members, but a group of moderates and conservatives called the Blue Dog Coalition. Several of them, like Childers, oppose abortion, and they tend to favor strong national defense and cutting federal spending. At the same time, the number of moderate Republicans has been shrinking.

"What they have to become is a more inclusionary party, or else they will not only be wiped out in New York City, but in New York state and in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, which they cannot afford to be," Baker said. "They've virtually gone extinct in New England."

Baker said the House Republican leadership's attempt to strike a more moderate tone "is not just a spiritual awakening. This is a realization that they are in big trouble."

Wes Allison can be reached at or (202) 463-0577.

Republicans fret over loss of House seats in recent elections 05/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 2:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Manchester police say they have made three more arrests in concert bombing


    BREAKING: Manchester police say they have made three more arrests over pop concert bombing. Stay with for updates.


    People light candles after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England, Tuesday May 23, 2017, the day after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead as it ended on Monday night. [Associated Press]
  2. Who will headline the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa?


    The NFL announced Tuesday that Tampa will host Super Bowl LV in 2021, a result of stadium construction delays in Los Angeles.

    Taylor Swift performed at Raymond James Stadium in 2015. Could she return for Super Bowl LV in 2021?
  3. New DEP secretary says there's no conflict in political side businesses


    TALLAHASSEE — When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state's top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying …

     Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday May 23rd, on a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. He will take the helm on June 5, with a salary of $150,000 per year. [Florida Governor's Office]
  4. Trump says 'we can use peace' during meeting with Pope Francis


    VATICAN CITY — President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, two leaders with contrasting styles and differing worldviews, met at the Vatican City on Wednesday, setting aside their previous clashes to broadcast a tone of peace for an audience around the globe.

    Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. [Associated Press]
  5. Pinellas construction licensing board looking for ways to fill financial hole

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board's interim leader told the governing board Tuesday that the troubled agency is looking for ways to climb out of its