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Members focus on their districts, they focus on their committees and then they can focus on major issues that people are pushing them on, McKeon said. Afghanistan, frankly, hasnt been on the front burner.
But as Obamas poll ratings continue to fall and the unemployment rate remains at 10 percent, Republicans have found it politically beneficial to seize on the message that the economic stimulus has failed, and they have little incentive to change the topic now.
Its a matter of reality. The numbers on the economy make the argument for you, said Stuart Roy, a Republican strategist and principal at Prism Public Affairs.
Democrats have argued that the economic policies introduced by the GOP are reruns of old, failed policies.
We welcome discussing jobs because it demonstrates that Republicans have so far failed to offer any ideas to improve the economy after years of mismanagement, Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in an e-mail Tuesday. Those same Republicans who ignore the facts that the recovery package has created jobs ... would rather score political points instead of admitting their mistakes and working with us on behalf of the American people instead of special interests.
Still, many Republicans believe the jobs issue could help carry them back into good electoral standing with the American people.
Our biggest problem in polling is that we havent defined what we stand for, a second Republican aide said. Finally rallying around one issue and one set of solutions particularly, jobs would be a helpful message.
But Republicans have another incentive for keeping the focus on divisions in the Democratic Party over the Obama plan for Afghanistan.
There is a widespread sense that the troop committal was a good thing and surprised Republicans, said Ron Bonjean, a former aide to Republican leaders in the House and Senate.
But the issue still may be contentious among Republicans. There is going to be a big debate later on over the withdrawal timeline, Bonjean said.
One Republican Member said GOP leadership is privately concerned about the divides within the Conference on the war strategy.
Theres a lot of disagreement around the edges, the Member said. Some Members believe [Obamas] heart isnt in it. Why should we support him if hes not all in and its quite possible that it wouldnt work?