Top Republican strategists are increasingly worried that a 2012 ticket led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) — instead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — could hurt the party downballot, especially in the Northeast.
The region is expected to be a top battleground in the fight for control of Congress. Although redistricting has shifted many lines, in 2010 Republicans won 61 House districts that were carried by Barack Obama in 2008.
Last year the GOP picked up 14 seats across four states: New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Many of those freshmen will have tough races next year in those Democratic-leaning states and need help from the top of their ticket.
As the nomination fight between Romney and Gingrich heats up, the electability argument — including which man is better positioned to help downballot candidates — will become a frequent talking point for the frontrunners’ surrogates.
“It will make it a lot more difficult for a lot of candidates in New England if Mitt Romney is not the nominee,” said Brad Card, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and Romney supporter.
Unaffiliated strategists also argued Romney would be beneficial to candidates in blue and purple states.
Mike DuHaime, a New Jersey Republican strategist who ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s independent expenditure effort in 2010, said key blocks of independent voters across the Northeast would likely have an easier time voting for Romney than other potential GOP contenders. He explained independents won’t have the “knee-jerk opposition” they might have to a candidate from a different part of the country.
“Having somebody from the region will give some independent voters some comfort that they haven’t had with the Republican Party since the late ’80s,” he said, noting that could help downballot GOP candidates.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said the jury is still out on who might help downballot candidates nationwide because “people are in the mood for a change [so] it’s not going to matter a whole lot” who is on the top of the ticket.
But Davis, who served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee a decade ago, said the Northeast was a different story.
“I think Romney’s going to be a better candidate in the Northeast, certainly in New England and New York,” he said.
The crux of GOP operatives’ concern about Gingrich as the nominee is the former Speaker’s unpredictability. Specifically, his penchant for off-message ideas could distract from a wider strategy of hammering Obama on the lousy economy.
In the 1998 and 2000 elections, Democrats effectively hammered Republicans in New York for real or perceived connections to Gingrich and painted the GOP as the “Party of Newt.” Empire State Republicans don’t want to see a repeat of that in 2012.