Nation: Though Optimistic, Cole Sees Special Challenges

Posted March 3, 2008 at 6:35pm

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said Monday that he likes how GOP House candidates are positioned for the fall, but he acknowledged that there are some tough races on the immediate horizon.

In particular, Cole cautioned that Republicans could face trouble in two special elections — one to replace former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) in Illinois’ GOP-leaning 14th district and another to replace former Rep. Richard Baker (R) in Louisiana’s GOP-leaning 6th district.

“It’s going to be close,” Cole said of the March 8 special in Illinois’ 14th, which pits dairy magnate Jim Oberweis (R) against businessman Bill Foster (D). Cole spoke Monday morning at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., during a briefing with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

Cole also attempted to lower expectations in Indiana’s Democratic-leaning 7th district, where Indianapolis City-County Councilman André Carson (D) and state Rep. Jon Elrod (R) are battling in a special election to replace the late Rep. Julia Carson (D) — the Democratic nominee’s grandmother.

Republicans had been hopeful that the election of Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard (R) late last year was a sign that the GOP could flip the Indianapolis-area seat in the March 11 special.

But Cole on Monday likened the contest to the October special election in Massachusetts’ 5th district, where the Republican nominee was never expected to compete even though he ultimately lost by only 5 points.

“It’s a long-shot race,” Cole said of the Indiana special election.

Cole also suggested that Republicans could face difficulties in some November general election contests, both in districts where the GOP incumbent is retiring and where a GOP challenger is trying to oust a freshman Democrat.

Among those are New York’s Republican-leaning 20th district, where Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is set to face the winner of the Sept. 9 GOP primary, and New York’s Democratic-leaning 25th district, where Rep. Jim Walsh (R) is retiring.

Cole also is taking a wait-and-see approach to Pennsylvania’s Democratic-leaning 8th district, where political neophyte Tom Manion (R), a businessman, is set to challenge freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy (D).

As of Jan. 31, the NRCC was faced with a nearly $30 million deficit in cash on hand compared to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And this comes at a time when 28 Republican House Members have opted for retirement — creating several open seats for Democrats to cherry-pick.

But Cole remains optimistic.

“I don’t see any reason for gloom and doom,” he said.
— David M. Drucker